City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library
William Smith (1728-1793)
William Smith (June 18, 1728 – December 6, 1793) was a lawyer, historian, speaker, loyalist, and eventually the loyalist Chief Justice of the Province of New York from 1780 to 1782 and Chief Justice of the Province of Quebec, later Lower Canada, from 1786 until his death.
He was the son of Judge William Smith of New York City and brother of Joshua Hett Smith, the supposed “dupe” of Benedict Arnold and Major John André. His wife Janet Livingston was of the Livingston family of New York.
During the American Revolution, he was referred to as "the weathercock" because his contemporaries were not able to understand which side he was on. Basically, though, he was neither friend to American nor Loyalist and was one of the main reasons that the loyalists themselves declared that they did never trust the family of Smith. In 1752, along with William Livingston and John Morin Scott he founded a weekly journal, the Independent Reflector.
He, along with his brother Joshua Hett Smith, escaped prosecution and probable execution by the Commission for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies in the State of New York in 1778 for the crime of treason due to the memory of their father's influence upon the Justice system: the elder William Smith had, despite the efforts of friends and relatives, refused his own appointment to the Office of Chief Justice of the Province of New York in 1760, which his son William had accepted.
His brother, Doctor Thomas Smith, was the owner of the “treason house” in West Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York that was being occupied by his other brother, Joshua Hett Smith, at the time that Benedict Arnold and Major John André planned their conspiracies.
In 1776, he moved to Albany to avoid the contentious politics but in 1778 declared his allegiance for the loyalist cause and joined the British in New York City. In 1780, he was appointed Chief Judge of New York but by this time the office only related to the small part of the Province that was still in British hands. The real judicial power was held by Daniel Horsmanden.
Smith returned to England in 1783 and then came to Quebec City in 1786, when he was named Chief Justice for the province and also named to the legislative council. In 1791, he became chief justice for Lower Canada and was appointed to the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, serving as its first speaker. He died in Quebec City in 1793.
He published The history of the Province of New York from its Discovery in 1532,... in London in 1757.