Lydia Hamilton Smith, Just Herself

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
For Lydia. it would be great to be able to concentrate on the woman, who she was, what she accomplished as a woman, how far she came, the amazing, amazing choices she made and how advanced her thinking was. Far too often some of our Civil War names become names only, frequently weapons in arsenals fueled by agendas- show me an agenda without hate at it's genesis and I'll show you Peace. Because Lydia made the choice as a woman ' of color', being what, one eighth African American, to live in close companionship with a controversial crank of a powerful man, she's taken a lot of hits in the past 150 years. For what? Being a woman of color? Being devoted to a man? Being a solid business person? Being accepted as an equal by his peers? I'll bet a bazillion bucks it's the first- a woman, and an African American woman, daring to walk her own road.

She did it quietly, with massive dignity, grieved her losses quietly, with massive dignity and gave no quarter to her detractors- none. There are no letters or journals left to us, that we might know her better, she and Thaddeus even disallowed us the nosy indulgence of understanding exactly what their relationship was. It's actually none of our business- they were who they were and we can take it or leave it, as folks could 150 years ago. Her life and accomplishments speak for themselves, as does her long loyalty to Thaddeus Stevens. We get to take from all of those long years whatever it is we wish, what we do not get to do is use her as another political tool brandished in the face of Stevens. Her sheer dignity- the way she lived then, disallowed it then and to me, it disallows it now.

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This doc. is not glued together well- used several on the grounds that none had extensive information.

Lydia Hamilton Smith

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=61911136

Lydia Hamilton Smith

Lydia Hamilton was born at Russell Tavern near Gettysburg in Adams County, Pennsylvania, USA. She was one quarter African American in that her mother was a free biracial woman of Caucasian and African American descent, and her father was Irish. Smith married a free black man, Jacob Smith (died 1852), with whom she had two sons.

Separated from her husband, Smith moved to Lancaster with her mother and sons in 1847 and accepted a position as housekeeper to prominent lawyer and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, who had moved from Gettysburg five years earlier but practiced law and had business interest in several counties in the Susquehanna River basin. Stevens was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives the following year, and Smith continued to keep the bachelor's house (including his house in Washington, D.C.) until Stevens died in 1868.

Smith was described as "giving great attention to her appearance," and in later years she had her clothes made to resemble those of Mary Lincoln.

Carl Sandburg described Smith as "a comely quadroon with Caucasian features and a skin of light-gold tint, a Roman Catholic communicant with Irish eyes ... quiet, discreet, retiring, reputed for poise and personal dignity."

Smith was at Stevens's bedside when he died in Washington, D.C. on August 11, 1868, along with his friend Simon Stevens and surviving nephew (Thaddeus Stevens, Jr.), two African American nuns, and several other people. Under Stevens' will, Smith was allowed to choose between a lump sum of $5,000 or a $500 annual allowance; she was also allowed to take any furniture in his house. With the inheritance, Smith purchased Stevens' house and the adjoining lot.

No evidence exists as to the exact nature of the relationship between Stevens and Smith. In the one brief surviving letter from Stevens to her, he addresses her as "Mrs. Smith", unusual deference to an African-American servant in that era. Family members also asked Stevens to be remembered to "Mrs. Smith". Nonetheless, during her time with Stevens, neighbors considered her his common law wife. Smith not only handled social functions for the politician, she also mingled with Stevens' guests, who were instructed to address her as "Madame" or "Mrs. Smith". Opposition newspapers (for Stevens' views concerning racial equality were quite controversial) claimed she was frequently called "Mrs. Stevens" by people who knew her.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydia_Hamilton_Smith

As Thaddeus Stevens’ supporter and confidante, Lydia Hamilton Smith played a major role in his life, and he in hers. A widow with two young sons when she became Stevens’ housekeeper in 1847, for 25 years she managed his home and businesses in Lancaster and also accompanied him to Washington, D.C. to run his household and to serve as hostess.
Their partnership afforded her the opportunity to gain the skills and social contacts that helped her later become a successful businesswoman. She eventually owned and managed a number of properties in Lancaster, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. – an extraordinary accomplishment for a woman of that era, particularly a woman of color. Her boarding house in Washington drew some of the most powerful people of the time, including members of Congress and foreign dignitaries.

Despite rumors and innuendos about their relationship, Stevens and Smith courageously continued their remarkable partnership in an era of strict segregation. Correspondence and third-person accounts indicate that theirs was a cordial and respectful friendship. He consistently treated her as an equal and with great deference at a time when most whites considered blacks inferior. In turn, she expertly managed his household and businesses, freeing him to pursue the landmark legislation that transformed American society.

As recent archaeological excavations behind Stevens’ home indicate, it is likely that Stevens and Smith cooperated on another very important venture as well – the Underground Railroad. A number of archaeologists who have visited the underground cistern discovered on the property have confirmed its probable use as a hideaway for runaway slaves. Ample documentation exists that Stevens regularly assisted black fugitives and paid spies to report on slave catchers active in the area. While less definitive information exists on Smith’s role in the Underground Railroad, research is continuing. However, the nature of their partnership, the proximity of her home to the cistern, and her connections in the local African-American community offer tantalizing clues.
http://www.blacksheriffs.bizland.com/id99.html

Lydia Hamilton Smith had a special relationship with U.S. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. She became Stevens' housekeeper in 1847, and for 25 years she managed his homes and businesses. Through their partnership she gained the skills and social contacts necessary to become a successful businesswoman after his death.

Lydia Hamilton was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1815, to an African mother and Irish father. She married a free black man named Jacob Smith and bore two sons but they separated before he died in 1852 and she raised the children alone.

Thaddeus Stevens was born in Danville, Vermont, on April 4, 1792. He suffered from many hardships during his childhood, including a club foot. Stevens put himself through Dartmouth College, then moved to York, Pennsylvania, where he taught school and studied law. After admission to the bar, he established a law practice in Gettysburg in 1816.

After his skillful defense of a murderer for whom he pleaded insanity, an unusual defense at that time, he quickly acquired a lucrative practice and earned recognition as the leading figure of the Adams County bar. By shrewd purchase and by taking full advantage of sheriff's sales, Stevens became the owner of so much property that by 1830 he was the largest taxpayer in Gettysburg.

During his days in Gettysburg, Stevens also assisted fugitive slaves who were traveling eastward from the city of Columbia, which was fourteen miles away and a key station on the Underground Railroad. He paid a spy to keep watch on slave catchers in the area. "I have a spy on the spies and thus ascertain the facts." Stevens served for several years in the Pennsylvania legislature, and delivered a brilliant speech that single-handedly saved the state's infant public school system from an attempt to abolish it by the wealthy and devout. And he fought the state Constitution of 1838, which took away from black males the right to vote.

Thaddeus Stevens moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1842 and purchased property there in the early 1840s. He built a small addition connecting a saloon on Queen Street and his residence, and that is where he created his law office.

Stevens, whom Lydia Smith and her mother had known when he was an attorney and abolitionist in Gettysburg, offered her a position as his housekeeper in Lancaster. In 1847, Lydia moved her two boys to Lancaster to work for Stevens. She learned quickly how to manage a household with staff, as well as how to manage the household finances.

Lydia served as Stevens' housekeeper, property manager and confidante for twenty years. Their partnership afforded her the opportunity to gain the skills and social contacts that helped her later become a successful businesswoman.

Stevens lived in the main house with his two orphaned nephews, Alanson and Thaddeus, whom they raised together, and who both later served in the Union Army. Lydia lived in "a one-story frame house on the rear of Mr. Stevens' lot, fronting on South Christian street," according to an article in the Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society.

Both Smith and Stevens were believed to have been involved in the antislavery movement while they lived in Lancaster. There is no proof that an underground cistern behind the Stevens home was used in the Underground Railroad, but a number of archaeologists who have visited the cistern discovered on the property have confirmed its probable use as a hideaway for runaway slaves. The fugitives might have been delivered in barrels to the tavern next door, which Stevens also owned, and hidden in the cistern until they could be passed on to another station.

There is ample documentation that Stevens regularly assisted black fugitives and paid spies to report on slave catchers active in the area. While less definitive information exists on Smith's role in the Underground Railroad, research is continuing. However, the nature of their partnership, the proximity of her home to the cistern, and her connections in the local African-American community offer tantalizing clues.

While it was widely rumored during Stevens' lifetime and afterward that he and Lydia were lovers, no evidence exists to support that. Stevens' only comment on the matter was deliberately ambiguous: "I believe I can say that no child was ever raised, or so far as I know, begotten under my roof." Years later, some of Stevens' local friends and political associates acknowledged the domestic relationship, and Stevens' political enemies were quick to make reference to it.

In any case, Stevens treated Lydia with great respect. He always addressed her as Madam, gave her his seat in public conveyances, and included her in social occasions with his friends. He hired Jacob Eichholtz to paint her portrait - an unusual sign of respect for a white lawyer to show a black housekeeper.

In the chaotic election year of 1848, Thaddeus Stevens won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as an anti-slavery Whig, representing Lancaster County between 1849 and 1853. He opposed the Fugitive Slave Law and the Compromise of 1850. Lydia accompanied Stevens on his trips to Washington, DC, and was included in Stevens' social gatherings.
In 1860 Lydia purchased her home from Stevens and the lot adjacent to his, the first of several homes she owned in Lancaster - quite an accomplishment for a woman of color. She also purchased property in Washington, DC. Lydia Smith's oldest son William died in 1860.
During the Civil War, Lydia's son Isaac, a noted banjo player and barber, enlisted in the 6th U. S. Colored Troops in 1863. He and his regiment served primarily in Virginia.

After the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, driving a borrowed horse and wagon through Adams County, Lydia Hamilton Smith traveled around to the farms in the area, telling people of the tens of thousands of suffering men. She accepted donations of food and clothing for the wounded and, when the donations dried up, began spending her own money.

Each day, with her wagon heaped high, she rode to the field hospitals, where she distributed the articles to Union and Confederate soldiers alike. She continued to provide the makeshift hospital populations around Gettysburg with food, clothing and delicacies.

By 1868, Stevens was severely ill, and Smith hired nuns from a local convent to care for him in his last days. Smith and Thaddeus, Stevens' nephew, stayed by his side until his death.
Congressman Thaddeus Stevens died in Washington, DC, on August 11, 1868. Even after death, he stood by his commitment to equality, having insisted on being buried in an African American cemetery. His gravestone proclaims "I have chosen this [burial site] to illustrate in my death the principle, which I advocated through a long life: Equality of man before his creator."

Stevens had never married, and upon his death bequeathed to Lydia $5000 cash and some personal furnishings. With those funds and her property management experience, Smith operated her own boarding houses in Lancaster and Philadelphia.

Lydia became prosperous enough to purchase Stevens' home and law office on South Queen Street in Lancaster and lived there for twenty years. She also bought a large boarding house across from the prestigious Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. She spent most of her time operating the establishment and earned a reputation as an astute businesswoman, but she returned often to Lancaster.

Lydia Hamilton Smith died in a hospital in Washington, DC, on February 14, 1884 - her 69th birthday. She was buried in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, at the church where she had long been a member
http://civilwarwomenblog.com/lydia-hamilton-smith/

Contemporary accounts make it clear that Stevens and Smith shared an interest in the abolition of slavery and the advancement of racial equality. They shared a strong mental and, perhaps, emotional bond.
But a sexual bond? That is not at all clear.

Stevens' detractors, especially those who opposed equal rights for blacks, were quick to assume a sexual liaison.
In her 1959 biography of Stevens, Fawn Brodie leaned toward accepting a sexual relationship. In his 1997 biography, Hans Trefousse said he is not so certain about that.

These respected biographers note that Stevens provided substantial money for Smith in his will, part of which the housekeeper used to buy his house at 45-47 S. Queen St.
Eight years before he died, Stevens deeded substantial property behind his house to Smith for $500. Stevens already had built a brick house on that property, facing on East Vine Street, for Smith and her sons.
What kind of employer builds a home for his housekeeper virtually next to his own and sells her the land?
The same kind, apparently, who commissions her portrait.
Noted Philadelphia artist Charles Bird King painted Smith at Stevens' request and on his dime several years after they first met. The portrait shows that she was a lovely, bright-eyed, light-skinned mulatto woman.
In his will, Stevens gave his housekeeper $500 a year, as well as the right to determine which pieces of furniture in his house were hers.
All this proves, of course, is that Stevens was unusually devoted to his housekeeper.
The late Lancaster historian John W.W. Loose and others have described Lydia Smith as Stevens' "confidante."
That may be the most appropriate way, short of new evidence, to describe their relationship
http://lancasteronline.com/news/reg...cle_f3dafc03-226a-51ac-a688-5f159692e2cd.html
 
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Lydia Hamilton Smith
lydia hamilton smith.jpg


Her home in Lancaster
lydia house.jpg


A black and white copy of the painting Thaddeus Stevens had commissioned of her
lydia painting.png
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Thank you so much for this, Ms JPK. Testimony to a truly remarkable woman. Also to the depth and sincerity of our ferocious Thaddeus' dedication to racial equality.

He would have intimidated the bejeesis out of me, would have handed the guy a napkin to autograph from around a corner or something- what a truly, truly great man. Awful thing to say ( because it just shouldn't have been the case, I do not much care if that sounds like Pollyanna )that he was ' ahead of his time', if you think about it, but he was- so clear sighted on how nobody is at all different. Lydia? SO proud to be a black woman, and she could have apparently ' passed'- scorned the chances, married an African American man, and was extremely happy to be who she was. She flattens me with respect- awful to be of that race in that era in most parts of society. She stepped right up and showed it did not have to BE that way. Be great to see an agenda-free book on just her.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Went looking for Lydia Hamilton Smith because Thaddeus Steven's name came up. These days when there's a really long section to post I'll break it up better than this- Lydia so much deserves her notice, a better presentation would have been helpful.
 

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