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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 998

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This is the grave of Nathan Smith.

Born in Woodbury, Connecticut in 1770, Smith grew up in a pretty above-average but not exceptional situation. He didn’t get access to the highest education that we’ve seen so frequently for the New England elite in this series, but he did OK. He got to study for the law and was admitted to the bar in 1792, so that already put him in a pretty good position compared to the average person. He practiced in New Haven and became a leading lawyer in that community. He helped found Trinity College in Hartford for people like him who couldn’t go to Yale for whatever reason, like not being super rich. But Yale also honored him over the years. Basically, he became one of Connecticut’s premier lawyers in the Early Republic.

So Smith became a guy, by which I mean the kind of person who was locally important but not really all that interesting really. He rose in society, was a good Federalist and then a Whig. He was the prosecuting attorney for New Haven County (no longer a county) from 1817 until he died. He was a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1818. He ran for governor in 1825 but lost. You know, this kind of thing.

There’s really one thing to know about Smith for the modern person. In 1832, he was sent to the U.S. Senate. He was 63 years old. This made him ancient for the job. That’s unlike today, when the average age for a senator is something like 98. I know that life expectancy has changed dramatically, but it’s also worth noting that people of the early 19th century did not see being old as something that was a positive in politics, which would be quite the revelation for contemporary leaders of the Democratic Party. Of course, Smith, being an old man, dropped dead soon after he started his term, in 1835. He was 65 years old. I don’t really know how he died, but looking at primary sources available online, it happened at home in Washington and was sudden, so maybe it was a heart attack.

Nathan Smith is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.

If you would like this series to visit other senators sent to the body in 1832, and why wouldn’t you want this critical information!, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Benjamin Swift is in St. Albans, Vermont and Samuel Southard is in Washington, D.C. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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