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John Blair Smith (June 6, 1756 – August 22, 1799) was born in Pequea, Pennsylvania Colony, the son of the Rev. Robert Smith, who ran a celebrated academy there. Like his older brother, John Blair Smith was valedictorian of the Class of 1773 at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. He was in the graduating class of 1771, with William Graham, the rector of Liberty Hall Academy (now Washington & Lee University) and Henry "Light Horse" Lee, governor of Virginia and father of Robert E. Lee.[1] He was recruited at the age of 19 to come to Virginia as a tutor at the new Hampden–Sydney College, then being founded by his elder brother, Rev. Samuel Stanhope Smith.

While a tutor at the College, John Blair Smith was chosen in 1777 as a captain of a company of students (about sixty-five total) during the American Revolutionary War, assigned to the defense of Williamsburg.[1]

In 1779 Samuel Stanhope Smith resigned his presidency and the pastorates of his churches, in order to answer a call to be president of the College of New Jersey. The younger Smith, who was ordained and elected president of Hampden–Sydney on the same day his brother resigned, managed to revive the flagging enterprise, and, with the assistance of Trustee Patrick Henry, then Governor of Virginia, persuaded the General Assembly of Virginia to grant a charter in 1783 – bestowing the power to grant degrees and establish a self-perpetuating Board. Smith was also pastor in Cumberland and Briery, as these positions were part of the college presidency.[1] At Hampden-Sydney, Smith also added the theology school.[1]

John Blair Smith resigned in 1789, accepting a call as pastor to church in Philadelphia. Four years later he was elected the first president of Union College in Schenectady, New York. Eight months after returning to his pastorate in Philadelphia in 1799, he died there in a yellow fever epidemic.[2][3]


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