Margaret Bayard Smith

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Margaret Bayard Smith
Portrait of Margaret Bayard Smith, by Charles Bird King.jpg
Portrait of Smith, by Charles Bird King
Born Margaret Bayard
(1778-02-20)February 20, 1778
Died June 7, 1844(1844-06-07) (aged 66)
Spouse(s) Samuel Harrison Smith
(m. 1800; her death 1844)
Children 4
Parent(s) John Bubenheim Bayard
Margaret Hodge
Relatives James Asheton Bayard II (cousin)
Charles Hodge (cousin)

Margaret Bayard Smith (20 February 1778 – 7 June 1844) was a successful author and politician in a time when women lived under strict gender roles. Her writings and relationships shaped both politics and society in early Washington. Mrs. Smith began writing books in the 1820s: a two-volume novel in 1824 called A Winter in Washington, or Memoirs of the Seymour Family,[1] another novel in 1825, What is Gentility?[2][3] She also wrote several biographies including Dolley Madison. Her literary reputation, however, comes primarily from a collection of her letters and notebooks written from 1800 to 1841 and published in 1906 by Gaillard Hunt as The First Forty Years of Washington Society.[4]

Early life[edit]

Margaret Bayard was born on 20 February 1778 in Pennsylvania, the seventh of eight children born to Colonel John Bubenheim Bayard (1738–1807) and Margaret Hodge (1740–1780). At the time of her birth, her father was with George Washington at Valley Forge. Her first cousin was Rev. Charles Hodge (1797–1878).[5]

Also included in her immediate family were three orphaned children of Col. Bayard's twin brother, Dr. James Asheton Bayard, who had married Margaret Hodge's sister, Ann Hodge. One of the orphaned children was James A. Bayard, who later became a lawyer and politician.[5]


Smith was a well known editor and publisher who befriended Thomas Jefferson when they both acted as officers of the American Philosophical Society.[6] In 1809, Smith and her husband moved to Washington where he became president of the Bank of the United States. Almost immediately, they became a political power couple. Smith establish the first newspaper in Washington City, the Daily Intelligencer, when the government moved from Philadelphia to Washington. When Jefferson took office, he granted Smith a government contract printing The House of Representatives Journal.[7] Margaret’s ability to write about her observations made her an ideal partner for Samuel. She often wrote for the paper and other publications, sometimes under her own name, but most often anonymously.[8]

As a woman, her role in the new republic was expected to be exclusively domestic. Smith used this role to her advantage by quickly immersing herself in Washington life; befriending local families and politicians and strengthening her relationships with previous acquaintances. Most notably, Mr. and Mrs. Smith became frequent visitors to the White House. Her nearly unlimited access to political figures and inside knowledge of Washington made her an authority on Washington politics and the shaping of the new republic.[7] Margaret’s letters to her sisters, and sisters-in-law, were full of insightful details about the political landscape of Washington. Her letters were the first step in establishing herself as a legitimate political thinker. The information in her letters was later published in the Richmond Enquirer and finally in her memoir, which was a political and social exploration of Washington more than a description of her own life.[9][10]

Her skill and enduring legacy is especially evident in her writings on Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the summer of 1809.[11] She was acutely aware of the state of the nation and understood that the citizenry was in need of reassurance regarding the leadership coming from the President’s House. Her commentary during her summer trip firmly established Jefferson’s legacy as president as well as shaped his image as “the Sage of Monticello.”[7] While visiting Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, she was a keen observer of Dolley’s hospitality and her political performance as the wife of the President. The ease of Dolley’s entertaining became her trademark and Smith wrote about it in great detail.[11] Margaret was able to subtly manipulate the minds of the American people and reassure them that the government was physically and metaphorically in good hands. Margaret Bayard Smith managed to do all of this in a time when women were confined to play mother and wife at all times.[12]

Personal life[edit]

On 29 September 1800, at the age of 22, Margaret married Samuel Harrison Smith (1772–1845),[11] her second cousin.[8][13] Soon after the birth of their first child was born in 1801, the family bought a farm, Turkey Thicket, three miles from town (now part of Catholic University). They renamed the farm Sidney. Together, they were the parents of:[14]

  • Julia Harrison Smith (b. 1801)
  • Susan Harrison Smith (b. 1804)
  • Jonathan Bayard Harrison Smith (1810–1889), a Washington D.C. lawyer who married Henrietta Elizabeth Henley, daughter of Com. John Dandridge Henley in 1842.[15][16]
  • Anna Maria Harrison Smith (b. 1811)

Margaret died on 7 June 1844.[14]


Through her son, she was the grandmother of John Henley Smith (c. 1844–1907),[15] who married Rebecca Young, Samuel Harrison Smith, who married Alive Hall, and Bayard Thornton Smith (b. 1857), who married Eleanor J. Hyde (d. 1929) (the daughter of George Hyde (1819–1890), an early settler and the Alcalde of San Francisco) in 1882.[16]


  1. ^ Bayard Smith, Margaret (1824). A Winter in Washington; Or, Memoirs of the Seymour Family. New-York: E. Bliss and E. White | Clayton & Van Norden, Printers. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  2. ^ Smith, Margaret Bayard (1 January 1828). "What is gentility? A moral tale ..." P. Thompson. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  3. ^ "Margaret Bayard Smith (Smith, Margaret Bayard, 1778-1844)". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  4. ^ Gaillard, Hunt; Bayard Smith, Margaret. "The first forty years of Washington society, portrayed by the family letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard) from the collection of her grandson, J. Henley Smith". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Harrison, Richard A. (July 14, 2014). Princetonians, 1776-1783: A Biographical Dictionary. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400856534. Retrieved 16 March 2017. 
  6. ^ "Margaret Bayard Smith | Thomas Jefferson's Monticello". Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c Allgor, Catherine (2012). "Margaret Bayard Smith's 1809 Journey to Monticello and Montpelier: The Politics of Performance in the Early Republic". Early American Studies. 10 (1). JSTOR 23546681. 
  8. ^ a b Newell, Aimee E. (March 15, 2014). A Stitch in Time: The Needlework of Aging Women in Antebellum America. Ohio University Press. ISBN 9780821444757. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  9. ^ "Margaret Bayard Smith". Histories of the National Mall. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  10. ^ Hunt, Gailliard, ed. The First Forty Years of Washington Society. New York: Scribner, 1906, page 10
  11. ^ a b c Smith, Margaret Bayard (1965). The First Forty Years of Washington Society. New York: Fredrick Ungar Publishing Co. 
  12. ^ "Margaret Bayard Smith's Account of Madison's Inauguration and Ball, [4 March 1809]". National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  13. ^ Dictionary of American Biography: Including Men of the Time ... and a Supplement. Houghton; Osgood. 1879. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  14. ^ a b Bulloch, Joseph Gaston Baillie (1919). A History and Genealogy of the Families of Bayard, Houstoun of Georgia: And the Descent of the Bolton Family from Assheton, Byron and Hulton of Hulton Park, by Joseph Gaston Baillie Bulloch ... J. H. Dony, Printer. Retrieved 16 March 2017. 
  15. ^ a b Meigs, John Rodgers (2006). A Civil War Soldier of Christ and Country: The Selected Correspondence of John Rodgers Meigs, 1859-64. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252030765. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  16. ^ a b American Ancestry: Giving the Name and Descent, In The Male Line, of, Americans Whose Ancestors Settled in the United States Previous to the Declaration of Independence A.D. 1776., Vol. IX. Albany, New York: Joel Munsell's Sons, Publishers. 1894. Retrieved 17 March 2017.