James Smithson (circa 1765-1829) was an amateur chemist and mineralogist of some reputation in his own day. He was the illegitimate son of Sir Hugh Smithson, Bt. (later duke of Northumberland) and Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie, a gentlewoman. To posterity he is best known as the founder of the Smithsonian Institution, created by a residual bequest under his will. Smithson was born in France about 1765; was naturalized a British subject about 1775; and entered Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1782, graduating M.A. in 1786.
(1) Original Smithson manuscripts and copies, 1796-1878; (2) documents related to securing the Smithson bequest and claims by would-be heirs, 1835-1892; (3) research and correspondence about Smithson's life and lineage, 1881-1951 and undated; (4) removal of Smithson's remains to America, 1903-1905; (5) photographs; (6) publications
This collection contains the few original Smithson papers to survive a fire at the Smithsonian in 1865. It is, however, chiefly concerned with efforts to obtain the bequest; to trace the details of Smithson's own history; and to reinter his remains in the United States, which was accomplished in 1904. Notable among the actors in these pursuits were William Jones Rhees, the Institution's Chief Clerk; Samuel P. Langley, its third Secretary; and Alexander Graham Bell, long a Smithsonian Regent. The collection consists of correspondence, photographs, and publications.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520