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Alexander Smyth (1765 – April 17, 1830) was an American lawyer, soldier, and politician from Virginia. Smyth served in the Virginia Senate, Virginia House of Delegates, United States House of Representatives and as a general during the War of 1812. Smyth County, Virginia, is named in his honor.

Alexander Smyth
Alexander Smyth.jpg
Portrait of Alexander Smyth
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 22nd district
In office
March 4, 1827 – April 17, 1830
Preceded byBenjamin Estil
Succeeded byJoseph Draper
In office
March 4, 1823 – March 3, 1825
Preceded byHugh Nelson
Succeeded byBenjamin Estil
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 6th district
In office
March 4, 1817 – March 3, 1823
Preceded byDaniel Sheffey
Succeeded byGeorge Tucker
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Wythe County
In office
Alongside Montgomery Friel
In office
Alongside Jacob Fishback
In office
Alongside Joseph Crockett and Samuel Graham
In office
Alongside Daniel Sheffey
In office
Alongside Francis Carter
In office
Alongside William Caffee
Personal details
BornSeptember 14, 1765
Island of Rathlin, Kingdom of Ireland
DiedApril 17, 1830 (aged 64–65)
Washington, D.C., United States
Resting placeCongressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Political partyJacksonian
Other political
Spouse(s)Nancy Binkley
ChildrenMalvina Smyth
OccupationLawyer, politician
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1808 – 1813
RankBrigadier General
CommandsRegiment of Riflemen
Battles/warsWar of 1812
*Battle of Queenston Heights
*Battle of Frenchman's Creek

Early lifeEdit

Smyth was born on the Island of Rathlin, Ireland. He immigrated to the United States with his father, Rev. Alfred Smythe at the age of 10, and settled in Botetourt County, Virginia, in 1775 where he completed preparatory studies. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Abingdon, Virginia.

Smyth moved to Wythe County, Virginia, and was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1792, 1796, 1801, 1802, and from 1804 to 1808. He served in the Virginia Senate in 1808 and 1809.

Military careerEdit

Smyth served in the United States Army from 1808 to 1813. Commissioned as a colonel in 1808, he served as Inspector General to William Eustis, the acting War Secretary.

Shortly after the outbreak of the War of 1812, Smyth was promoted to brigadier general on July 6, 1812. During the Battle of Queenston Heights he refused to support his commander, General Stephen Van Rensselaer, a militia commander with no experience. After Van Rensselaer's disgrace, Smyth was given command and proved himself equally inept. His plan to invade Canada started with the Battle of Frenchman's Creek but was then abandoned because of problems due to poor organization.[1]

After the failed attack on Canada, Smyth was insulted by Brigadier General Peter B. Porter, who accused Smyth of cowardice.[2] Smyth challenged Porter to a duel, but both men went unscathed. The historian John R. Elting wrote of the duel, stating, "Unfortunately, both missed."[3] In the wake of his failure, Smyth's name was removed from the U.S. Army rolls.[4]

Postwar careerEdit

After the war, Smyth resumed the practice of law, and again became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1816, 1817, 1826, and 1827. He was elected to the Fifteenth United States Congress and reelected to the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Congresses, serving from March 4, 1817, to March 3, 1825. He was elected again to the Twentieth and Twenty-first Congresses, serving again from March 4, 1827, until his death.

Smyth died in Washington, D.C., and was interred in the United States Congressional Cemetery. Smyth County, Virginia, is named after him.

Electoral historyEdit

  • 1817; Smyth was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 66.99% of the vote, defeating Federalist Benjamin Estill.
  • 1819; Smyth was re-elected unopposed.
  • 1821; Smyth was re-elected unopposed.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Quimby, p. 77
  2. ^ Kellman, Rich. "War of 1812: Part V - Heroes and Villains". WBFO. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  3. ^ Elting, p. 51
  4. ^ Quimby, p. 78

External linksEdit

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Daniel Sheffey
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
George Tucker
Preceded by
Hugh Nelson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 22nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Benjamin Estil
Preceded by
Benjamin Estil
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 22nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Joseph Draper
Military offices
Preceded by
Abimael Y. Nicoll (acting)
Inspector General of the U. S. Army
July 6, 1812 – March 3, 1813
Succeeded by
Zebulon Pike