Samuel Francis Smith
, (1808-1895), Baptist
minister, journalist and author, is best known for having written the lyrics to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee
, which he entitled America
Early Life and Education
Samuel Francis Smith was born in Boston
, on October 21
and was educated at the Eliot School
, Boston Latin School
, Harvard College (now Harvard University
), and Andover Theological Seminary
Smith attended Harvard from 1825 to 1829, and was a classmate of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
. He did translations from various foreign languages into English
and wrote magazine
articles to raise funds for his tuition. He received many honors on his graduation in 1829, and at first went into journalism
before deciding to become a minister, which led to his beginning his studies at Andover.
Andover Theological Seminary
Smith began his studies for the ministry in 1830 at Andover Theological Seminary in Andover and graduated in 1834.
My Country, 'Tis of Thee
Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" in 1831, while a student at the Andover Theological Seminary
. His friend, Lowell Mason
had asked him to translate the lyrics in some German school songbooks or to write new lyrics. One melody in particular caught his attention. The German lyrics were a German patriotic hymn of some sort. Instead of translating it, Smith decided to write an American patriotic hymn, so he sat down and in thirty minutes had written My Country, 'Tis of Thee
, to go along with the melody. He had never heard the tune before and had no idea of its derivation or associations with the British national anthem, "God Save the King."
Smith gave Mason the lyrics he had written and the song was first performed in public on July 4, 1831, at a children's Independence Day celebration at Park Street Church in Boston. First publication of 'America" was in 1832.
The house Smith lived in is now a Phillips Academy dormitory called America House, or A-House for short.
After graduating from Andover Theological, Smith worked in Boston editing the Baptist Missionary Magazine before going to Maine
In 1834, Smith was ordained a Baptist
minister on February 12
, in Waterville, Maine
, where in addition to his ministry, he served as Professor of Modern Languages
at Waterville College
. In 1842, he left Waterville to go to Newton, Massachusetts
In Newton, Smith became editor of the Christian Review
and other publications of the Baptist Missionary Union
(BMU). He continued his ministry as well, becoming pastor of the First Baptist Church in Newton
in the village of Newton Centre
. After twelve years as pastor of the Newton Centre church, he became editorial secretary of the BMU and served there for fifteen years. During the years 1875-1880, he made many trips to Europe, Turkey
, the Indian Empire
as well as Ceylon
to visit missionary outposts.
Marriage and Family
On September 16
Samuel Francis Smith married Mary White Smith, whose maiden name was Smith. They had six children.
Smith was foster father for four years to teenager Thornton Chase, who, instead of entering college, left to become an officer in the Civil War. He later converted to the Bahá'í Faith and was a leading member in the United States.
Smith Homestead in Newton
After moving to Newton, Samuel Francis Smith bought a house at 1181 Centre Street which had been built in 1836 and added on to in 1842. In 1958 a society was formed to buy and preserve it. The home was damaged by fire in 1968 and again in 1969. It has been torn down since. A small monument marks the empty lot.
- Hymns: In addition to My Country, 'Tis of Thee, Samuel Francis Smith wrote over 150 other hymns and in 1843 teamed with Baron Stow to compile a Baptist hymnal, The Psalmist.
Samuel Francis Smith died November 16
on his way to preach in Boston and was buried in Newton Cemetery in Newton. "America" was among the pieces sung at his funeral.
Songwriters Hall of Fame
Samuel Francis Smith was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
- Hein, David. "S. F. Smith and 'America.'" Baptist Quarterly: Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 32 (1987): 134–40.
- Music, David M., and Paul A. Richardson. I Will Sing the Wondrous Story: A History of Baptist Hymnody in North America. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2008.