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Guide to the Buckingham Smith papers and collected materials, 1529-1941, n.d. MS 2413

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© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Julia Lipkins

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on June 16, 2016 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical Note

Thomas Buckingham Smith was a lawyer, diplomat, antiquarian, and author. Smith was born on October 21, 1810 on Cumberland Island, Georgia. The family moved to St. Augustine, Florida in 1820, when Smith’s father was appointed U.S. Consul to Mexico. Smith attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and earned a degree from Harvard Law School in 1836. Following graduation, Smith worked in the Maine office of Samuel Fessenden, a politician and abolitionist. He returned to St. Augustine in 1839 and served as a secretary to Robert R. Reid, governor of the Territory of Florida from 1839-1841. Smith served as a member of the Florida Territorial Legislative Council in 1841. He married Julia Gardner of Concord, New Hampshire in 1843.

Throughout his life, Smith was a devoted student of North American history, specifically Spanish colonialism and Native American cultures and languages. In order to further his studies, Smith lobbied U.S. government officials for diplomatic appointments abroad. He was successful in obtaining positions in the U.S. embassies of Mexico (1850-1852) and Spain (1855-1858). While abroad, Smith actively purchased, transcribed and translated manuscripts related to the Spanish colonization of North America. Smith also supplemented his income by selling rare books and manuscripts to collectors in the U.S., including Peter Force, an editor and politician, whose collection was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1867. During the 1850-1860s, Smith translated and edited several publications, including Colección de varios documentos para la historia de la Florida y tierras adyacentes (1857),  A grammatical sketch of the Heve language (1861),  Narratives of the career of Hernando de Soto in the conquest of Florida (1866), and  Relation of Alvar Nunez Cabeca de Vaca (1871).

Smith died in New York City in 1871 and was buried in St. Augustine.