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Lydia Smith - American Patriot and Inspiration.

This is an American story that you probably have never heard about. It is the story of a black woman in the civil war named Lydia Smith. Please take the time to read her story...


image from leagueofmyown.files.wordpress.comA woman of great heart, Lydia Hamilton Smith was born on Valentine’s Day at Russell Tavern in Adams County, Pennsylvania, to an African American mother and an Irish father. She married a free black man named Jacob Smith and bore two sons but they separated before he died in 1852 and she raised the children alone. Thaddeus Stevens of Lancaster, whom Lydia Smith and her mother knew when he was an attorney and abolitionist in Gettysburg, offered her a position as his housekeeper. She moved there with her young sons in 1847. In 1848 Stevens was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he advocated ending slavery. In recent years, archeologists have discovered evidence that the cistern at his Lancaster house was used as a hiding place for freedom seekers and suspect that Stevens and Smith participated in the Underground Railroad. Smith accompanied Stevens on his trips to Washington, D.C. She was a close friend, included in Stevens’s social gatherings and addressed as “Madam” or “Mrs. Smith.” A noted artist, probably Charles Bird King, painted her portrait. In 1860 Smith purchased her home from Stevens, on a lot adjacent to his.

The 1860s brought hardship and Civil War. Lydia Smith’s oldest son William died in 1860 and Isaac, a noted banjo player and barber, enlisted in the 6th U. S. Colored Troops in 1863. He and his regiment served primarily in Virginia. After the Battle of Gettysburg in July, Lydia Smith acted upon her compassion for the tens of thousands of wounded soldiers. Driving a borrowed horse and wagon through Adams County to a field hospital, she collected donations of food and clothing and distributed them among the wounded men, Union and Confederate alike.

One person said about Lydia, "She was a poor colored woman who had saved a little money by years of hard labor. After the battle, she hired a wagon and horse and traveled through the farms, telling of the thousands of suffering men. She accepted donations of food and clothing and, when the donations dried up, began spending her own money. Each day, with her wagon heaped high, she turned toward the hospitals; and when she reached them, weary from miles of travel, she began to distribute the articles she had brought. To Union soldiers only? No. Union and Confederate alike. In the latter, she was able to see past their role as warriors who were fighting to perpetuate slavery and view them only as wounded, suffering humans. She continued to provide the makeshift hospital populations around Gettysburg with food, clothing and delicacies until she had spent her entire life savings."

Smith and Stevens’s partnership lasted twenty-four years, until “the Great Commoner” (as Stevens was known in Congress) died in 1868. He left $5,000 to Smith in his will. She purchased Stevens’s home in Lancaster and a large boarding house across from the prestigious Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. She spent most of her time operating the establishment and earned a reputation as an astute businesswoman, but she returned often to Lancaster. Lydia Smith died on Valentine’s Day 1884 in Washington, D.C., and was buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lancaster, where she had long been a member.

I have a belief (not Biblical) that certain days that people are born or die on are symbolic. To die on one's birthday for me is a gift from God, telling the whole world that God was pleased with the efforts of this person. Corrie Ten Boom for example not only died on her birthday, but it was also Passover, the holy day for the Jews (and Christians) that she helped save during World War II. It should be noticed that Lydia died on her birthday... Yes, on a pagan holiday, but nonetheless still a sign from God that maybe He was pleased!

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