Melancton Smith – Member of the New York Provincial Congress


Melancton Smith (May 7, 1744 – July 29, 1798) was a New York Delegate to the Continental Congress. His first name is sometimes spelled “Melanchthon”; it derives from Philipp Melanchthon, the leader in the Reformation.

He was born in Jamaica on Long Island in New York and home schooled by his parents. He was businessman in Poughkeepsie, New York and in 1769 he helped organize the Washington Hollow Presbyterian Church.

He became a delegate to the first New York Provincial Congress in New York on May 22, 1775. He served in the Continental Line Regiment on June 30, 1775, which he organized as the Dutchess County Rangers. In 1777 and 1778. On Feb. 11, 1777, he became one of three members of a Dutchess County, New York commission for “inquiring into, detecting and defeating all conspiracies … against the liberties of America;” he served for the next six months administering oaths of allegiance, arresting suspects, informing upon and examining Loyalists. While wielding this powerful civil and military authority, he was also serving as sheriff of Dutchess County. He extended his land holdings by purchasing some of the forfeited Loyalist estates. (Boyd 1935)

Smith moved to New York City in 1785 where he was a prominent merchant. He helped found the New York Manumission Society in opposition to slavery and served in the Continental Congress from 1785 to 1787. He was the most important Anti-federalist member of the State ratification convention at Poughkeepsie in 1788, where he made many of the same arguments as the Federal Farmer. Following the ratification of the Constitution by New Hampshire and Virginia, and a letter he received from Nathan Dane, Smith became convinced that New York had no choice but to accept the ratification of the Constitution and could not afford to wait until it had been amended. His vote for the Constitution, with the recommendation of amendments, broke Anti-Federalist ranks and brought down Governor George Clinton’s wrath. He was one of the few important landowners and merchants among the Anti-Federalists, and Smith continued in the Clintonian party. He was elected to the Assembly in 1791 and canvassed the state for Clinton in 1792 against John Jay. He died during the yellow fever epidemic in New York City in 1798 and is buried in Jamaica Cemetery, Jamaica, Queens, New York.