Revolutionary War Leader

Footnotes to Long Island History


DEC 8 1949


Thomas R. Bayles

        Colonel Josiah Smith, a prominent Long Islander during the Revolutionary period, was born at East Moriches November 28, 1723, the son of Nathaniel Smith and grandson of Richard( Bull) Smith, the founder of Smithtown.

       He married Susannah, daughter of Judge Hugh Gelston of Southampton in 1742. He was a man of considerable property as he inherited a large estate from his father, and occupied a high position in the county.

       Before the revolution, Josiah Smith was a colonel of the militia and at a meeting of the residents of the parish of South Haven on June 13, 1774, it was voted that Captain Josiah Smith, William, Smith, Colonel, Nathaniel Woodhull, Colonel William Floyd, Thomas Fanning, Captain David Mulford and Captain Jonathan Baker, "be a standing committee for this place to correspond with the Committee of Correspondence in the city of New York."

       At a meeting the inhabitants of Brookhaven town held on June 8, 1775, 16 persons were elected to represent the town as a Committee of Observation and "to deliberate on other matters relative to our political welfare." Among these was Captain Josiah Smith.

       When the Revolution broke out he was appointed a Colonel of the Regiment of Minute Men. Early in 1776, the Continental Congress proceeded to organize four battalions for defensive purposes in the colony of New York and Josiah Smith, chairman, and the members of the Suffolk County committee were authorized by letters to raise three companies "to prevent depredations on long Island."

       On July 20, General Woodhull wrote to Colonel Smith, notifying him that congress had called out one quarter of the militia in Suffolk, Queens and Kings Counties for the defense of the stock and inhabitants of long Island. This letter further stated that "one regiment has been made of the whole detachment and you have been appointed to take the command of it."

       Under this authority, Colonel Smith organized the Suffolk County Regiment. The following quotation is from a historian of the battle of Long Island. "Suffolk County had early given evidence of its hearty zeal for republican doctrines. Out of its whole population of freeholders and adult male inhabitants, numbering 2,384 between the ages of 16 and 60 only 236 were reckoned as being of loyalist sympathy.

       The enrolled militia of the county exceeded 2,000, of whom 393 officers and privates were in the ranks of Colonel Smith's regiment, the best disciplined and armed on the Island.    It was the only one that could be considered in any form to have survived the shock of the 27th of August, (Battle of Long Island), and only a small part of this body ever did service after that fatal day."

       On August 12, 1776, Colonel Smith marched from Smithtown to Brooklyn, picking up the companies of his regiment on the way. According to his own statement his regiment was engaged with the enemy near Flatbush on three occasions preceding the battle of Brooklyn.

       On August 29, Colonel Smith and his regiment, in compliance with orders marched to New York, there to await further directions from the Convention. According to Onderdonk's history, the regiment was soon disbanded, "the Colonel giving leave for every man to shift for himself in getting their families and effects off Long Island."

       Colonel Smith returned to his home in East Moriches, and according to "Mather's Refugees to Connecticut," went to Connecticut in November, 1776, to escape the British who were in possession of Long Island at that time. He must have returned to his home, sometime later as an item copied by Town Historian Osborn Shaw from an old notebook of Colonel Smith (formerly in the possession of the late Riley P. Howell) states that he was seized at his home by two British soldiers on July 1, 1779, and taken to the Provost in New York where he was kept until September 24 of that year when he was liberated and he returned to his home.

       He was treasurer of Suffolk county from 1746 until his death in 1786. He left one son and three daughters and was buried in a corner of a field near his homestead. A tombstone in a neighboring cemetery bears the record of his memory. This cemetery has been taken over by Brookhaven Town and will be maintained as a historical landmark.

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