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Alexander Smyth
Portrait of Alexander Smyth
Born 1765
Island of Rathlin, Ireland
Died 1830 (aged 64–65)
Washington, D.C.
Place of burial United States Congressional Cemetery
Nationality American
Occupation Lawyer, General, politician

Alexander Smyth (1765 – April 17, 1830) was an American lawyer, soldier, and politician from Virginia. Smyth served in the Virginia Senate, Virginia House of Delegates, United States House of Representatives and as a general during the War of 1812. Smyth County, Virginia is named in his honor.

Early life

Smyth was born on the Island of Rathlin, Ireland. He immigrated to the United States and settled in Botetourt County, Virginia in 1775 where he completed preparatory studies. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Abingdon, Virginia.

Smyth moved to Wythe County, Virginia, and was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1792, 1796, 1801, 1802, and from 1804 to 1808. He served in the Virginia Senate in 1808 and 1809.

Military career

Smyth served in the United States Army from 1808 to 1813. Commissioned as a colonel in 1808, he served as Inspector General to William Eustis, the acting War Secretary. During the Battle of Queenston Heights he refused to support his commander, General Stephen Van Rensselaer, a militia commander with no experience. After Van Rensselaer's disgrace, Smyth was given command and proved himself equally inept. His plan to invade Canada started with the Battle of Frenchman's Creek but was then abandoned because of problems due to poor organization.[1]

After the failed attack on Canada, Smyth is insulted by Brigadier General Peter B. Porter, who accuses Smyth of cowardice.[2] Smyth challenged Porter to a duel, but both men went unscathed. The historian John R. Elting wrote of the duel, stating, "Unfortunately, both missed."[3] In the wake of his failure, Smyth's name was removed from the U.S. Army rolls.[4]

Post war career

After the war, Smyth resumed the practice of law, and again became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1816, 1817, 1826, and 1827. He was elected to the Fifteenth United States Congress and reelected to the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Congresses, serving from March 4, 1817 to March 3, 1825. He was elected again to the Twentieth and Twenty-first Congresses, serving again from March 4, 1827 until his death.

Smyth died in Washington, D.C., and was interred in the United States Congressional Cemetery. Smyth County, Virginia is named after him.

Electoral History


Smyth was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 66.99% of the vote, defeating Federalist Benjamin Estill.


Smyth was re-elected unopposed.


Smyth was re-elected unopposed.


  1. Quimby, p. 77
  2. Kellman, Rich. "War of 1812: Part V - Heroes and Villains". WBFO. Retrieved 6 April 2013. 
  3. Elting, p. 51
  4. Quimby, p. 78
  • Elting, John R. (1991). Amateurs, to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. p. 51. ISBN 0-306-80653-3. 
  • Quimby, Robert S. (1997). The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: An Operational and Command Study. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press. ISBN 0-87013-441-8. 
  • Alexander Smyth at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress [1]
Military offices
Preceded by
Abimael Y. Nicoll (acting)
Inspector General of the U. S. Army
July 6, 1812-March 3, 1813
Succeeded by
Zebulon Pike

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