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James Smith (1737–1812[1] or 1814[2]) was a frontiersman, farmer and soldier in British North America. In 1765, he led the "Black Boys", a group of Pennsylvania men, in a nine-month rebellion against British rule, ten years before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. He participated in the war as a colonel of the Pennsylvania militia and was a legislator in the Kentucky General Assembly. Smith was also an author, publishing his analysis of Native American ways of fighting in Narrative in 1799.

Early life and capture

Smith was born in what is now Franklin County, Pennsylvania. He had little formal education,[1] but could read and write.[2]

In May 1755,[3] he was helping build the westward road for General Edward Braddock's ill-fated expedition against the French[1][2][4] when he was taken captive by Delaware Indians. Smith was brought to Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio River, where he was forced to run a gauntlet before being given over to the French.[5] He was eventually adopted by a Mohawk family, ritually cleansed, and made to practice tribal ways—ultimately gaining respect for Indian culture[3] before escaping near Montreal in 1759. He returned to the Conococheague Valley in Pennsylvania and took up farming, marrying Anne Wilson in May 1763.[1]

During Pontiac's War, he fought in the 1763 Battle of Bushy Run and accompanied British officer Henry Bouquet's 1764 expedition into the Ohio Country.[2] When the unrest subsided, however, the British allowed trading with the Native Americans to resume, arousing the anger of the colonists.

Black Boys Rebellion

In the 1760s, Smith led an unofficial band called the "Black Boys" (so called because they blackened their faces while engaged in their unauthorized activities) in protecting settlers in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio from Native American attacks.[2] On March 6, 1765, they stopped a pack train and burned illegal goods, including rum and gunpowder, that British official George Croghan was trying to trade to the Native Americans. The British authorities, however, sided with Croghan. This led to the Black Boys Rebellion or Smith's Rebellion, armed resistance to British rule in North America.[1] The rebels laid siege to Fort Loudoun. They captured enough soldiers to exchange them two-for-one for settlers imprisoned, rightly or wrongly, for raids on wagon trains. The rebellion died down after the Black Boys succeeded in forcing the British 42nd Highland Regiment to abandon the fort in November.[4] The Black Boys also captured Fort Bedford, the first fort taken from the British by the colonials.[6] Smith left to explore Kentucky the following year.[4][7]

American Revolutionary War and later life

When the American War of Independence broke out, he joined the Pennsylvania militia and was made a colonel[1] in 1777.[4] He also represented Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania at the 1776 Constitutional Convention.

After his wife died in 1778, Smith moved to Westmoreland County. In 1785, he married Margaret Irwin.[1] By the late 1780s, he and his family were living in Bourbon County, Kentucky.[4] He served as a member of the Kentucky General Assembly for a number of years.[4] In 1799, he published his Narrative, an analysis of how the Native Americans fought.[4] Smith became a Presbyterian missionary to the Native Americans,[4] aided by the knowledge he had acquired of their customs in his early captivity. His son became a Shaker, but he himself, after living with his son and among the Shakers for a few months, concluded they were a cult and denounced them in a pamphlet entitled Remarkable Occurrences Lately Discovered Among The People Called Shakers, printed in 1810.[1][4] He died in either 1812 or 1814.

Book, film and television

James Smith was the subject of the 1937 book The First Rebel by Neil F. Swanson.[8] He was portrayed by John Wayne in the 1939 movie Allegheny Uprising,[9] which was based on the book. A segment in the 2006 PBS miniseries The War that Made America shows a reenactment of Smith running the Native American gauntlet following his capture in 1755.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 "James Smith". Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "James Smith". Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Rotz, Anna. "The James Smith Story". Fort Loudoun Historical Society. Retrieved 15 October 2011. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Leroy V. Eid. ""Their Rules of War": James Smith's Summary of Indian Woodland War". National Park Service. Retrieved October 9, 2011. 
  5. "The War that Made America: Biographies (British)". WQED Pittsburgh. Retrieved 15 October 2011. 
  6. "About Us". Bedford Borough. Retrieved October 9, 2011. 
  7. "Gov. John Penn". Retrieved October 8, 2011. 
  8. "Books, Jul. 26, 1937". Time magazine magazine. July 26, 1937.,9171,758045,00.html. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  9. Frank S. Nugent (November 10, 1939). "Allegheny Uprising (1939)". 

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