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Papers of William Smith

Call Number: MS 3


Politician's archives from an English 18th and 19th century Protestant Dissenter, or individual who does not accept and follow all the tenents of the Anglican Church. Includes a collection of letters received, speech drafts, printed announcements, etc.


  • Creation: 1785 - 1835


Language of Materials

English, some French

Conditions Governing Access

No access restriction

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of William Smith

William Smith was born in September 1756 to a Dissenting family of both London and the Isle of Wight. He attended French's Dissenting School at Ware and the Daventry Academy before joining the family's grocery business.

In 1779 after the passing of an uncle, Smith inherited his uncle's fortune. In 1781 he married Frances Coape; by that same year, he had converted to Unitarianism. The couple had 11 children, including daughter Frances (Fanny), who married W. E. Nightingale and was the mother of Florence Nightingale.

In the 1780s Smith worked for the radical Society for Constitutional Information. From 1784-1790 he was the Member of Parliament for Sudbury (a seat he bought); after losing his Sudbury seat, he bought the seat for Camelford and was MP from there from 1791 to 1796. He was again MP for Sudbury from 1796-1802. During the 1790s he joined the moderate Whigs and joined Wilbur Wilberforce in abolishing the trade of enslaved peoples.

For most of the years between 1802 and 1830, Smith was MP for Norwich. He was appointed a Royal Commissioner to supervise the building of roads and bridges in the Scottish Highlands from 1803-1813. In the 1810s and 1820s he suffered business reversals and was almost bankrupt by 1823. William Smith died in May 1835.


.75 Linear Feet (2 document cases + 9 oversize folders) : 185 items; Ornamentation: Item D:7 includes cross-section diagram of mine area.


Each series is arranged chronologically; undated items are either placed at the end of the series or in sequence if they have been tentatively dated to a year or year range.

Physical Location

MS 3

Physical Location

MS Q11:10

Other Finding Aids

See the attached for detailed list by lettered section (A,B, etc) and item, as well as more information about William Smith and about Dissenters:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from W.P. Wreden


Cited in R. Stanley Ingersol's MA thesis (KU, Religious Studies), 1978: William Smith's role in the politics of abolition and religious liberty in England 1784-1830.
Guide to the Dissenters Collection
Papers of William Smith
Finding aid prepared by alh, January 19, 1984. Finding aid encoded by skt, 2005. Finding aid revised by mwh, 2019.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Papers of William Smith, MS 3, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States