James Clinch Smith


Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
It is odd that the career of James Clinch Smith has so far gone unrecorded on the board. In both the press reports of the day and the testimony of his close friend, Colonel Archibald Gracie, it is easy to trace his biography - almost up until the precise moment of his death on the morning of Monday, 15th April, 1912.

Smith was a direct descendant of 'Bullrider' Smith (alternatively, 'Smythe'), a seventeenth-century English settler who, upon his arrival in the New World, made a pact with the local Indians that he could keep all the land he could ride over in one day whilst seated upon a bull. No doubt contrary to their expectations, he managed to remain upon his uncomfortable mount from dawn until dusk and the vast tract of land he thus acquired became the site of the eponymous Smithtown, Long Island. His family remained in situ for the next three centuries. James Clinch's father, Judge J. Lawrence Smith, owned a Colonial-style mansion there which still survives today - albeit much modified by his son-in-law, the famous Gilded Age architect, Stanford White. A white marble bas-relief of White's wife Cornelia Smith was carved by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and can today be found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/astg/ho_1976.388.htm

The various Smith siblings were seemingly quite close - White and Cornelia (or 'Bessie' as she was known) were married by the clergyman husband of her sister, Kate; they lived near to one another, in houses either designed or altered by White; and they were spectacularly enriched by the legacies left to them in 1886 by their aunt, Cornelia Clinch Stewart, the widow of department store tycoon, A.T. Stewart (famous for being one of the three richest men in the States at the outbreak of the Civil War - the other two being Cornelius Vanderbilt and John Jacob Astor). In May 1895, the engagement was announced between our own James Clinch Smith and Bertha Ludington Barnes of Chicago - an engagement which was, The New York Times noted, calculated to 'put the noses of match-making mothers out-of-joint'. As well it might - not only was Smith extremely wealthy (his Stewart inheritance was estimated to have been in the region of $3,000,000) but he was also a very popular man-about-town. Indeed, three years previously, his name had featured on Caroline Astor's original list of the 'Four Hundred' - an honour which elevated him to the very highest echelons of Society and which was conferred on only one other Titanic passenger, Colonel John Jacob Astor. On her side, Bertha brought both beauty and elegance to the match. When her portrait by Wilhelm H. Funk was exhibited in 1898, the critic from The Times went into raptures - she was painted 'in profile, with a light summer evening gown on white stuff just falling from her shoulders and with her finely turned head just raised...there is a wild rose in the dark brown hair, the only bit of colour in the portrait, which is painted in a low key and is cool and soft in colour and tone...very effective are the regular classic features and the delicate complexion against the cool grey background'. In addition to her looks, Bertha was also reported to be a very talented musician. The couple were married on 5 June, 1895, at Grace Church in Chicago. Numbered among the guests was Pierrepont Isham, the brother of future Titanic victim Anne Isham, and the officiating clergyman was Reverend Ernest M. Stires. He obviously maintained impressive connections among his Society flock, since he later went on to preside at the weddings of Tyrell Cavendish to Julia Siegel in 1906, and Margaret Hays to Dr Charles Easton in 1913.
 
Jan 22, 2001
63
0
146
Martin,

Have you visited the Smith family homestead in Smithtown, Long Island? It will be open to the public on September 20 for the Smithtown Historical Society Heritage Fair.

You are not the only board member who is interested in James Clinch Smith. I have been researching his life for 7 years, and recently posted a biography on ET.

The biography is a brief one, but I will be giving house tours during the fair, and if you can come, I will give you many more facts about this fascinating family.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Hi Carole

Sometimes, one neglects to look at the most obvious sources for biographical information. In this case, I did not realise that Smith's profile had been updated! A belated many thanks - and apologies, too, for duplicating many of your findings in my earlier post.

White's story, and his connections to the great and good (and the not so good!) of the Gilded Age, make him a fascinating study. Plus, his activities during the sinking can be plotted with some precision in the account of his friend, Archibald Gracie.

I would dearly love to be present at your tour, Carole, but I regret that commitments keep me in London for the time-being. I wish you every success with it.

Warm good wishes

Martin
 
Jan 22, 2001
63
0
146
Martin,

I hope sometime in the future you can visit Smithtown. The house is open twice a year for tours, in September and May.

It's well worth the trip. Just down the road is St. James Episcopal Church where Archibald Gracie attended the memorial service for his friend. You can see the memorial stone in memory of James and Bertha Smith, and also a stained glass window in memory of his cousin, Charles Nicoll Clinch, designed by Stanford White, who also designed his gravestone. Charles was a lieutenant in the third cavalry, and is sometimes confused with James Clinch Smith, who was never in the military. Charles was said to be the richest officer in the army due to his share of the A. T. Stewart inheritance. He died at the tragically young age of 31.

Also in the area is Deepwells, the home of Mayor William Gaynor, who was mayor of New York at the time of Titanic. His daughter was once engaged to Clinch Smith's nephew Alexander Wetherill, but the engagement was broken.
 

Mark Baber

Moderator
Member
Dec 29, 2000
6,243
241
333
Mayor William Gaynor, who was mayor of New York at the time of Titanic.

Oddly enough, Gaynor's death also has a White Star connection:

10 September 1913: Shortly after ordering his lunch from a steward, New
York City Mayor William J Gaynor suffers a fatal heart attack while
sitting in a deck chair on Baltic II (Capt. Ranson), some 400 miles west
of Ireland. Gaynor, who never completely recovered after being shot on
the deck of NDL's Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse in Hoboken in 1910 in an
assassination attempt, is found unresponsive in his chair by his son
Rufus and cannot be revived despite efforts by his personal nurse and
the ship's surgeon, Dr. Hopper. Gaynor's body is embalmed on board and
placed in a sealed casket; it will be returned to New York on Lusitania,
which sails from Liverpool on 13 September. (Source: The New York Times,
12 September 1913.)
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Ah! And here we are: the J. Lawrence Smith homestead in Smithtown. Lovely.


Carole - am I correct in thinking that this was J. Clinch Smith's boyhood home?

Smith was well-known to many of his fellow passengers aboard the Titanic. Famously, he belonged to Helen Churchill Candee's 'Our Coterie' but, as a member of New York's elite 'Four Hundred', he was on reasonably familiar terms with Colonel John Jacob Astor (one wonders what he made of Madeleine?) He also knew the William E. Carters, from various Newport summers, and the Frederick O. Speddens - Daisy Spedden mourned the loss of her friend 'Jim' Smith in a letter written after the sinking.

There is a strong suggestion, too, that he was acquainted with Mrs Brown, Mrs Appleton and Mrs Cornell. In 1911, his sister, Bessie White, attended a musical party held at the Paris home of their sister, Frances Guthrie.
 
Jan 22, 2001
63
0
146
Martin,

Yes, that was J. Clinch Smith's home, but it was much larger in his time. The porch, designed by Stanford White, was demolished, which was really sad. The small wing at the right side of the house was originally an apartment that was built for Clinch's grandmother. When he was home in 1911, he had it modified to be a ballroom, probably to please Bertha when she came home, but no pictures of it have survived.

He probably did know the Carters, but their names do not appear on any of the guest lists that I have seen for the Smiths' Newport parties.

I wonder if he ever met Ann Isham. She was living in Paris at the same time as the Smiths. Before her marriage, Bertha went to some parties in Chicago that showed the name "Miss Isham" on the guest list, but there were several Miss Ishams in Chicago at the time, so we can't be sure.

He probably knew William Augustus Spencer also. William's brother Lorillard had a house in Newport very close to the Smiths, and it's possible he visited. Also, the Spencers lived in Paris.

It appears he did approve of Madeleine. On the Charles Pellegrino website, www.charlespellegrino.com/passengers/helen_candee.htm there is an account by Mrs. Candee that was written after Sealed Orders in which she says that Clinch invited her to tea in his "absurdly small" cabin with "Jack Astor and his jolly young wife" on Sunday afternoon. She had a bridge game already scheduled for that time, so it was decided that she would come the next day, which, of course, never happened.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Hi Carole

Thanks for this. James and Bertha Smith certainly did know Billy and Lucile Carter - socially, if not intimately. At one shipwreck celebrity-heavy dinner, hosted in Newport by the improbably-named Mrs Spottswood D. Schencks to celebrate the 1902 engagement of Billy's friend Reginald Vanderbilt to Kathleen Neilson, both couples were there; along with Colonel John Jacob Astor and Alfred G. Vanderbilt.

Is Charles Pellegrino a totally reliable source? I think there has been some debate in the past. I'd add that Madeleine was perceived as being far from 'jolly' by other observers during the voyage and she seems to have kept pretty much to herself - which possibly had as much to do with her desire to avoid the scrutiny of her fellow travellers as it did with her 'delicate condition'.

Best wishes

Martin
 
Jan 22, 2001
63
0
146
I'm not too sure about Pellegrino.

Reggie and Alfred Vanderbilt were at Bertha's barnyard dance, but the Carters and Astors were not.

You probably know that Clinch was well known as a coaching enthusiast. In 1894, the summer before his marriage, he participated in the Newport midsummer coaching parade. This is a tradition that still continues in Newport. It will take place next weekend. You can see some pictures at www.newportmansions.org
 
Jun 11, 2011
1
0
31
Martin, Carole, I have just come across your postings which are indeed fascinating. I've also done some limited research into James Clinch Smith, though to nowhere near the detail that you both describe. I would really like to know more about his relatives on the Clinch side, plus his siblings.

I also am very surprised that he has yet to receive wider recognition as a prominent figure on Titanic, particularly given the detailed account of Clinch Smith's actions by Col Gracie. I wonder if this could be redressed in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking. His personal story and reason for traveling the Atlantic at that time also somewhat rivals the fictional tale told in the Winslet Titanic movie.

My interest was is genealogical. I have been tracing the roots of the Clinch family around the world for some years and Clinch Smith's ancestors through his mother's side are interesting. I believe that her branch of the Clinch family was among the oldest of American families, with Christopher Clinch being born in Surry, Virginia in 1639. I suspect he was a son of one of the large Clinch families that existed at that time in southern England, but have been unable to find out more as yet.

he also seems to have been related to Brig Gen Duncan Lamont Clinch, who became famous, along with his sons, in various military actions from 1812 up to and including the Civil War.

There were also two other Clinchs on Titanic, members of the Clench branch of the family (Clinch and Clench were interchangeable among all branches of the family for several generations, though only one branch settled firmly on Clench into modern times). Both were crew members, one survived the sinking and gave evidence at one of the Boards of enquiry. The one who died is recorded wrongly as a Clinch in the museum in Halifax, NS, which I visited in summer 2009. They may have been brothers from Warwick, though I'm not sure.

Craig Carey-Clinch.
 

Mark Baber

Moderator
Member
Dec 29, 2000
6,243
241
333
Hello, Craig---

Please note that neither Martin nor Carole has visited this board since 2009; it's therefore quite likely that neither of them will see your message. If you click on their names, you'll get a page that includes a link to send them a PM; that may be your best bet for getting a response.
 

Similar threads