Encyclopedia Titanica

James Clinch Smith

James Clinch Smith
James Clinch Smith

James Clinch Smith, 56, was a descendant of the legendary Richard "Bull Rider" Smith, founder of Smithtown, Long Island, New York.  He was born on April 3, 1856, one of eleven children of Judge John Lawrence Smith of Smithtown and his wife, Sarah Nicoll Clinch Smith. His mother was the niece of Mrs. Cornelia Stewart, who married A.. T. Stewart, owner of New York's first department store.  The youngest of the Smith sisters, Bessie Springs Smith, married the famous architect, Stanford White, in 1884.

After the death of A.T. Stewart in 1876, his elderly, childless widow was very generous to her relatives.  Among her many gifts to the Smith family was a house on Fifth Avenue.  When she died in 1886 there was a prolonged court battle over her will which was settled in 1890, and the Smith family members finally received their share of the estate.

Clinch grew up in Smithtown at the family homestead and graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1878.  He practiced law in New York City at 10 Wall Street and later in the Stewart Building at Broadway and Chambers Street.  The name of the firm was Smith and Keene.

Clinch was a popular figure in New York society and was one of Mrs. Astor's "400". He was a member of many of New York's most elite clubs.  He was an expert yachtsman and horseman and won many prizes at the New York Horse Show. In Smithtown he built his own race track.

In 1895, at the age of 39, he married Bertha Ludington Barnes of Chicago, an accomplished musician and composer.  The couple became well known in New York, Long Island and Newport society.  The Smiths owned a beautiful villa in Newport, "The Moorings", overlooking the harbour.  Their harvest dinner dance, with its unique farmyard decorations, was one of the highlights of the 1902 Newport social season.

In 1904 they moved to Paris, where Bertha pursued her musical career and received much attention for organizing an orchestra consisting only of women.

Although he spent most of his time in Paris, Clinch returned to America at least once every year.  On June 25, 1906, he went to the opening of a new musical comedy "Mamzelle Champagne" at Madison Square Garden.  During the show, he witnessed the murder of his brother-in-law, Stanford White, by Harry K. Thaw. Because he had been talking with Thaw shortly before the murder, he was asked to testify at two of his trials, in 1907 and 1908.

By 1911, Bertha's obsession with music was causing problems in the marriage, and there were rumours of a legal separation or divorce.  Clinch returned to Smithtown in April of that year, but in January of 1912 he returned to Paris at Bertha's request. The couple were reconciled, and Bertha agreed to give up her career and go back to Smithtown to live.  Bertha had planned to travel home with her husband, but at the last minute the plans were changed, and it was decided that Clinch would go back alone to prepare the homestead for her return in a few months.

On April 10, 1912, James Clinch Smith boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg as a first class passenger (17764, £30 13s 11d). He occupied cabin A-7.   Also on the voyage was one of his oldest friends, Col. Archibald Gracie.  On the ship Smith, Gracie and Edward Kent, an architect from Buffalo, became friends with Helen Churchill Candee,  Mauritz Hakan Bjornstrom-Steffanson, Edward Colley and Hugh Woolner.  The group called themselves "Our Coterie".  Colley, Kent and Smith did not survive the sinking.

On April 15, 1912, James Clinch Smith died in the sinking of the Titanic.  In his book The Truth About the Titanic, Gracie described the sinking and the part Clinch had played in helping save the lives of the women and children.  He said Clinch "showed no sign of fear" and called him "a noble gentleman and a man of dauntless courage".

A memorial service was held at St. James Episcopal Church, St. James, Long Island on May 11, 1912.  Bertha Smith survived her husband by only a little more than a year. She died on 19 August 1913 in a sanatarium in Leysin, Switzerland, where she was being treated for tuberculosis.  It was said that she had never recovered from the loss of her husband and that the real cause of her death was "a broken heart".  In St. James Church there is a memorial stone in memory of Bertha and James Clinch Smith.

References and Sources

Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279])
Chicago Chronicle, 4 June 1895, Society News: Mrs Charles J. Barnes Entertains Her Daughter's Bridal Party
New York Times
New York World
New York Herald
New York American
New York city directories
New York social registers

Smithtown Historical Society records
The Truth About the Titanic by Archibald Gracie

Newspaper Articles

Chicago Daily News (15 April 1912) PASSENGER WED A CHICAGO GIRL
Chicago American (16 April 1912) 300 OF TITANIC'S PASSENGERS WERE BOOKED AT PARIS
Brooklyn Daily Times (16 April 1912) Brooklynites are Lost as Titanic Sinks
Several Are Believed to Have Sunk With Ship
New York Times (16 April 1912) JAMES CLINCH SMITH
Brooklyn Daily Times (16 April 1912) James Clinch Smith Was Noted Clubman
Philadelphia Inquirer (17 April 1912) J. Clinch Smith Photo
New York Times (17 April 1912) LOST TWO IN IROQUOIS FIRE
The Toronto Daily Star (19 April 1912) LAST MAN TO LEAVE TITANIC WAS COLONEL GRACIE, U.S.A.
Washington Times (19 April 1912) Society is Shocked At News of Death
Port Jefferson Echo (20 April 1912) A Frightful Disaster
New York Times (24 April 1912) THE LOSS OF JAMES CLINCH SMITH
New York Times (25 April 1912) TRIBUTE TO J. C. SMITH
New York Times (9 May 1912) James Clich Smith Death Notice
Brooklyn Daily Times (11 May 1912) Smith Memorial
The Washington Times (7 December 1912) COL. GRACIE IS BURIED IN GARB WORN ON TITANIC
New York Times (21 August 1913) MRS. J. CLINCH SMITH DIES


Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1911) James Clinch Smith
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Comment and discuss

  1. Martin Williams

    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... Read full post

  2. Carole Lindsay

    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.

  3. Martin Williams

    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... Read full post

  4. Carole Lindsay

    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... Read full post

  5. Mark Baber

    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... Read full post

  6. Martin Williams

    Ah 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... Read full post

  7. Carole Lindsay

    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... Read full post

  8. Martin Williams

    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... Read full post

  9. Carole Lindsay

    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

  10. Craig Carey-Clinch

    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... Read full post

  11. Mark Baber

    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.

  12. Mark Baber

    The Smith family home in Smithtown, New York, has been destroyed by fire:

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Titanic Passenger Summary

Name: Mr James Clinch Smith
Age: 56 years and 12 days (Male)
Nationality: American
Marital Status: Married to Bertha Ludington Barnes
Last Residence: in Paris, France
Occupation: Military
Embarked: Cherbourg on Wednesday 10th April 1912
Ticket No. 17764, £30 13s 11d
Cabin No. A7
Died in the Titanic disaster (15th April 1912)
Body Not Identified

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