Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828)
Oil on canvas, c. 1800
Born into a wealthy mercantile family, Samuel Smith distinguished himself in battle during the American Revolution. Afterward, he enjoyed a successful business and political career in Baltimore. In the 1790s he built a political machine in Maryland and won a Senate seat in 1803. He broke with the Jefferson administration over its Embargo Act, favoring a strong navy over the administration’s policies of commercial restrictions.
When war was declared against Britain in 1812, he became commander of Maryland’s Third Militia Division. To his lasting credit, Smith organized Baltimore’s defenses against the expected British naval and land attack.
On September 11, 1814, Smith’s militia, under the command of General John Striker, met British forces approaching from North Point. The militia’s strong resistance and the British failure to subdue Fort McHenry ended Britain’s Chesapeake campaign and made Smith a national hero.