James Smith was born in 1737 in what would be present day Franklin County. Growing up on the frontier he received very little formal education.
In 1755 while helping his cousin William Smith, roads commissioner, build a road west towards Cumberland County he was taken captive by the Indians. He was transported to Fort Duquesne where, as a prisoner, he witnessed British solders being burned alive at the conclusion of General Braddock’s ill fated campaign. James was eventually adopted by an Indian family and lived with them until he escaped in 1759 when he returned to the Cononcocheague and took up the life of a frontier farmer. In May 1763 he married Anne Wilson who bore him seven children.
James Smith was an adventurer with natural leadership abilities. He led a local militia unit in 1763 called the Sideling Hill Volunteers. This group was also with Col. Henry Bouquet in 1764 and was at the climatic battle of Bushy Run that broke the Indian siege of Fort Pitt. He later accompanied Bouquet into Ohio to help force the Indians in Pontiac’s Rebellion to sue for peace. In 1765 it was James Smith who led some of his former Sideling Hill Volunteers in stopping George Croghan’s eighty one pack horse train containing illegal trade goods. His cousin and brother in law Justice William Smith would continue to provide the legal framework for directing the rebellion while James led the men in the field.
Smith’s, or the Black Boys Rebellion continued for nine months in 1765. It was the first armed resistance against British Rule in America. The Black Boys drove one of Britain’s premier military units out of Fort Loudoun. They successfully asserted their right to bear arms in defense of themselves and their community.
After the Black Boys Rebellion James left to explore Kentucky. During the Revolutionary War he was made a Col. and used Indian style tactics against the British army. Long after Smith was no longer in uniform the experiences he had with Indian style modes of warfare helped shape and define American military tactics. James Smith was elected to the 1776 Constitutional Convention and represented Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. As a delegate he signed the state constitution on September 26, 1776 which contained the right to bear arms, the first gun law in America which became the model for the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Right to Bear Arms.
After the death of his wife in 1778 he moved his family to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. By 1785 he moved back to Kentucky where he became active again in the Presbyterian church. Because of his knowledge of Indian culture and language he came a Presbyterian missionary. In 1785 he married Margaret Irwin.
While Smith was a missionary his son James joined the Shaker Movement in Ohio. He lived with his son and the Shakers for several months when he decided that the Shakers were little more than a blasphemous cult. Smith set about to expose them in a pamphlet titled, Remarkable Occurrences Lately Discovered Among The People Called Shakers. This pamphlet was printed in 1810 by Joel R. Lyle.
His son remained with the Shakers while he returned to Kentucky where he died in 1812.
Before his death he wrote a treatise on Indian tactics and warfare which was published in 1812 after his death and became a manual for the U.S. Military.
Sources: An Account of the Remarkable Occurrence In The Life And Travels Of Col. James Smith. Smith, James. Robert Clarke. Cincinnati, Ohio. 1870 The Papers of Henry Bouquet Volume VI Selected Documents, November 1761 – July 1765. Edited by Louis M. Waddell. The Pennsylvania Historical And Museum Commission. Harrisburg 1994.
Black Boys – Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Boys
The Proceedings Relative To Calling The Conventions of 1776 and 1790: The Minutes Of The Convention That Formed The Present Constitution Of Pennsylvania, Together With The Charter To William Penn, The Constitutions of 1776 and 1790, And A View Of The Proceedings Of The Convention Of 1776, And The Council Of Censors. Harrisburg: Printed by John S. Wiestling, Market Street. 1825.