William Smith

William Smith Faculty.jpg

c. 1800

William Smith was the first Provost of the University of Pennsylvania. William Smith was arrested with his friend, William Moore, of Moore Hall, by the Pennsylvania provincial assembly after attacking the assembly’s military policy. Smith eventually married Moore’s daughter Rebecca. Together William Smith and Rebecca had two sons: William Moore Smith, who graduated from Penn in 1775, and Thomas Duncan Smith, who graduated from Penn in 1776. William Smith served as Provost from 1755 to 1779, and again from 1789 to 1791. According to Pennsylvania tax records (pictured below), William Smith owned ‘1 Negro’ in 1769. This suggests that William Smith, the first Provost of the University of Pennsylvania owned a slave during his first term as Provost (the equivalent of today’s college President.)



As Provost, William Smith went on a fundraising trip to South Carolina to collect donations from slaveowners. Smith's legacy exists on campus today in the form of two freshman dormitories.


"1 Negro"
William Smith Tax Records
Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration Records, 1769