Author of America
For many years, I lived in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, where Samuel Francis Smith, author of America, had lived one hundred years before me. When the Smith Homestead was threatened to be sold at auction, Newton Public School students brought contributions to my office to help save the Homestead. Our school library contained books about many famous Americans, but none about Samuel Smith. I decided to write a book about him.
The Homestead Society gave me permission to research and copy materials in the Homestead. I photocopied and hand copied documents, articles, and comments by people who knew Mr. Smith. The First Baptist Church granted me permission to research church records of the years when Mr. Smith had been both its minister and church clerk. His language was the flowery variety of his time. Officials at both the Homestead and the church told me that no one else had asked to research materials about Mr. Smith.
Among other interesting details, I uncovered the fact that most historical sources have an error in the date of writing America, giving it as 1832. As I tell in this book, the words were written in February 1831, and the song was first performed on July 4, 1831. The error, once made, was compounded as such errors in history often are. Smith himself, in later life, was not always accurate concerning this date.
Also, it is not entirely clear that Christ Church is actually the site of the lantern signal the night of Paul Revere's ride. There is some validity to the claim of another church, called "Old North" which British soldiers destroyed timber by timber.
In 1969 the Homestead was destroyed by fire, and some of the documents I copied from were burned. Some materials were rescued and taken to the Newton Public Library and the Andover-Newton Theological School.
After I moved to California I had time to begin writing. I also volunteered my services to public schools in the Long Beach Unified School District and other systems. I tell children about Samuel Francis Smith. Most of them do not know about him, although they often sing his words. Both students and teachers have asked where they might find a book about him. I hope this book will now fill their need.
I make grateful acknowledgment to the many people who helped as I researched. It is not possible to name them all, but high on the list must be members of the Marshall family, descendents of Samuel Smith: Mrs. Robert Marshall; John, Edward, and Daniel Marshall; and Miss Jane Marshall. Special thanks are also due to various individuals of the Samuel Francis Smith Homestead Society, Andover-Newton Theological School Library, Newton Public Library, the Jackson Homestead, and these churches: Christ Church of Boston, The Old North Church of Paul Revere Fame; The Second Church in Boston; Andover Baptist Church; Park Street Church; and First Baptist Church in Newton Centre. For other research materials, I am indebted to Miss Madeline Bradley, Mr. Landis A. Nazzaro, and Mr. John W. Stokes.
Editor-writer, Kathleen M. Zaffore, helped me give shape to this story and my daughter, Mrs. Carolyn E. Jackson, helped with photographing and photocopying my research materials. She and many others encouraged me throughout this project and expressed interest in seeing its completion. Now here it is - for them and for all loves of America.