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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Who was Jacques Louis Macie?

Jacques Louis Macie was born sometime in early 1764, in Paris, France.  He was the illegitimate and unacknowledged son of an English landowner, Sir Hugh Smithson.  His mother was his father's mistress, Elizabeth Hungerford Keate.  She was the widow of John Macie, so that is why Jacques was named Macie.  His mother was an heiress of the Hungerfords of Studley.  Studley, Hee, Hee, Seriously.

On April 19, 1787, at the age of twenty-two, under the name James Lewis Macie, he was elected the youngest fellow of the Royal Society.

When his mother died, in 1800, he and his brother inherited a sizable estate.  He began the process to change his surname from Macie to his father's surname, Smithson.

James Smithson was a British mineralogist and chemist.  Besides being a prominent scientist of his time he was a shrewd investor and amassed a fortune in his lifetime.  On his death, Smithson's will left his fortune to his nephew, Henry James Dickson, son of his brother who had died in 1820.  If his nephew died without legitimate or illegitimate children, the money should go to the United States of America, to found at Washington, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.

James Smithson died on June 27, 1829, in Genoa, his body was buried in the English cemetery of San Benigno there.  The nephew, Henry Hungerford (he changed his name also), died without heirs in 1835, and Smithson's bequest was accepted in 1836 by the United States Congress.  A lawsuit (in Britain) contesting the will was decided in favor of the U.S. in 1838 and 11 boxes containing 104,960 gold sovereigns were shipped to Philadelphia and minted into dollar coinage worth 508,318 dollars.  There was a good deal of controversy about how the bequest was to be fulfilled and it wasn't until August 10, 1846 that the Smithsonian Institution was founded by an Act of Congress.  That was back when Congress still worked for the people and the betterment of our Great Country.

Smithson had never been to the United States, and the motive for the specific bequest is unknown.  There is unsourced tradition within the Percy family that it was to found an institution that would outlast his father's dynasty.

In 1904, Alexander Graham Bell, then Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, brought Smithson's remains from Genoa to Washington, D.C., where they were entombed at the Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle).

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