Draft of the Will of James Smithson


Creator: Smithson, James 1765-1829

Form/Genre: Will

Date: 1826

Citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7000, James Smithson Collection, Box 2 (Documents)

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The last will and testament of James Smithson, which he wrote on 23 October 1826 while living in London. Smithson wrote his own will, apparently without professional legal help, which was very unusual for an individual of his economic stature. This image is of a draft copy and contains the same language as that registered with the Public Record Office in England. Smithson left his estate to his nephew, Henry James Hungerford. If that nephew died without heir, legitimate or illegitimate, then Smithson's estate was to go to the United States to found in the city of Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men. This bequest of c. $515,000 was the basis for the founding of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846.


  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Hungerford, Henry James c. 1808-1835


Smithsonian Legal Documents

Legal document information

  • Will of Smithson
  • Title 20, Education
  • Manuscript


  • See "Plain Advice to the Public to Facilitate the Making of Their Own Wills," which Smithson used as a reference when writing his will.
  • To view a digital facsimile of the Court's version of the final three-page will of James Smithson that was submitted to the Chancery Court after his death in 1829, visit The National Archives of Great Britain web site at http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/image/Index/D168292?index=0&page=0.

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7000, James Smithson Collection, Box 2 (Documents)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


  • 1826
  • 10/23/1826


  • Smithson Bequest
  • Benefactors
  • Holographic wills
  • SI, Early History
  • Philanthropists
  • Wills
  • Bequest
  • Endowments
  • Wills--Great Britain


Great Britain


  • Will
  • Document

Physical description

Number of pages: 4; Page Numbers: 1-4

Full Record

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