Smith, Eli (1801-1857)

American missionary and orientalist

SmithEli2Smith was born in Northford, Connecticut, and graduated from Yale with a B.A. in 1821. In 1826 he graduated from Andover Theological Seminary, was ordained, and was sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to superintend the ABCFM printing press at Malta. Already competent in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and having some knowledge of French, German, and Italian, he later learned Turkish and Armenian. Determined to master Arabic, he went to Beirut for language study, returning to Malta in 1827. In 1829 he accompanied Rufus Anderson in exploring mission possibilities in Greece, and in 1830, accompanied by H. G. O. Dwight, he began a 16-month journey of exploration reported in Researches of the Rev. E. Smith and Rev. H. G. O. Dwight in Armenia: Including a Journey through Asia Minor and into Georgia and Persia, with a Visit to the Nestorian and Chaldean Christians of Oormiah and Salmas, 2 vols. (1833). While in the United States (1832-1833) he married Sarah L. Huntington, returning with her to Beirut in 1834. Equipped with a new press, Smith quickly began to produce materials in Arabic, including schoolbooks, Scripture portions, a hymnbook, catechisms, translations of religious classics, and his own and other missionaries’ writings. He also published classics of Arabic literature, thereby contributing significantly to the renaissance of Arab culture. Intent on producing works of the highest quality, Smith designed a new typeface which became known as American Arabic. He shared actively in all the business of the mission, preached daily, and made a journey of exploration to Hauran in 1834 and undertook other journeys in 1838 and 1852 with Edward Robinson, who published Biblical Researches in Palestine…, 3 vols. (1841). Smith devoted his last ten years to the translation of the Bible into Arabic, a project completed after his death by C. V. A. Van Dyke. Smith lost his first wife in 1836; in 1841 he married Maria Chapin, who died within a year. He then married Henrietta Butler in 1846 and with her had three daughters and two sons. He died in Beirut.

David M. Stowe, “Smith, Levi,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 626.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


Digital Texts

Smith, Eli and Edward Robinson. Biblical Researches in Palestine, and Adjacent Regions. Vol. 1. Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1841.

_____. Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea. Vol. 2. Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1841.

_____. Later Biblical Researches in Palestine, and in the Adjacent Regions. Vol. 3. Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1841.

Smith, Eli and H. G. O. Dwight. Researches of the Rev. E. Smith and Rev. H. G. O. Dwight in Armenia. Vol. 1 and 2. Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1833.


Smith, Eli. Missionary Sermons and Addresses. Boston: Perkins, 1833.


Leavy, Margaret R. Eli Smith and the Arabic Bible. New Haven, CT: Yale Divinity School Library, 1993.

_____. “Looking for the Armenians: Eli Smith’s Missionary Adventure, 1830-1831.” Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 50 (1992): 189-275 [contains a useful bibliography].

Missionary Herald 53 (1857): 123-125, 224-229.


“Eli and Sarah L. Huntington Smith,” Courtesy, Andover Newton Theological Seminary, Newton Center, MA. All rights reserved.