The last of seven children born to Ann Carroll Fitzhugh Smith and Gerrit Smith on April 14, 1842 was Greene Smith. Named in honor of Gerrit's radical abolitionist friend Beriah Green, he became a citizen-scientist with a national reputation as an expert ornithologist.
An unfortunate feature of Greene's life was that his father intended to mold him into the loyal patriarch who would eventually rule over the family land sale business. Greene, however, had no interest in the indoor duties of a business manager. As a young boy, he showed intense interest in birds, and loved being outside to commune with natural ecosystems. As he matured, he refused to adopt his father's interest in politics, religion, and business, and rebelled against being pressured to do so.
To counteract his rebelliousness, his parents sent Greene in 1851 to New Jersey to attend a school for moral training operated by their abolitionist friends Angelina Grimke Weld and Theodore Dwight Weld. Greene detested his two year stay there, wishing to be in Peterboro with his wildlife interests and friends.
Further education occurred in Peterboro and in Cambridge, MA through tutors with the intent to prepare him for formal education at Harvard University. Unhappy with the demands of formal tutoring, Greene terminated the effort and went on a six month European tour with his mother and sister in 1861.
In 1863, Greene raised his "Birdhouse" on the grounds of the Peterboro estate. As an elegant two story building, it housed his collection of over 2000 mounted birds. He both collected the birds and did the taxidermy work himself. His self-study of the ecology of bird life and the science of taxidermy earned for him the reputation of a scholar. He lectured on ornithology at Cornell University, and developed the first set of taxonomic charts for bird families.
Greene also became a sportsman of championship quality. He won many trap shooting matches, often supporting the cost and production of trophies. In 1877, he was president of conservation clubs at the national, state and local levels, and successfully proposed the first set of "fish and game" laws for the State of New York. In honor of his early advocacy of conservation of the natural environment, Greene was inducted into the New York State Outdoorsman Hall of Fame in 2018. He also raised Irish Setter and Black and Tan dogs that won champion status.
Greene served in the military by joining the US Army in July of 1864 during the Civil War. As a soldier in the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, he fought in the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, VA on July 30, 1864, and was later wounded in a battle at the Weldon Railroad in August. When he returned home after the war, his father purchased for him a 64 acre estate in Geneva, NY that Greene intended to use as a small farm. He named it "Lochland," a Scottish term that signifies a love of outdoor life and an appreciation of nature.
On February 7, 1866, Greene married his first cousin Elizabeth Fitzhugh of Hagerstown, MD. They had no children, and traveled widely as Greene pursued his love of collecting birds, and participating in sportsman's shows. Because of increasing problems with fibromyalgia, Greene sought health treatments in Illinois and Florida, and sold his Lochland home (through his father Gerrit) to his sister Elizabeth in 1869.
Just after finishing an elaborate cataloging of his massive collection of birds, eggs, and nests, Greene died of tuberculosis in his Birdhouse on July, 23, 1880. His bird collection was later donated by his wife to Harvard University, Cornell University, and Colgate University.
Norman K. Dann PhD, Author