Early Years

The eldest of four children, William Smith was born on March 23, 1769, to John and Ann Smith of Churchill, Oxfordshire, England. A blacksmith and a mechanic, John died when William was only eight years old. (Ann remarried a few years later.) As a child he was attracted to the pound stones that he found on oxfordshire fields. These were round, dome-shaped stones that weighed approximately one pound and were used as a standard weight measure by dairymaids. Sometimes they had an interesting pattern shaped like a five-point star. It turns out that these were fossilized remains of sea urchins. William also collected pundibs, spherical-shaped rocks the size of acorns that actually were the remains of terebratulids, a type of brachiopod. As a suitable substitute for marbles, to young William they were merely play toys, though hindsight shows they were an unrecognized symbol of his future achievements.

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