It’s not clear when or why his middle and last names were hyphenated to give him a new last name; his father had the same name, but was identified as “Smith, John Mott, Rev Prof” in the Wesleyan University Alumni Record (1881-3) (where he was listed as former faculty.)
The father, professor of Latin and Greek, was the first to be buried in the Wesleyan ‘College Cemetery.’ A Methodist preacher, a sermon of his, ‘The Kingdom,’ was posthumously published; it was attributed as ‘Rev John M Smith’s Sermon.’
When the son died, his widow (and executor of his estate) was identified as Ellen Dominis Smith. His children generally carried the ‘Smith’ last name, as well.
Never-the-less, Hawai‘i’s first royal dentist and last royal ambassador was commonly known as John Mott-Smith. (Gibson) So, we’ll call him what others called him in the Islands.
John Mott-Smith was born in New York City November 13, 1824 (his mother was Amada Day Smith.) Although not schooled in dentistry, Mott-Smith borrowed a book from a friend who was attending dental school and passed the exams to set up a practice in Albany, New York.
Then, “He was among the first in the great migration from the Eastern States to California in 1849, when the news of the great gold discoveries caused one of the greatest stirs of the century. For two years he shared the vicissitudes of the California pioneers, and in 1851 came to Honolulu”. (Evening Bulletin, August 10, 1895)
“Dr Mott Smith in 1859 married Miss Ellen Dominis Paty, a daughter of the late Collector General Paty and cousin of Mr John H Paty. Three sons and four daughters were born to the couple, all having Honolulu for their birthplace but receiving their higher education in the colleges and seminaries of New England.” (Evening Bulletin, August 10, 1895)
He was Hawai‘i’s first dentist to settle permanently in the Islands. A ‘Card’ publishing in the Polynesia (March 8, 1851) announced business:
“Dr J Mott Smith. Dentist, of Albany NY, has the pleasure to inform the citizens of Honolulu that he has opened an office in Hopewell Place, corner of Beretania and Smith streets. He is now prepared to receive all who may desire his services.”
For many years he did virtually all the dental work in Honolulu and maintained a full practice until 1866 and followed his profession on a part-time or intermittent basis.
In 1866 Mott-Smith gave up his dental practice to John Morgan Whitney (the first in Hawai‘i to actually graduate from a dental school. Whitney, MD, DDS, was for more than fifty years regarded as Honolulu’s leading dentist.)
Then, Mott-Smith got into politics and served Kings Kamehameha V, Lunalilo (he was later named to the first board of trustees of Lunalilo Trust,) Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani.
“He was appointed director of the Government press in 1867, and the following year was sent to Washington as Charge d’ Affaires, where he performed valuable service in advocating the reciprocity treaty. “
“Returning home in 1869 he was appointed Minister of Finance by Kamehameha V, holding that office for the remaining two or three yours of that king’s reign.”
“King Lunalilo appointed Dr Mott Smith president of the Board of Education in 1873, and King Kalākaua on his accession reappointed him as a member of the same body. He was about the same time made a member of the House of Nobles, which was a life position until that body was changed to an elective one by the constitution of 1887.”
“Dr Mott Smith was also a member of the Privy Council of State. He was called to the Cabinet a second time by King Kalākaua in 1876, holding the office of Minister of the Interior for three years.”
“From 1882 to 1891 Dr. Mott-Smith at intervals assisted the late Minister Carter at Washington as Charge d’affaires. He was in his place in the Legislature of 1884, going back to the United States the following year, when he had charge of the Hawaiian exhibit at the New Orleans Exposition.”
“In 1891 the lamented gentleman was appointed by Queen Liliuokalani to be Minister of Finance, the third time he occupied a position in the Cabinet of this country.”
“Upon resigning that office he was appointed Minister to Washington, holding the commission until he was recalled by the Provisional Government in 1893.” After a protracted illness, John Mott-Smith died on August 10, 1895. (Evening Bulletin, August 10, 1895)
Here is a short video about Dr Mott-Smith, portrayed by Adam LeFebvre at a ‘Cemetery Pupu Theatre,’ sponsored by Mission Houses: