Born in Burlington, New Jersey, Smith attended Westtown Friends School in Pennsylvania. As a young man, he was apprenticed to a druggist in Philadelphia and briefly operated independently as a druggist himself. In the 1820s, he helped establish a short-lived Conestoga wagon line, which ran between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Smith co-founded the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1827, leaving in 1829 to become librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia. He worked with architect William Strickland and landscape gardener John Notman in 1835 to plan Laurel Hill, Philadelphia’s first rural cemetery, which was established the following year. Around 1850, Smith designed his personal estate, which featured an intricately planned garden with fruit trees and ornamental trees. In 1851, he retired as librarian so his son could be appointed to the post. Smith founded West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, in 1869, and the Germantown Horticultural Society in 1873. He resigned as president of Laurel Hill Cemetery around 1878 and of West Laurel Hill in 1880 due to illness. An early member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Smith also served as treasurer of the Philadelphia Museum, co-founder and treasurer of the Athenian Institute, and founder of the Girard Life Insurance, Annuity, and Trust Company. He published numerous books and articles, including the Guide to Laurel Hill Cemetery in 1844, and Designs for Monuments and Mural Tablets in 1846. Smith edited The Horticulturist, Andrew Jackson Downing’s publication, from 1855 to 1860, and The American Gardener’s Calendar, by Bernard McMahon, in 1857. Smith died at Ivy Lodge, his Philadelphia estate, at the age of 83, and is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.