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Francis Lewis

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

 

FRANCIS LEWIS was born in Llandaff, Wales on March 21, 1713. He lost both of his parents at the age of four or five and was raised by a maiden aunt an intelligent, compassionate woman of more than modest means. He acquired a thorough knowledge of his native language and he was sent to Scotland where relatives taught him Gaelic. She saw to it that Lewis attended the best schools, including the prestigious Westminster School in London. Upon graduation, Lewis served an apprenticeship at a London Mercantile the start of his meteoric success in business.

When he was twenty-one, Lewis collected the inheritance left by his father, some small properties, converted them into merchandise and sailed for New York City. Arriving in the spring of 1735, he left part of his merchandise to be sold in New York by a business acquaintance, Edward Annesly, and he transported the remainder of his goods to Philadelphia, where he resided for two years. He returned to New York and became extensively involved in navigation and foreign trade. At about this time, he married the sister of his partner, Elizabeth Annesley and eventually they had seven children only three of which were to survive infancy. Lewis was an active and enterprising merchant. In the course of his business transactions, he traveled a considerable part of the continent of Europe. He visited several of the seaports of Russia and twice suffered shipwreck off the Irish coast. His business and would soon supply uniforms to the British during he French and Indian War.  

In his capacity as agent for supplying the British soldiers, Lewis was present in August 1756 when the fort of Oswego was surrendered to the French General de Montcalm. The British Colonel Mersey commanded Oswego and Lewis was standing by his side when Mersey was killed in the battle. The French captured Lewis and under the conditions of surrender of fort Oswego, the prisoners were assured kind treatment. That was not the case as no sooner had the surrender been made than Montcalm allowed a chief warrior of the Indians, who assisted in taking the fort, select about thirty of the prisoners and do with them as he pleased.  Of this number, Lewis was one.   

Being at the mercy of the Indians, Lewis expected a speedy and cruel death. However, he soon found that he was able to converse with the Indians. The Indian language was so similar to the native language of Wales, that the Chief of the Indians was able to speak with him and was so pleased that he treated Lewis kindly. The Indians returned Lewis to Montreal and requested that he be released and allowed to return to his family without ransom. Their request however was not granted and Lewis was sent to France as a prisoner. He was eventually returned to the colonies in a prisoner exchange. He retired from business at the age of fifty-two, "one of the most opulent men in New York."

Lewis entered politics in 1774 as a delegate to New York's provincial convention. He was considered one of New York City's "Leading radicals", willing to speak out and act effectively for radical issues. He was among the first to join an association that existed in several parts of the country called the "Sons of Liberty". He was also thought acceptable enough to be selected as a delegate to the Second Continental congress, as he was known for his independent and patriotic character, his integrity and his intellectual powers.

Lewis at first preferred reconciliation with the mother country, but once he was convinced of the advantages of complete separation from Great Britain, he became a most ardent advocate of independence. In 1775, Lewis moved his family and their belongings to an estate that he owned on Long Island. This proved to be an unfortunate step. Soon after signing the Declaration, a party of British light horsemen destroyed his home in Whitestone, New York. His extensive library and valuable papers were destroyed. They were not content with just the ruin of his property. They wanted revenge on a man who had dared to sign a document that proclaimed independence for America. His wife was taken prisoner and was retained for several months. During her captivity, she was confined without the comfort of a bed or a change of clothes. She was later returned, but the harrowing experience had been too much for her. She died within a year or two after her release. 

There is little recorded on Lewis's subsequent years. His latter days were spent in comparative poverty, his fortune having been lost in the war. Lewis died in New York City on December 31, 1802 at the age of eighty-nine.





Source: Centennial Book of Signers

For a High-resolution version of the Original Declaration of Independence

  For a High-resolution version of the Stone ngraving

 We invite you to read a transcription of the complete text of the Declaration as presented by the National Archives.

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The article "The Declaration of Independence: A History," which provides a detailed account of the Declaration, from its drafting through its preservation today at the National Archives.  

   

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