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John Lewis: Patriarch

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Shenandoah Sketches
John Lewis: Patriarch
By JOE NUTT
Special Writer

The grave of Augusta County's recognized pioneer settler, John Lewis, is located on a prominent hill on his once-2071-acre property, Belefont, overlooking his homesite, about 300 yards away.

The gravesite, on land owned for the past 10 years by P. William Moore, offers a fine prospect, with the Blue Ridge Mountains and part of the Allegheny chain visible.

From Statler Boulevard, take Va. 254 (New Hope Road) east about 4/5 of a mile. Turn left at the sign "Staunton Wastewater Treatment Plant and drive about 100 yards to a locked farm gate on your right. A small sign there designates the "John Lewis Gravesite."

Climb over the board fence adjacent to the gate and walk up the hill in open pasture towards a large lone sycamore near the top of the hill. You'll reach this tree in about 322 paces & from there, forward to your left, you'll observe an iron picket fence about 50 paces away enclosing the grave of John Lewis. The fenced enclosure measures 14 feet, 11 inches by 19 feet, seven inches.

Within the enclosure, through an unlocked gate, you'll find the grave of John Lewis. The grave was originally covered by a large limestone marker. In 1850, a granite slab replaced this stone. In 1929, the Beverley Manor Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Staunton aided in the formation of the John Lewis Memorial Foundation, which replaced the granite slab with the present marble marker, measuring 7 feet, two inches by 3 feet, 12 inches, on which is engraved, in 17 lines:

"Here lie the remains of JOHN LEWIS, who slew the Irish Lord, settled Augusta County, located the Town of Staunton, and furnished five sons to fight the battles of the American Revolution. He was the son of Andrew Lewis and Mary Calhoun and was born in Donegal County, Ireland in 1678, and died Feb’y lst, 1762, aged 84 years. He was a true patriot and a friend of liberty throughout the world. Mortalitate Relicta Vivit Immortalitate Inductus."

Translated, the Latin reads: "Mortality relinquished, he lives clothed in immortality."

There are at least a couple of other small stones near the grave, unmarked, which could possibly be the headstones for the graves of John Lewis' wife, Margaret Lynn Lewis, their son Samuel Lewis, or others.

John Lewis' fame would lie secure in his stature as the pioneer settler of Augusta County.

But it has been doubly enhanced by the prominence of the scions he and Margaret Lynn produced. It is those distinguished progeny that we briefly discuss here.

Margaret Lynn Lewis (1693-1773), reputed descendant of the Laird of Loch Lynn in Scotland (documentation is slim on this lineage) was undoubtedly a woman with a spirit as indomitable as that of her husband. She shared all of the triumphs and hardships of John Lewis after their marriage in 1715.

The couple had, apparently, seven children. Of these, the least is known of the eldest, Samuel. Some historians even question his existence.

Others state that he was born circa 1716, was killed at Braddock's defeat in 1755, and buried at Belefont. Perhaps, some say, he died as a youth soon after the family lived in the Valley. His name appears in no known records of the time.

Thomas Lewis (1718-1790) was about 12 years old when the family arrived in present Augusta County.

In 1739, with his brother Andrew and others, Thomas reserved a grant of 30,000 acres in the Cowpasture valley and beyond, mostly in present Bath County.

He became, at age 27, one of the 21 original magistrates of Augusta at the county's organization in 1745. At the same time, he was commissioned as county surveyor, a post he held until 1778.

In 1746, he served in the surveying party, which included Peter Jefferson (father of President Thomas Jefferson) that fixed the 76-mile southwest boundary of Lord Fairfax' 5-million-acre proprietary. Thomas engaged in other far-reaching surveying trips over the years.

Thomas also, in 1747-48, laid out the formal survey of the town of Staunton, a grid plan that remains the basis for the present city.

In 1749 he married Jane Strother of Stafford County. In the early 1750s, Thomas and others acquired land below (north of) Port Republic, near the confluence of the head- streams of the South Fork of the Shenandoah, in present Rockingham County. There he built his home, Lynwood, where he and Jane lived and raised 13 children. George Washington was a guest there in1784.

Near the end of his life, he was the largest landholder in Rockingham County, which was established from Augusta in 1777.

As he was very nearsighted, Thomas did not pursue a military career like his brothers, but he was noted for his culture, love of books, and large library.

He was a delegate to the Virginia Conventions that replaced the House of Burgesses just prior to the Revolution, and a staunch advocate of liberty and freedom. He also served in the first House of delegates after the war.

Thomas also participated, with his brother Andrew, as a commissioner for the negotiation of a treaty with the Delaware Indians in Pittsburgh in 1778, and as a commissioner to settle the Pennsylvania-Virginia boundary dispute in 1779.

Lastly, he was a member of the 1788 Virginia Convention that approved ratification of the Federal Constitution.

Andrew Lewis (1720-1781) as a young man became known as an outstanding frontiersman and surveyor.

In 1745, he assisted in surveying large tracts in the Cowpasture valley and, between 1749 and 1754, he helped survey about 50,000 acres in the Greenbrier (now West Virginia) area.

In the early 1740s, he married Elizabeth Givens, daughter of an early Augusta settler, and the couple had seven children. They established a homestead named Richfield in Botetourt County (established in 1769 from Augusta) near Salem, in what is now Roanoke County.

In 1754 he began his illustrious career as a soldier, serving as a captain in General Washington's Virginia Regiment. He was with Washington at the surrender of Fort Necessity in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

He later supervised the construction of frontier forts along the Greenbrier River, and was a pointed county lieutenant (the highest county military rank) for Augusta County.

He fought with distinction in several military expeditions against the French and Indians. On one occasion, he was captured and spent 13 months imprisoned by the French before being exchanged.

As a colonel, in Dunsmore's War in 1774, he led his forces of mostly Augusta men in the Battle of Point Pleasant, at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers.

With 600 men, Andrew fought to bloody victory against Cornstalk and his Shawnee warriors. His brother Charles Lewis, was killed in this engagement, which has been recognized as the first battle of the American Revolution.

With his brother, Thomas, Andrew served in the Virginia Conventions of the 1770s, as a delegate from Botetourt County.

As a general in the Revolutionary War, Andrew, and his Virginia force were instrumental in driving Governor Dunsmore from Virginia.

In 1780-81, Andrew Lewis served in the governor's council, first under Governor Thomas Jefferson, then under Governor Thomas Nelson.

He died in Bedford, on his way home to Richfield from Richmond in 1781.

The statue of Andrew Lewis stands with those of five other prominent Virginians around the base of the equestrian statue of George Washington in Capitol Square in Richmond.

William Lewis (1724-1811) was a scholarly, religious man, a strong Presbyterian. He may have been a physician, after medical studies in Philadelphia, but family traditions are ambivalent on this.

He married Anne Montgomery of New Castle, Delaware, in 1754, and the couple had eight children. They moved from their Staunton homeplace in about 1786 to Sweet Springs, west of Roanoke in present West Virginia.C4

In the Revolution, he attained the rank of major and it is probable that he served with General Washington in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania campaigns, and was at Valley Forge. He was captured at the siege of Charleston, SC, and held prisoner until the end of the war, according to some historians.

In the latter years of his life, William developed a tourist resort around his Sweet Springs home, engaging in several related businesses. He died in 1811 at about 87 years of age.

Margaret Lynn Lewis (1726-c.1797) married William Long, circa 1758. The couple had one son before William died in 1760. Margaret married Staunton merchant William Crow in 1761, and produced five additional children through this second marriage. It appears the Crows moved to Kentucky before her death.

Anne(e) Lewis (1728-?) married Michael Finley, Jr., (1718-1785) in 1752. The couple lived near Gettysburg, Pa. and had two sons, Joseph Lewis Finley and Ebenezer Finley.

Charles Lewis (1736-1774) was the last child of John and Margaret Lewis and the only one born in America.

He was known as the best frontiersman and Indian fighter among the brothers, and accompanied them on their surveying trips to the Cowpasture and Greenbrier areas.

It is said that he was one of the few whites who escaped after being captured by an Indian war party.

It appears that he was a professional soldier from an early age, and he served at many frontier posts and forts.

Charles accompanied Col. Henry Bouquet in 1753 on an expedition into the Ohio country that resulted in retrieving 206 prisoners from the Shawnees, through negotiation, with no loss of life.

In 1772 Charles became county lieutenant, and in 1773 was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.

In 1774, he helped raise a company of Augusta militia, which he led to Point Pleasant. Mortally wounded in that battle, it is said he walked back to camp and uttered his final words: "It is the fate of war."

Information for this article was obtained from a number of sources, but primarily from what is considered to be one of the best contemporary accounts: "The Family of John Lewis, Pioneer," compiled by Irvin Frazier, text by Mark W. Cowell, Jr., and edited by Lewis F. Fisher (Fisher Publications, Inc., San Antonio, Texas, 1985).

This book, along with listing more than 9,200 descendants of John and Margaret Lewis, down to the llth generation, devotes several well-researched and reasoned chapters to John Lewis, his wife and children.

In addition, it gives revealing information on members of the succeeding generations of the Lewis clan. Lewis descendants have been governors, members of congress and senators; state legislators; judges; diplomats; prominent bankers and entrepreneurs; settlers on new lands; generals and admirals and astronauts; fine athletes and artists.

Towns, streams, schools, and highways have been named after them. Indeed, the family Lewis has cast long shadow across America.


Entered by Brenda Lewis 8/28/96

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