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SENTRY JOURNAL » colonel mersey, continental congress, Declaration of Independence, fort oswego, francis lewis, moncalm, paul sweeney » Meet a Founding Father (part 2)

Meet a Founding Father (part 2)

by RightHandMan

Francis Lewis was born in Landaff, in South Wales in the year 1713. His father was a clergyman, belonging to the established church. His mother was the daughter of Dr. Pettingal, who was also a clergyman of the Episcopal establishment, and had his residence in North Wales. At the early age of four or five years, being left an orphan, the care of him devolved upon a maternal maiden aunt, who took singular pains to have him instructed in the native language of his country. He was afterwards sent to Scotland, where, in the family of a relation, he learned the Gaelic language. From this, he was transferred to the school of Westminster, where he completed his education; and enjoyed the reputation of being a good classical scholar.

Mercantile pursuits being his object, he entered the counting room of a London merchant; where, in a few years, he acquired a competent knowledge of the profession. On attaining to the age of twenty-one years, he collected the property which had been left him by his father, and having converted it into merchandise, he sailed for New-York, where he arrived in the spring of 1735.

Leaving a part of his goods to be sold in New-York, by Mr. Edward Annesly, with whom he had formed a commercial connection, he transported the remainder to Philadelphia, whence, after a residence of two years, he returned to the former city, and there became extensively engaged in navigation and foreign trade. About this time he connected himself by marriage with the sister of his partner, with whom he had many children.

Mr. Lewis acquired the character of an active and enterprising merchant. In the course of his commercial transactions, he traversed a considerable part of the continent of Europe. He visited several of the seaports of Russia, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and twice suffered shipwreck of the Irish coast.

During the French or Canadian war, Mr. Lewis was, for a time, agent for supplying the British troops. In this capacity, he was present at the time, when, in August, 1756, the fort of Oswego was surrendered to the distinguished French general, de Montcalm. The fort was, at that time, commanded by the British Colonel Mersey. On the tenth of August, Montcalm approached it with more than five thousand Europeans, Canadians, and Indians. On the twelfth, at midnight, he opened the trenches, with thirty-two pieces of cannon, besides several brass mortars and howitzers. The garrison having, fired away all their shells and ammunition, Colonel Mersey ordered the cannon to be spiked, and crossed the river to Little Oswego Fort, without the loss of a single man. Of the deserted fort, the enemy took immediate possession, and from it began a fire, which was kept up without intermission. The next day, Colonel Mersey was killed while standing by the side of Mr. Lewis.

The garrison, being thus deprived of their commander, their fort destitute of a cover, and no prospect of aid presenting itself, demanded a capitulation, and surrendered as prisoners of war. The garrison consisted at this time of the regiments of Shirley and Pepperell, and amounted to one thousand and four hundred men. The conditions required, and acceded to, were that they should be exempted from plunder, conducted to Montreal, and treated with humanity. The services rendered by Mr. Lewis, during the war, were held in such consideration by the British government, that at the close of it he received a grant of five thousand acres of land.

The conditions, upon which the garrison at Fort Oswego surrendered to Montcalm, were shamefully violated by that commander. They were assured of kind treatment; but no sooner had the surrender been made, than Montcalm allowed the chief warrior of the Indians, who assisted in taking the fort, to select about thirty of the prisoners, and do with them as he pleased. Of this number Mr. Lewis was one. Placed thus at the disposal of savage power, a speedy and cruel death was to be expected. He soon discovered, however, that he was able to converse with the Indians. The ability of Mr. Lewis, thus readily to communicate with the chief, so pleased the latter, that he treated him kindly; and on arriving at Montreal, he requested the French governor to allow him to return to his family, without ransom. The request, however, was not granted, and Mr. Lewis was sent as a prisoner to France, from which, being some time after exchanged, he returned to America.

Although Mr. Lewis was not born in America, his attachment to the country was coeval with his settlement in it. He early espoused the patriotic cause, against the, encroachments of the British government, and was among the first to unite with an association, which existed in several parts of the country, called the “sons of liberty,” the object of which was to concert measures against the exercise of an undue power on the part of the mother country.

In April, 1775, Francis Lewis was unanimously elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In this honorable station he was continued by the provincial congress of New-York, through the following year, 1776; and was among the signatories of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.

Also in 1775, Mr. Lewis removed his family and effects to a country seat which he owned on Long Island. In the autumn of the following year, this house was plundered by a British party. His extensive library and valuable papers of every description were destroyed. Unfortunately Mrs. Lewis also fell into their power, and was retained a prisoner for several months. In her captivity she was closely confined, without even the comfort of a bed to lie upon, or a change of clothes.

In November, 1776, the attention of congress was called to her distressed condition, and shortly after a resolution was passed that she should be permitted to return to her husband. But the exchange could not at that time be affected. Through the influence of Washington, however, Mrs. Lewis was at length released; but her sufferings during her confinement had so much impaired her constitution, that in the course of a year or two, she died.

Of the subsequent life of Mr. Lewis, we have little to record. His latter days were spent in comparative poverty, his independent fortune having in a great measure been sacrificed on the altar of patriotism, during his country’s struggle for independence. The life of this excellent man, and distinguished patriot, was extended to his ninetieth year. His death occurred on the 30th day of December, 1803.

Unfortunately, much has been exaggerated and made up regarding the hardships and struggles of many Declaration signers. The story above is not one of those instances.

Paul Sweeney was quoted saying, “How often we fail to realize our good fortune in living in a country where happiness is more than a lack of tragedy.”

Fellow Americans – we enjoy that good fortune at the expense of the tragedies others were and are willing to endure.


Filed under: colonel mersey, continental congress, Declaration of Independence, fort oswego, francis lewis, moncalm, paul sweeney

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  • Gorges Smythe August 23, 2010 at 8:46 PM

    Another excellent post!

  • John Carey August 23, 2010 at 9:07 PM

    Another excellent post Right. I knew of Francis Lewis as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Thanks for the background information.

  • Cammie Novara August 24, 2010 at 2:27 AM

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