Francis Lewis was born in South Wales in 1713. His father was a clergyman of an established church. His mother was the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman. At the age of five, he became an orphan. The family sent him to Scotland, where he learned the Gaelic language. He attended Westminster’s school, where he enjoyed being an excellent classical scholar.
Lewis aspired to the mercantile profession. So, he entered the counting-room of a London merchant, where he learned the trade. When he turned twenty-one, he received his inheritance and converted it into merchandise. He sailed to New York in 1735.
He moved to Philadelphia for two years. When he returned to New York, he worked in foreign trade and married his partner’s sister.
Lewis was an enterprising merchant. Throughout his commercial transactions, he traversed a large part of the European continent. Twice, he suffered shipwreck on the Irish coast.
During the French-Canadian war, Lewis supplied the British troops. He was at Fort Oswego when the British Colonel Mersey abandoned the fort. On August 10, the French army approached the fort with more than five thousand troops. On the twelfth, the French commander de Montcalm opened fire with thirty-two pieces of cannons and howitzers. The British garrison ran out of ammunition. So, Colonel Mersey ordered the cannon to be spiked and crossed the river to Little Oswego Fort without losing a single man. The enemy burned the deserted fort. The next day, Colonel Mersey was killed while standing by the side of Lewis.
The garrison, deprived of their commander and fort, surrendered as prisoners of war. The garrison consisted of Shirley and Pepperell’s regiments and amounted to one thousand and four hundred men. The conditions of their surrender were a safe passage to Montreal and humane treatment.
However, no sooner had they surrendered that Montcalm violated the surrender agreement. Montcalm allowed the Indian chief to select thirty prisoners to do with what he pleased. Lewis was one of the prisoners.
Because Lewis understood the Indian language, the chief treated Lewis kindly. Upon arrival at Montreal, Lewis requested the French governor to return to his family without ransom. Unfortunately, the governor denied his request and sent Lewis as a prisoner to France. Lewis eventually returned to America.
Although Mr. Lewis was not born in America, he adopted the patriotic cause quickly. In April 1775, New York selected Lewis to represent the colony to the Continental Congress. In 1776, he voted for independence from Great Britain.
In later years, New York elected Lewis as a congressman. Lewis was useful in buying provisions, clothing, and armaments for the army.
In 1775, Lewis moved to a country home he owned on Long Island. This proved to be an unfortunate step, however. In the autumn of 1776, a British light horse party plundered his house. They destroyed his extensive library and valuable papers. They also sought revenge on a man who dared attach his signature to the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, they detained Mrs. Lewis as a prisoner for several months. During her captivity, she was closely confined and denied a bed or change of clothes.
In November 1776, Congress passed a resolution to exchange a lady prisoner for Mrs. Lewis. But the exchange could not at that time be effected. Through the influence of Washington, however, Mrs. Lewis was eventually released. But her sufferings during her confinement caused her death two years later.
Lewis spent the latter days of his life in poverty. He sacrificed his fortune to supply the needs of his country’s struggle for independence. Lewis died on December 30, 1803, at the age of 90.