Thursday, 10 July 2008
A Welsh American Goes Largely Unrecognised
Buried in an unmarked grave in Trinity Church in New York’s Wall Street is a man who sacrificed all for his new country, and in fact was one of its founders. Who signed one of the most significant documents of the modern age, in fact gave birth to the modern age.
Francis Lewis is a name forgotten in his native land. He is Almost forgotten in his adopted country. He is remembered in the US by a couple of street names, and a high school in Queens, NY (Francis Lewis High School). Yet this man sacrificed all on gospel proportions. He lost all his property (reputedly the second wealthiest man in the colonies). His Library. And worse of all his wife (who was captured by the British and imprisonment eventually killed her). Finally by signing the declaration, sealed his fate as a traitor. He was truly a martyr.
He was born in 1713 in Llandaff, Wales to the Rev. Francis Lewis and Ann Pettigal. He was orphaned at 5 and was sent to live with a maiden aunt in North Wales who taught him Welsh. After that he was sent up to Scotland where he learnt Gaelic (probably one of the few that spoke) He went to Westminster school where he gained a reputation as a classical scholar. He finally settled in New York, where he was a merchant. Where he married the sister of his partner, Edward Annesley. He and Anne had seven children (3 of whom survived). He was caught up in the French Indian Wars, captured at Fort Oswego (probably the inspiration for the “Last of the Mohicans”). Apparently, his Welsh was the reason that he was spared by the native chief, who thought it was a Indian language. He was shipped back to France in a box!
When he was released he continued his business in New York, making his fortune and retiring from his work whilst he was in his 50s. He became active in secret societies such as the “Sons of Liberty”. He was elected in1775 to the New York Provincial Congress. He was later elected a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776.
History records that neither he or his fellow delegate William Floyd (of Welsh descent) did not contribute to he debate, or vote on July 4th (because their colony had not instructed them to) they assented on July 19th and signed on August 2nd. With this act Lewis sealed his fate, his house was destroyed and his wife imprisoned. He was regarded as a man of high integrity with a powerful intellect . In 1779 he retired from politics (worn out by the death of his wife) and died in New York in 1803 in relative poverty. His son Morgan, went on to be Governor of New York, and founder of New York University.
It is a shame that this great son of Liberty should remain in obscurity. There is no monument to this great man in the land of his birth. This should be of concern to all Welsh. The National Assembly should erect a monument to celebrate his tercentenary of his birth in 2013. Welsh societies in North America should look at him, and not focus on mythical names such as Madoc. This a real hero! Celebrate him.