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Francis Lewis: More Than Just a Signature

Have you ever heard of Francis Lewis? Does the name Abraham Clark ring a bell? How about John Hart?

Some of you may have guessed that these are the names of three of the men who, along with 53 others, signed that most historic of all documents, the Declaration of Independence. But do you know their stories? In fact, do you know anything about any of those men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for the cause of freedom? We all know about Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, but the majority of these forefathers of ours remain in obscurity for most of us, I imagine.

This shouldn’t be.

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I believe with all my heart that those Founding Fathers with whom we are all familiar were destined by God Himself to be our Founding Fathers. I also believe that each of the 56 men who signed our Declaration of Independence were brought forth for that ultimate purpose. America was not a coincidence, not just the result of a sequence of events.

A man who became known as “one of New York City’s leading radicals” in the Revolutionary cause began his life as a preacher’s son in Wales. How did the young Welshman Francis Lewis, born across the ocean and educated in Scotland & London, become a founding member of the Sons of Liberty and a signatory of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America?

“… for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me… calling… the man that executes my counsel from a far country… “ (Isaiah 46: 9, 11)

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A man who involves himself in the forging of a nation, whose heart and passion compel him to break away from safety and ‘security’ to answer the call of liberty, must be a man of a certain character. Certain circumstances in a person’s life can build such a character. It is significant to me that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, men extraordinaire, lost their fathers at an early age. They grew up without the supporting structure of a fully-orbed family, and I would surmise developed leadership qualities that may not have otherwise become a part of their personalities. The willingness to risk and to assume responsibility would be indispensable elements in a founding father. The loss of one’s earthly father early in life could surely contribute to the development of those characteristics.

Francis Lewis was an orphan by the age of 5.

Records do not appear to indicate just how he lost both parents so young, but he did, and thus entered the ranks of those stellar Founding Fathers who possibly led the way because they had lost their own fathers early in life.

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Lewis was brought up by an unmarried aunt, who “saw to it that he studied in Scotland… and later attended the prestigious Westminster School in London.”  Lewis’ interests led him into the field of mercantile pursuits, and eventually he established himself as an independent businessman. A property inheritance from his deceased father, converted to merchandise, made it possible for Francis to travel to New York & Philadelphia, where he set up shop around 1735.

(I cannot help but think that, tragic as it would’ve been for a 5 year old boy to become fatherless, because of that, Francis inherited the means that brought him from Wales to American shores. Because he was here, events continued to transpire in his life that brought him to that point where, quill poised above parchment, he pledged life, fortune and honor to the Revolutionary cause.)

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Over time, Lewis expanded his business to include foreign trade endeavours, making several trans-Atlantic trading voyages to ports in Europe & Africa. Though not without setbacks, Lewis’ business prospered to the extent that he retired at age 52, in 1761. By the time he signed the Declaration of Independence, his estimated wealth ranked him fifth among it’s signers (Encyclopedia of American Wealth). Again, because he was brought here, events continued to transpire in his life that brought him to that point where “… the wealth that he had acquired was freely expended in the service of his country.” (dsdi) Lewis’ success in his prior business dealings served the American Revolution well.

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“… in the procurement field, the supply chiefs relied upon the experience and the knowledge of the colonial merchants.”

When those first shots were fired at Lexington & Concord in April, 1775, the colonies did not have in place the systems, organization nor personnel to wage a victorious war. Initially, those colonists who fought for our freedom from Great Britain were militia men, not actual army recruits. In a military endeavour of such impending magnitude, it was imperative that the various New England states begin raising armies. They did, evolving them from their respective militias. By June, the volunteer army that resulted was reinforced by ten rifle companies (from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware & Virginia), provided by the Continental Congress, which assumed leadership. The Continental Army was born.

The importance of both men and supplies in military operations is a given; any leader worthy of that title would certainly know this. But it is suggested that few envisioned such protracted Revolutionary battles, and as a result colonial leaders did not “appreciate{d} the scope of the support required by an army.”  And because militia usually provided their own food, clothing & weapons where possible, there existed a lack of practical experience with supply agencies among this new army’s leadership.

 

“Of particular importance to supply were two committees established in the fall of 1775. On 18 September Congress created a Secret Committee of nine members.”  This committee was concerned with procuring supplies abroad and obtaining foreign aid.

Francis Lewis was a member of that Secret Committee.

As a member of the Secret Committee, he worked to procure clothing for uniforms, arms & ammunition, and food supplies for the colonists. “… most, if not all, of their purchasing deputies were merchants. The merchant alone had the knowledge, the trade connections, and the necessary credit to handle procurement. For the most part, his business was a personal venture in which he utilized his personal connections and took advantage of the mutual patronage they afforded him.” The U.S Army Center of Military History reports that merchants such as Francis Lewis “… utilized their own credit to obtain supplies and incurred debts for which they were personally liable”, serving as shipper, banker, wholesaler, retailer, warehouseman, and insurer. Records found on the Library of Congress ‘ website show even the casual reader how involved Francis Lewis was, and what meticulous detail he employed, in his commitment to the Revolutionary cause.

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I go into the details that I have, concerning the issues of supplying the Continental Army and Francis Lewis’ involvement in it, because:

“Without the foreign aid secured by these committees, however, the supply services could not have provided enough support to keep the Continental Army in the field, nor could the Revolutionary War have been brought to a successful conclusion.”

Without patriots such as Francis Lewis, the colonies wouldn’t have made it. You & I sit here reading this article today because a Francis Lewis pledged his talents and fortune, and indeed risked being hanged as a traitor, to wrestle our liberty from the jaws of the lion.

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But Mr. Lewis’story doesn’t stop here… I’m not quite done with him quite yet…there’s a bit more to tell…

I mentioned earlier that I believe the signers of the Declaration of Independence were destined by God to be the signers. It is my contention that if you are destined for something, no force in heaven or on earth, nor under the earth! can stop you.

But that doesn’t mean certain forces won’t try! They may attempt to wreak their havoc through various means, from just plain nuisances to life-threatening plots, but they won’t succeed. In Mr. Lewis’ case, there were several attempts made: a) during the course of his trans-Atlantic business trips prior to his Revolutionary War involvement, Lewis “… twice suffered shipwreck off the Irish coast.” (ColonialHall.com);  b) prior to his joining the Revolutionary cause, Lewis (as a Welshman & a merchant in the colonies) served the British forces during the French & Indian War by functioning as a supply agent. He was at Fort Oswego in the summer of 1756, conducting business, when the fort was attacked by the French. During the battle, the British commander Colonel Mersey was killed. Lewis was standing right next to him. (See *Note) And  c) to add fuel to the fire, when the fort was surrendered to the French, though humane treatment was promised, its commander General de Montcalm allowed the Indians to take 30 prisoners. Guess who was one of them…

Things were not looking good for Francis Lewis, were they? It wasn’t until 1763 – seven years later – that Lewis was finally returned home to America.

( *Note: George Washington had a similar experience )

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In this world, the devil certainly seems to have power. Up to a point. But in the final outcome, God trumps all. Though Lewis was held prisoner by the Indians and later the French, when he was released, the British government awarded him 5000 acres of land in New York as compensation for those lost years. As a result of this property acquirement, Lewis was able to re-establish his businesses, making “a large fortune” – which, as earlier stated, served the American Revolution well.

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Though a Welshman when he arrived in New York City in 1734, Francis Lewis’ loyalties were eventually turned to the American cause of independence from Great Britain by the issue of taxation without representation. His retirement in 1761 left him free to become active in public life. He was present at the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, a founding member of the Sons of Liberty, and a member of the Committee of Fifty-One in New York. He served in establishing New York’s new government, and was elected their delegate in both the First & Second Continental Congresses.

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In a sense, Francis Lewis lost his wife to the Revolutionary War.

In late summer, 1776, after brutally pillaging his home, British forces took her captive. It is said that she was already in poor health at that time.(Snopes.com)  Records indicate she was abused and ill-treated in prison. Though General Washington intervened and effected her release after several months, Elizabeth Lewis never fully recovered. In June, 1779, she passed from this earth.

Lewis lived another 24 years as a widower. He died in 1803.

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