Elizabeth Annesley Lewis
Wife of Francis Lewis, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
1735 – 1808 A.D.
Elizabeth Annesley Lewis, wife of Francis Lewis, was, like Hannah Floyd, driven to an untimely death by the hardships and persecutions she was forced to undergo from the British, because her husband was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Not much of definite information has come down to us from her girlhood or antecedents but what we have is evidence of her high character and undaunted spirit.
The story of the early life of Francis Lewis reads like a romance. The orphaned son of a Welsh clergyman of the Church of England, he received a classical education, supplemented by two years’ training in the counting-room of a great mercantile house in London. Then, upon attaining his majority he found himself possessed of a considerable sum of money, which he invested in a stock merchandise that he brought to New York. As the city was comparatively small, his consignment of goods was in danger of overstocking the market. In consequence, he formed a partnership with Edward Annesley, a prominent young merchant, and leaving a portion of the cargo with him to dispose of, he carried the remainder to Philadelphia, and made a large profit. He returned to New York to take up a permanent residence, and married his partner’s younger sister, Elizabeth. He entered extensively into foreign commerce. In the prosecution of his business, the travelled [sic] widely in Europe.
About 1765, Lewis moved his family to Whitestone, Long Island, where he acquired a handsome estate. He retired from business but returned to New York in 1771 for the purpose of establishing his son, Francis Lewis, Jr., in business. He removed his family back to Long Island again in 1775 and there Mrs. Lewis resided permanently, though her husband and sons were away a large portion of the time. Francis Lewis devoted his attention entirely to public affairs after his election to the first Continental Congress.
Like Floyd, Livingston, and Robert Morris, the other New York signers, Francis Lewis was proscribed by the British authorities and a price set upon his head. The enemy did not stop there. Very soon after they were in possession of Long Island, Captain Birtch sent with a troop of light horse “to seize the lady and destroy the property.” As the soldiers advanced on one side, a ship of war from the other fired upon the house. A shot from the vessel struck a board on which she stood. One of her servants cried: “Run, Mistress, run.” She replied: “Another shot is not likely to strike the same spot,” and did not change her place. The soldiers entered the house and began their work of plunder and devastation. One of them threw himself at her feet and tore the buckles from her shoes. The buckles looked like gold but were nothing but pinchbeck. “All is not gold that glitters,” she remarked to the discomfited young man. The soldiers destroyed books, papers, and pictures, ruthlessly broke up furniture, and then, after pillaging the house, departed taking Mrs. Lewis with them. She was carried to New York and thrown into prison. She was not allowed a bed or a change of clothing and only the coarse and scanty food that was doled out each day to the other prisoners. For three weeks this continued during which time she was not permitted to communicate with any one outside. Then a negro man, an old family servant, who had followed her to the city, managed to find out where she was and to smuggle some small articles of clothing and some food in to her, and also carry letters which he contrived to send through the lines to her friends. The matter was taken up by the Congress and referred to the Board of War and demands made upon the British for her better treatment. The British were bent on making an example of her because imprisonment and scarcely possessing the necessities of life.
Mrs. Lewis never recovered from the inhuman treatment she received at the hands of the British. After some months she was allowed to join her husband in Philadelphia. It was plain to be seen, however, that she was broken in health and constitution. Early in 1779, Francis Lewis, now elected for the fourth time as a member of the Continental Congress, asked leave of absence in order to devote his whole time to his wife. About the same time, her second son, Col. Morgan Lewis, married Gertrude, daughter of Robert Livingston of Clermont and took his bride to Philadelphia to introduce her to his mother. A few days later, she sank to her rest.
Three children were born to Elizabeth Lewis and her husband.
“In the war of the Revolution,” writes Julia Delafield, a granddaughter of the signer, in her biography of Francis Lewis, “Mrs. Lewis had more than one opportunity of showing the steady purpose, the firmness of nerve that would have distinguished her had she been a man…To Francis Lewis she was Heaven’s best gift. When his adventurous spirit led him to embark on long and perilous voyages, he knew that he left his children to the care of an able as well a a tender mother, who could train their characters as well as protect their interests. The conduct and careers of her children is the best eulogy of Mrs. Francis Lewis.”
Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.