Sunday, November 7, 2010

On our way to Westerly...

It was quite the interesting trip from England to Massachusetts, wouldn't you agree?  And we did meet quite the brave family who took that journey across the ocean, didn't we?  They impressed us with their accomplishments and achievements, haven't they?  But something just didn't sit right with me. Somehow, what was to follow did not fit.  In a way, it was impossible, really.  Months and months of research, reading through numerous publications, finally confirmed what drove me crazy for quite some time.  Edmund Lewis, no doubt a wonderful man, does NOT belong to the Lewis Family from which my Lewis and my girls descend.  Our beginning in the New World starts with a young man named John Lewis. Let us meet this John Lewis who is in his own way something of a mystery.

John Lewis of Wales and his brothers leave England some time in the 1650s making their way across the ocean, arriving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, while John leaves behind his love, his girl.  Her parents do not care much for him as they see him as a "wild blade".  She writes to him, asking him to please come back and get her, but he responds that he cannot.  However, he lets her know that if she were to take on the journey to the New World, he will be there to meet her.  The decision is made, she will pack her belongings and travel across the ocean to be with the man who owns her heart.  While she is crossing the blue sea, he is building a log home for them.  The day of her arrival is here... he makes it down to the shores of Plymouth to wrap her into his arms, and kiss her.  They don't waste any precious time and are now pronounced Husband and Wife, Mr. and Mrs. John Lewis.
old map of the region of the Narragansett
The Narragansett

John Lewis is said to have left Plymouth and went to Newport, Rhode Island. Some time before the year 1658 they leave Newport to go to Misquamicut, its Indian Name, today known as Westerly, Rhode Island. John is amongst Westerly's first settlers of some 33 people.  He knows the language of the Indian tribe known as the Narragansett, with whom he engages in negotiating the purchase of a tract of land and its settlement. The agreement for purchase is signed this 29th day of June, 1660. To finalize the agreement of the settlement, John Lewis is the seventh person to sign the Articles of Agreement on this 22nd day of March, 1661.  The Lewis family is growing, counting  Jonathan, born the same year John settles in Westerly, John II born in 1660, Daniel born in 1662, James born in 1664, and David born in 1667.

town record list of all ye freemen (only part of it)

Roger Williams, Founder of R.I.
A great day is upon us.  A day so many settlers await patiently.  On this 28th day of October 1668, John is admitted a freeman, a citizen.  Time goes by fast and not only is their son Israel born in 1669, but John's name  appears in the list of free inhabitants of Westerly.  On May 16th of 1671, a warrant is issued, requiring the inhabitants of Westerly to assemble the next day at Tobias Saunders house to see how they stand as to their fidelity to His Majesty and this colony.  John is one of 33 people to appear and to take the Oath of Allegiance to the government of Rhode Island. In 1672 Samuel is born and in 1673, the Lewis-family welcomes the first and only girl into their home and they name her Dorcas. 

John departed this earth some time before 1690 and as tradition has it, he is laid to rest at the south eastern corner of his property.  Today, we find the Lewis Cemetery near the road leading to Watch Hill and on the east side of the Highway. In later years, we learn that at least 7 generations have been buried here, including John's wife, who survived him by 15 years.  The burial ground is unfenced and has only but a few head stones, all without inscriptions.  Later yet, more relatives find their final rest in this ground, which in the mid 1940's was purchased for the purpose of building a tennis court.  Over the years, the head stones are slowly removed, and the Westerly newspaper reports of human remains being unearthed. 
 The plans for the tennis court are realized and concrete is poured over what is the final resting place of a man and his family who deserve better recognition of a city to which he was one of the first settlers.  Some family members have protested and won the argument, to which the concrete had to be removed.  Today, this little unfenced burial ground is flattened and still of no recognition.  A new owner of the land, George D. Cross, who placed his big company building right adjacent to the grave site is planing to build and the fight to keep John Lewis'  memory alive continues to this day.
picture of the Lewis house and burial ground, by P. Lewis
While we certainly keep our attention to the matter of future land developments on this sacred site, we shall not hesitate to now follow the youngest son Samuel.   Ready to meet the next generation?
IN ADDITION:  I was asked to explain what drove me crazy and in the end to the conclusion that Edmund does not belong to John Lewis, as it clearly states that Edmund brought over a 3 year old son and as far as timing is concerned, it could be the same John Lewis.   So here is my answer to that and please feel free to correct me or ask any questions :   For one, there are two prominent clashing stories, one starting with Edmund which continues with the story of John having left behind his love in England.  As a three year old, pretty sure, even at that time, one does not have a girl-friend, let alone fiance, as she is also referred to, depending what publication one reads.  For the other, him having come over with his brothers also makes more sense to me as non of John's children or their children where named Edmund. But let's assume, John is the John of Edmund, there are no mentions of him traveling back and forth to England, where he could have met this young lady.  I sat and read through numerous volumes of the Lewisiana or Lewis Letters and then it hit me...  [the Lewis Letter is a Family letter which collected ancestral information from various Lewis-lineages.]  Any Lewis-Family member was asked to send in their family history and updates which then was sent out in the form of a little booklet to those Lewis' and others who subscribed.  Each different lineage received their own book number to keep things organized, and our John Lewis of Westerly is book VIII, whereas Edmund Lewis of Lynn, Mass. received book XXXIII.  Historians involved in those letters would make sure to join those books together, which show later to be the same lineage.  Edmund was never joined with the books of John Lewis of Westerly.  Although, looking through those different lineages and the names of their offspring feels as if one reads different alternate realities.  There are sooooo many John Lewis', yet not all belong in the same lineage.  Most of those John's had several children named Samuel, Jonathan, John, James...  it's easy to get confused.  But I strongly believe that I got my story sorted out correctly ;-)

Source of Information:
History of Washington and Kent Counties, Rhode Island, including their early settlements and progress...; by J.R. Cole
Narragansett Tribe of Indians. Report of the committee of investigation; A historical sketch and evidence taken, made to the House of Representatives, at its January Session, A.D. 1880 ; E. L Freeman & Co., Printers to the State
Lewisiana or Lewis Letters, Vol. 1 
The Family history of John Ladd Lewis, by John Ladd Lewis; pp. 9-11
The Ancestry of Nathan Lewis Harrison revisited nineteen years later; by Keith G Harrison
The New England Historical and Genealogical register...; by William B Task
American Ancestry: embracing lineage from the whole of the United States; by Thomas P Hughes, Frank Munsell
Pioneer Lewis Family, by Michael L Cook
Babcock & Allied Families, pp 62-63
Westerly (Rhode Island) and its witnesses; by Frederic Denison
Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, Volume III, edited by John Russell Bartlett, Secretary of State

* nobody to this day knows for sure where John Lewis came from.  Whether he came by himself or with brothers.  The numbers of brothers mention VARIES from 3 to 4 brothers.  John Ladd Lewis explains in his book that the Lewis name is a traditional Welsh name and for the time and area, it would only make sense that John Lewis originated from Wales.
* Not all publications agree on where John came from prior to settling in Westerly, however, there is strong belief but little supporting evidence of him having come from Newport to Westerly. Or even that he was in Plymouth, Massachusetts prior.
* A name of John's wife cannot be found.  Some claim the name to be Mary Button (of which there is no proof), others claim it to be Ruth (also no evidence available, at least not for this John Lewis)
* Most publications argue John's arrival around 1650 A.D., a couple publications state his arrival around 1640 A.D.
* His exact date of death cannot be determined, but is believed to be before 1690 or some time in 1690.  
* In the Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England,  Page 68, it shows a list of people who had to give the oath of allegiance, counting 33 people, not 21 as is  mentioned in other publications