J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

George Lewis: “diligent in whatever duty is required”?

Yesterday’s Boston 1775 posting introduced George Lewis (1757-1821), a son of George Washington’s sister Betty. On 14 Nov 1775 his father, Fielding Lewis, wrote to the general:

You will receive this Letter by my Son George who accompanys your Lady, the Winter is so far advanced that I am fearfull she will have a very disagreeable Journey but I expect she will meet with every assistance. . . .

George is very desireous of remaining with you as long as you stay with the Army, this I have no objection against provided he can have some little part that will bear his expences, I am in hopes your will find him diligent in whatever duty is required of him…
That letter closed with the news that George’s brother Charles, younger by three years, had died eight days before “of an Inflamitary Fever after a short illness.”

So Gen. Washington, in the middle of the siege of Boston, was asked to find some paying work for his eighteen-year-old nephew. Young George was apparently skilled as a horseman, which might have been useful along the road from Virginia to Cambridge, but he could not have been experienced in business or travel. As I noted yesterday, he made so little impression in Philadelphia that the newspapers misidentified him.

George Lewis almost certainly lived in the John Vassall house after he arrived at Cambridge in December 1775. Over the next three months, he may have helped with administrative tasks at that headquarters. The latest editors of Gen. Washington’s papers suggest that Lewis wrote a 19 Feb 1776 letter to Christopher French, a captured British officer who sent the commander a ceaseless stream of complaints about his detention; apparently the unsigned copy on file is not in the handwriting of any known aides.

In March 1776, Lewis was commissioned as a lieutenant in the commander-in-chief’s guard. This unit was created to guard the headquarters papers and equipment. He served in that capacity until December, and then became a captain in the 2nd Continental Dragoons, seeing action in 1777.

Capt. Lewis spent a lot of 1778 away from his regiment. The general wrote him a chiding letter on 13 Feb 1779, so he resigned his commission and went home to Virginia to stay. George Lewis had evidently lost the desire to serve with his uncle “as long as you stay with the Army.”

(The thumbnail photo above shows Lewis’s gravestone, courtesy of waymarking.com which gives his full name as George Washington Lewis.)


Bob said...

And speaking of original sources: I could be mistaken, but I doubt that's the original gravestone for George (Washington) Lewis, if he died in 1821. It looks like the generic government-issue style that became common later -- perhaps someone knows when they came into use. So any information on the stone may not be contemporary with the fellow's death.


J. L. Bell said...

I thought that might be the case. Thanks for confirming!

karen said...

I am a descendent of George Lewis and was wondering if anyone has come across any images of him as i cannot find any. Kenmore(his family home) doesn't have one. or if you can direct me where to look.

J. L. Bell said...

If the Lewis family home and Mount Vernon don’t know of any portraits of George Lewis, then it seems likely none has survived. Not every gentleman of the period sat for a portrait, and not all the portraits that were made survived with their identifications intact.

Anonymous said...

I am also a descendent and I have never seen an image either.