Born in Wales, Francis Lewis was orphaned at the age of four. A maiden aunt raised him. She insisted he master Welch, Gaelic and Scottish. When his formal education completed, he took a position in a counting house, soon mastering that as well. Upon his 21st birthday, he collected the inheritance from his father's estate, bought a shipload of goods, and set out for the new world.
He formed a partnership with a Mr. Edward Annesly of New York City. Francis left half the goods with Mr. Annelsy to be sold on consignment. Francis took the remainder to Philadelphia. It took him two years to set up the Philly branch of the company. Then he returned to New York.
He married his partner's sister.
Mr. Lewis became a supply agent for the British army during the French and Indian war. He was present at the surrender of Fort Oswego to French General Montcalm. Francis was one of 30 prisoners handed over to the Indians. Legend has it that the Indians were fascinated by the strange language he spoke and let him live. Since the Indians didn’t appear to want him, the French took him back, sending him to a prison camp in France.
Upon his release, Francis attempted to reestablish his mercantile empire – like a man frantically making up for lost time. He traveled over a considerable part of Europe, making deals from Shetland to Russia.
Perhaps because of his worldliness, he jumped on the independence bandwagon long before most other New Yorkers. He joined the, “sons of liberty,” (not unlike our own TEA Party); possibly starting the New York branch of that organization.
He got himself appointed to the continental congress in 1775. And in 1776, voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Francis served on several committees in the congress, mainly dealing with importing military equipment – his expertise in importing was well known.
During the war, Francis moved his family out of the city to Long Island. An unfortunate decision. The house was overrun by the British. Books and papers burned. Mrs. Lewis taken prisoner.
Congressional protests did nothing regarding the release of Mrs. Lewis. A prisoner exchange was negotiated, but the deal fell through – only to be taken up again, by General Washington, himself.
Francis' wife was returned to him. But she was not the same woman. Her health was broken. She died shortly thereafter.
And so too was Francis broken. He died in obscurity and poverty. His empire, and fortune gone; sacrificed to his country.