By Richard Gwynallen
1594 – 1657
Relationship to Fawn: 10th great grandfather
Major John Lewis
1639 – 1726
Relationship to Fawn: 9th great grandfather
1640 – 1703
Relationship to Fawn: 9th great grandmother
1666 – 1720
Relationship to Fawn: 8th great grandmother
[Note: Amendments were made to this essay on 31 October 2016 and on 13 August 2017. All my work is a work in progress. When new information changes what I previously wrote I will add a new essay, or, as in this case, make a note of changes to the essay. In this particular case, I am indebted to Arthur Price, who has taken a very deep dive into the Lewis family and is a man of diverse talents, and to Chris Lewis, another accomplished Lewis family researcher who maintains a Facebook page called Legend of Lewis. It’s one of the beauties of the internet that we are permitted to learn from each other when geography may have prevented us from ever even meeting. ~ RG]
THE LEWIS’ IN WALES
John Lewis, or John ap Lewis, was our elder immigrant Lewis ancestor. Using certain assumptions from particular genealogists, I thought he appeared to have to have been the son of Lewis ap Richard (or Ricketts) and Catherine Morgan, born near Abergavenny in what was Monmouthshire in the southeast of Wales in 1594.
He appeared to have been baptized at St Telio’s Church on 22 February 1591 or 1592 in Llandeilo Bertholau, or Llantilio Pertholey in the English.
However, Mr. Price noted to me that the Lantillio Pertholey parish register records John Lewis Ricketts as having been buried there in 3 January 1668.
See the third name from the bottom in this excerpt from the parish register.
This throws any issue of parentage and marriages in Wales in a very doubtful light. So, while we may not yet know his parentage, Mr. Price also believes that it is probably correct to attach the immigrant John Lewis to that (Llangattock/Breconshire) ancestral line, in the light of the evidence of the two coats of arms on the Virginia tomb-stones referenced later in this essay. So, perhaps the right Monmouthshire family but not the right connections within that family yet.
In a comment to me on 10 May 2017, Mr. Price offers a conjecture which he is still in the process of researching:
“I have found a John Lewis from a minor but well off family, who featured in local wills etc. He has a wife and two children (names unknown). The Lewis family of Llangattock, Breconshire, had land connections with the parish they came from in Monmouthshire. This John Lewis is in a Parliamentry government c.1650 list of those not to be pardoned for their Royalist activity during the civil war. Near where he lived and in the same parish is a large wood called Bertholey.” Perhaps the wood called Bertholey became confused in other research with Llandeilo Bertholau (Lantillio Pertholey in English) parish.
Chris Lewis offers the following possible lineage on the website Legend of Lewis.
Read on with the above in mind. I kept most of what I wrote about John Lewis Ricketts because someone might find it useful, and the parts that lend a better understanding to Monmouthshire are still useful in understanding the land where our Lewis family is from. However, John Lewis Ricketts is from a separate family unrelated to John Lewis the emigrant with which we are concerned. Mr. Price makes clear that our John Lewis was not connected to the parish of Llandeilo Bertholau. Then the rest of this essay swings back around to the John Lewis who landed in the colonies and from whom one of or family lines descends.
John ye son of Lewis Ryketts
Though it is not the immigrant John Lewis we are in search of, it appears that the “John ye son of Lewis Ryketts baptised Feb 22 1591” married Johanne ferch Richard (a cousin most likely) on 3 February 1610. Johanne’s great-grandfather, Lewis ap Ieuan (John) was the vicar of both Abergavenny and Llantilio Pertholey. There is a Lewis Chapel in the church of Abergavenny in his honor. The coat of arms of their family are on the east window of the church of Llanddewi Rhydderch.
Johanne’s father Richard, was Curate and Vicar of St Teilo’s Church, where John was baptized and their three children were also baptized. It is most likely that John and Johanne met and grew up together in St Teilio’s church since it was the home church of both of their families.
Their three children baptized at Church of St Teilio were:
1) Gwenllian, 5 February 1611 (same name as John’s maternal grandmother)
2) Lettus (Lettyce) 1 March 1615
3) Watkin, 1 January 1621 (same name as John’s maternal grandfather)
Johanne is believed to have died sometime after Watkin was born and before 1633. However, there is no record in the church of her burial.
John appears to have married again, though there is no documentation of the marriage. I found it occasionally asserted that her name was Catherine Phillip. Others assert that it was the Lydia Lewis who later emigrated with him. They even offer a date for the marriage as 21 November 1630. In any case. John Lewis had two sons, John and Edward, presumably after Johanne’s death. His son John, was baptized at the Church of St Teilo on 15 December 1633, but the church record does not name his mother. That was unusual, and another interesting aspect of that 1633 record is that it does not use the traditional Welsh patronymic naming system. The father, John, is listed in the church register as John Lewis and not John ap Lewis ap Richard, or even John Lewis Prichard, as was the case in 1621 and earlier. The baptism of his youngest son, Edward, is not in the church register, and records are incomplete starting in 1641.
From 1550 to 1650 there was a concerted effort by the London government to enforce English as the dominant language in Wales. Consequently, what we see as the manner of listing names might be the practice of the Anglicized legal system, but not necessarily reflective of the Lewis practice at home or in the community. We simply do not know.
The History of Monmouthshire (Vol. I, Part II, p. 153) presents the “Charter of King Charles I to the Town of Abergavenny,” issued on 9 November 9, 1638. The document names John Lewis as Senior Burgess.
In other documents of those years, John is sometimes referred to as a Merchant, sometimes a Mercer; sometimes a Burgess. He was also referred to as a Gentleman (used to denote “arms bearing”). A Mercer was a cloth seller, so it probably indicates the mainstay of his business and what propelled him to be a Burgess. A “Gentleman” was a courtesy title referencing the lowest level of English gentry, just below an esquire and just above a yeoman. It usually implied a respected man, probably with property or a commercial business, possibly bearing a coat of arms. So, John Lewis was a successful cloth seller and respected businessman in Abergavenny.
John’s business was a logical one for the area. Abergavenny was a center for the production of Welsh flannel. As a side note, the town was also known for the manufacture of goats’ hair wigs.
The town of Abergavenny (commonly referred to as Y Fenni in Welsh), is a market town, with its origins in the 13th century when the town was granted the right to hold two weekly markets and three yearly fairs.
The name Abergavenny derives from the Brythonic Celtic word Gobannia meaning “river of the blacksmiths.” It relates to the area’s pre-Roman importance in iron smelting. The name is related to the modern Welsh word gof meaning blacksmith, and the Welsh smith of folklore, Gofannon. The river later became, in Welsh, Gafenni, and the town’s name became Abergafenni or, Anglicized, Abergavenny, meaning “mouth of the Gavenny/Gafenni.
The charter granted in 1638 was annulled when the burgesses refused to take the oath of allegiance to William III in 1688, after which the town declined economically.
Our Lewis ancestors lived through the English Civil Wars and were royalists. The Civil War listed from 1642 – 1651, and was a struggle between the Royalists, supporters of Charles I and II, and Parliamentarians. The monarchy was replaced by the Commonwealth (1649 – 1653) followed by the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell (1653 – 1659). The series of conflicts collected under the title The English Civil Wars have also been called the English Revolution and The Great Rebellion. The limited form of democracy being advanced against the monarchy was paralleled in struggles to change church structures, and, politically, established the precedent that the monarchy could not rule with consent of Parliament, thus giving some power to middle classes, such as merchants and tradesmen, below the landed aristocracy. During the social upheaval caused but the wars, other popular movements,, such as guilds, found room to gain ground.
If John Lewis was still a burgess during the war he would have been involved in the defense of the county. A Lewis commanded the defense of Chepstow Castle, which fell to Cromwell’s forces on 25 May 1648, but Mr. Price and Mr. Lewis make clear that is not our John Lewis. Chris Lewis demonstrated that an 1881 book by John Rowland, The Kemeys of Cefn Mably, lists Nicholas Kemish (sic) and Thomas Lewis as taken into custody,but no John Lewis. After the fall of Chepstow, a John Lewis, Major William Lewis and Ensign Lewis were taken prisoner and later exiled to Barbados for two years. However, Chris Lewis notes that there is no documentation to prove that this is our John Lewis.
SWINGING BACK TO JOHN THE IMMIGRANT – EMIGRATION TO THE VIRGINIA COLONY
Land sale records in Wales dated 6 May 1652, show John Lewis was selling property. It was customary to list a wife in the sale. Since John is listed alone, it is possible his second wife had died by that time. Something led him to sell his land and journey to Virginia at what was for that time an advanced age. Perhaps it was simply his royalist background that was making life untenable for him in Wales.
John sailed to Virginia in 1653 with a Major William Lewis, sons John and Edward, and a Lida or Lydia Lewis. Some speculate Lydia was his wife, but it is also likely she was a daughter or related in some other way. Some speculate that she was the wife of Major William Lewis, but she does not appear on the land records for land he would later purchase in Virginia. The family most likely sailed from Bristol, England, but that cannot be confirmed because embarkation records only started being kept in Bristol in 1654.
We find evidence of his residence in Virginia when on 1 July 1653 he received a land grant of 250 acres on Poropotank Creek. The grand was based upon 50 acres for each head imported to Virginia under his name. These were listed on the patent as John Lewis, Lydia Lewis, William Lewis, Edward Lewis, and John Lewis, Jr.
His life in Virginia is a bit of a mystery. Indeed, debate over the paternity of his children continued well into the 20th century. Dr Malcolm Harris discovered the graves of John Lewis and his daughter-in-law, Isabella Miller, in 1948.
John died only three years after arriving in Virginia and was buried in a family burial ground on the Poropotank land.
John’s tombstone reads “Here lieth interred the body of John Lewis (borne in Munmoth shire) died the 21st of August 1657 aged 63 years. The anagram of his name I shew no ill”.
As an interesting side note, gravestones were apparently uncommon in tidewater Virginia in that era. Indeed, this tombstone is the oldest known tombstone in King and Queen County, Virginia. The Tidewater area of Virginia has sandy soil, and no local stone suitable for tombstones. They had to be ordered from England, a process which took about two years and was very expensive. I’ve seen it noted that the inclusion of the coat of arms indicates that the survivors of John Lewis wanted to make a permanent record of his Welsh family bloodline.
John’s nephew, Major William Lewis, who emigrated with John, acquired significant lands of his own, more than 10,000 acres within five years of arrival. Land records show that he bought a 2,600 farm, Chimahocans, which he referred to as “Port Holy” from Colonel John West in 1658. Major William Lewis was from the Parish of Llantilio Pertholey in Wales, from which he took the name Port Holy for his residence in Virginia. It is assumed he arrived on the American Colonies with wealth, making it is possible that he is the one who ordered the tombstone.
The coat of arms on the stones was the key to unlocking Lewis family history. The following analysis of the coat of arms of John Lewis is a commonly accepted one found in various genealogies.
First (top left) Quarter – LEWIS ARMS (coat of Rhys Goch)
Second (top right) Quarter – HOWELL Family, Prince of Caerlleon
“Gules, three towers triple-towered Argent” The son of Rhys Goch, Gemilling (Genillin, Kynyllin, Cynhyllyn) married Jenet, daughter of Sir Howel of Caerlleon. A Grant of Arms was given to him in the eleventh century to use this arms.
Third Quartering – “Argent three Chevronels Gules“. Coat of the de Turberville family of Crickhowell in Brecon.
“Azure three plates“. Fourth position is for the wife, so this was the shield of Johanna Lewis of the family Lewis of Llanddewi Rhydderch. They were acquired by intermarriage with an heiress of the de Trevely family of that parish. These Arms were borne by Sir Walter de Trevely, a Breton knight who came into Wales with the Normans.
The top quarter, the Lewis Quarter, was the “Rhys Goch” line of Brecon, Wales. Rhys Goch was born about 1070. The three other quarterings indicate three heiresses had married into the Rhys Goch Line – heiresses of such prominence that their Coat-of-Arms warranted being included on the shield of that family.
Lewis Motto – “Omne Solum Forti Patria Est” – “Every Land is Home to a Brave Man”. This motto does not appear rooted in family records in Wales, and may have originated in Virginia.
JOHN LEWIS, JR.
We are descended from John Lewis, Jr. and isabella Miller, who married in 1665. John, Sr’s land purchase was modest by the standards of the time, though his nephew purchased large tracts of land. John Sr. must have prospered on his land because he added 600 acres granted by patent on 23 November 23 1663. We know this because John Jr. patented 2600 acres in New Kent and Gloucester on both sides of the Poropotank Creek, “next below the plantation of said John Lewis”, 600 acres of which was the land granted to his father in 1663. He then patented 100 acres in New Kent County, Virginia on the northeast side of Cainhow’s Swamp on 22 April 1668. Further land came to John, Jr. from his cousin. Major William Lewis, John Sr.’s nephew who emigrated with him died by 1667 and left his estate of Chimahocans or “Port Holy to John, Jr.
The General Court Record of New Kent County showed John, Jr.’s residence in 1676 as being near Major Thomas Pate’s property, where Bacon encamped. Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 swirled around the territory of the Lewis family, who supported the Governor’s side against Bacon, and John, Jr. is said to have suffered severely from the depredations of Bacon’s troops. He is referenced in two documents:
“Persons who Suffered by Bacon’s Rebellion”: 15 Oct. 1677 “Col. John West, a person greatly impaired in his stock and goods by the Rebells, and a most constant Loyall Gentleman during the late Rebellion, and was for some time after Bacon’s death Inprisoned by the Rebell Partie. . . .Major John Lewis a sufferer in the same kind as the former.”
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Vol. 5, p. 67): “At Middlesex Court in Feb 1677 one Matyhew Bentley was summoned to answer the charge that during the late rebellion, when in command of forty or fifty men-in-arms at Major Lewis’ plantation in New Kent county, he killed three hogs and four sheep, used a great deal of corn, and took meal for the whole rebel army at Major Pate’s.” The Pate residence was just south of Chimahocans.
The failed rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon is a confusing aspect of Virginia’s colonial history. Historians have altered their views on the conflict over the years, moving from the perception that it represented an early flaring up of a spirit of independence, to viewing it as a power struggle between two leading figures in the colony fueled by the economic problems besetting the colony at the time. Bacon’s forces scapegoated local Native American tribes for many of the colonies problems and attacked many of their villages, sometimes for as little as unfounded accusations of stealing corn. The action that ignited it all seems to have been a raid in July 1675 by the Doeg Indians on the plantation of Thomas Mathews over the nonpayment of some items Mathews had apparently obtained from the tribe. Some colonists retaliated, but attacked the wrong tribe, thus kicking off a series of large scale Indian raids.
The government, represented by Governor Berkeley, responded with outstanding incompetence, managing to make matters worse in the perspective of both Indians and Bacon’s rebels. The best that could be said is that Berkeley attempted to keep a peace that would protect the Indian villages and frustrated Bacon’s goal of assuming command of the militia, which would then be used to support his campaign against Native tribes.
In 1680, John Jr. was a Captain of horse in the militia of New Kent County, and one of its justices. At that time, New Kent County included King and Queen county as far down as Poropotank Creek. In 1675 he was a Major in the infantry or foot troops.
These large holdings were later divided among many family members into much smaller holdings.
We are descended from Jane Lewis, who may have been the step-daughter of John Lewis, Jr. and Isabella Miller, raised by them from an early age after the death of her mother, Sarah Lewis, a cousin of John Lewis, Jr. Others maintain that she was the actual daughter of John Lewis, Jr. and Isabella Miller, or at least of John Lewis, Jr. Suffice it to say, she lived with the large Chimahocans Lewis family and was raised as a daughter of that family.
Jane would marry Francis Willis. Their daughter, Diana Willis, married Samuel Hicks.