Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The life & times of Elijah Lewis

Elijah Lewis, miller, civil war hero, newspaper editor and publisher --- and Quaker --- spent 30 of his 80 years in Chariton and was buried with his family here at the end. A man of great modesty, he left little behind. Always single, there were no descendants (and only a few nephews and nieces) to celebrate his life. He wrote no memoir.

He did write a short reminiscense of Chrariton's earliest days, published in his newspaper, The Patriot, on Feb. 18, 1897, the 30th anniversary of the day he stepped off a Western stage coach from Alibia. And an obituary, most likely written by his nephew, Harry, that is a masterpiece of the story-telling art as some obituaries once were.

Even that obituary, however, passed lightly over what must have been a great conflict of conscience that would have helped to shape his life. Raised among Quakers, abolitionists by conviction, he violated a core principle of that faith --- pacifism --- to pick up arms and fight for a cause in which he believed.

That happened often during those Civil War years among young Quaker men, including some of my own forbears, who as a result and because of conviction became estranged from the faith that had shaped them. Some found homes within other denominations; others, like Elijah apparently, kept organized religion at arm's length. 

Here's the obituary, published in near identical versions in both The Leader and The Patriot of March 20, 1913. There were a few differences, however, and I've blended the two in some instances here.


Elijah Lewis, clerk of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce committee of the House of Representatives during the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth congresses, and later appointed a messenger on the soldiers' roll, died at his place of residence, 110 East Capitol Street, Washington, D.C., on Friday morning, March 14th, 1913, at 8:30 o'clock of senile debility and heart failture. Mr. Lewis was in the eightieth year of his age and had been failing in health for about two months.

The remains were brought to Chariton on Monday morning and in the afternoon at 2:30 o'clock, a brief funeral service was held in the court room at the court house, conducted by the members of Iseminger Post, G.A.R., of which he was a member, after which the remains were laid to rest in the Chariton cemetery.

The services were without ostentation, which was his request, according to the Quaker custom. Comrade L.F. Maple read a short sketch of his life and the silent march was made to the city of the dead.

Elijah Lewis had been a resident of Washington since 1897, going there from this place, where he had lived for thirty years previously. He was a captain of volunteers during the Civil war, serving from his enlistment as a private in Company F, Sixty-eighth Pennsylvania regiment, August 23rd, 1862, until mustering out after Lee's surrender. As first lieutenant and later captain in command of Company F, U.S.A. Colored Troops, he saw severe fighting in many of the larger engagements of the war.

At the battle of Olustee, Fla., Lieut. Lewis carried the flag forward after five color bearers had been killed, and dressed up the line. His bravery was the subject of a commendatory account printed later in a Philadelphia paper. Out of the seventy-two men in his company, thirty-six were afterwards reported killed, wounded or missing. He was a personal friend of Col. Fribley, of the Eighth regiment, killed in action that day, both being natives of Pennsylvania. Mr. Lewis was promoted to a captaincy September 21st, 1864. On October 13th, of that year, he was shot through the body by a confederate sharp shooter in a skirmish on the Darbytown road near Richmond, Va.

Elijah Lewis was the son of Thos. Massey Lewis and Sarah Whelan Davis Lewis and was born on his grandfather Elijah Lewis' farm, near White Horse, Willistown, Chester county, Penn., Nov. 24, 1833. Elijah Lewis Sr. was at one time member of the assembly, an active Mason and for more than thirty years a Justice of the Peace. He (Elijah Sr.) was a brother of Enoch Lewis, the mathematician, of Abner, long a magistrate in Radner, and of Evan Lewis, publisher of a paper devoted to the abolition of slavery with which movement the entire family were identified. They were descendants of Henry Lewis, a member of the society of Friends who emigrated to Pennsylvania from Trewern Fawr, Narberth, Pembrekshire, South Wales, in 1681.

Following a custom among the Quakers, Elijah Lewis Jr. learned the trade of a miller, later earning the money to pay his way through Jonathan Gauze's schools, Greenwood Dell, near West Chester. He later taught school, living at the farm until the outbreak of the war.

In 1867, he removed to Burlington, Iowa, and a year (sic) later to Chariton where he purchased the Phoenix Flouring Mills, which he ran a number of years. Later, he was associated with his sister, Sarah Lucretia, in publishing the Chariton Patriot, until 1897. He served two terms as country treasurer and under President Harrison's administration as postmaster at Chariton. He was one of the organizers of the old Volunteer Fire Department and a member of Iseminger Post, G.A.R. Mr. Lewis was never married and is the last of his family --- brothers and sisters.

Elijah Lewis was a man whose entire life was unselfishly devoted to three generations of his family and to his friends. He was without ambition for advancement either in the army or in civil life, except as such advancement enabled him better to serve those who were near to him. He was frugal in everything that might give himself comfort or pleasure, and did not permit himself even the luxury of a single vice; but he gave his substance to those he loved with a liberality that had no limit.

He had many friends, especially in Lucas county, and left behind him few or no enemies. But he was never passive in his friendships or in his enmities. Those who enjoyed the former found that he was always ready to aid them, while those whom he felt merited his opposition were openly opposed. He died bearing neither malice nor ill will toward any man.

Here where he resided for so many years, the news of his demise brought sadness to many hearts, for Elijah Lewis was a man who ranked high in this community. He had high ideals and advocated the things which would uplift and build up the locality. A good man has gone to his reward. He is survived by three nephews and one niece, Elijah Lewis Jr. and Mrs. Mortimer Wilson of Atlanta, Ga.; Charles, of California; and Harry, of Washington, D.C., who accomanied the remains of his uncle to Chariton.

Elijah was the last to be buried on the family in the northwesterly corner of the Chariton Cemetery. Also buried here are his parents, sisters Hettie M. and Sarah Lucretia, brother Evan and Evan'ts wife, Corrilla.

The tombstones of Hettie (above) and her father contain indications of their Quaker faith --- days and months referred to by number rather than the common wordly designations.

Elijah's brother, Evan, with whom he milled in partnership in Chariton for a number of years, died in 1908 while receiving treatment for the acute alcoholism that had twisted his life. Caring for Evan and his family also was a part of Elijah's life work.

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