Elizabeth Annesley married Francis Lewis, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. There is not much information about her childhood and youth, but it is evident that she was a woman of high character and undaunted spirit. Like Hannah Floyd (my post for March 16, 2011), Elizabeth lost her health and strength through the hardships inflicted by the British because her husband was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Francis was the orphaned son of a Welsh clergyman of the Church of England and was raised by a maiden aunt who treated him as her own child. His relatives helped him to obtain a good education. He apparently inherited some money when he became an adult, and he chose to invest it in merchandise for a business he started in New York City with his partner Edward Annesley, older brother of Elizabeth. Lewis traveled widely in Europe for his business.
Lewis took an active part in the French and Indian War and was present in the fort at Oswego when the fort was captured by Montcalm. His friend Col. Mersey (or Mercer) was killed, and Lewis, serving as the colonel's aide, was captured and taken to Canada. From there he went to France until he was exchanged. At the end of the war, he received 5000 acres of land from the British government.
Lewis moved his family to Whitestone, Long Island, about 1765, and there acquired a handsome estate. The British authorities put a price on the head of Francis Lewis, Philip Livingston, and Robert Morris. When the British was in control of Long Island, Captain Birtch was sent with his light horse soldiers "`seize the lady and destroy the property.' As the soldiers advanced on one side, a ship of war from the other fired upon the house. there was nothing to be done. Mrs. Lewis looked calmly on. A shot from the vessel struck the board on which she stood. One of her servants cried: `Run, Mistress, run.' She replied: `Another shot is not likely to strike the same spot,' and did not change her place. The soldiers entered the house and began their work of plunder and devastation. One of them threw himself at her feet and tore the buckles from her shoes. The buckles looked like gold but were nothing but pinchbeck. `All is not gold that glitters,' she remarked to the discomfited young man. The soldiers destroyed books, papers, and pictures, ruthlessly broke up furniture, and then, after pillaging the house, departed taking Mrs. Lewis with them…."
Elizabeth was taken to New York City where she was put in prison and deprived of a bed or a change of clothes and given only a meager amount of food. A faithful black servant followed her into the city and smuggled some clothes, food, and letters to her. "The British were bent on making an example of her because of her wealth and prominence, and the poor woman found little relief."
When General George Washington learned of Elizabeth's situation, he ordered the arrest of Mrs. Barren, wife of the British Paymaster-General, and Mrs. Kempe, wife of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, at their homes in Philadelphia. The women were confined to their homes with guards. Information was sent to the British that these women would be treated in the same manner as Mrs. Lewis if she were not released. An exchange was made, but Elizabeth was not allowed to leave New York City.
Soon after her release from prison, Elizabeth learned that her faithful black servant was ill and nearing death. He was a faithful Catholic and wanted to receive last rites. Even in her poor situation and ill health, she was able to send a messenger to Philadelphia to find a priest and smuggle him through the British lines into New York. He arrived in time to bless the dying man.
Elizabeth never recovered from the abuse of the British army. She was able to join her husband in Philadelphia, but it was obvious that her health was broken. Her husband had been elected to a fourth term in the Continental Congress, but he requested a leave of absence in early 1779 in order to care for his dying wife.
Elizabeth and Francis Lewis were blessed with three children: Francis, Morgan, and Ann. Francis married the daughter of a Tory who opposed the marriage because he thought his father was going to be hung. Morgan married Gertrude, daughter of Robert Livingston. Ann married a post-captain in the British navy without her parents' approval. She sailed for England with her husband, and they were the parents of three daughters. Ann was widowed in England but did not return to America.
Facts and quotes are from Wives of the Signers: The women behind the Declaration of Independence, pp. 119-126.
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