Thomas Lewis (April 27, 1718 – January 31, 1790) was an Irish-American surveyor, lawyer, and a pioneer of early Virginia. He was a signatory to the Fairfax Resolves preceding the American War for Independence, and after the conflict, contributed to the settlement of western Virginia in an area that would one day become part of West Virginia.
He was a founding trustee of Liberty Hall (later Washington and Lee University), when it was made into a college in 1776.
Lewis was born to John (1678–1762) and Margaret Lynn Lewis (1693–1773) in County Donegal, Ireland on April 27, 1718. His father immigrated to Philadelphia in 1728; then brought his family, including Thomas and his brothers Andrew and William, over in 1730. In the summer of 1732 the Lewis family moved to western frontier, following the Shenandoah River south into Virginia and finally settled near the headwaters of the south fork in what was then Spotsylvania County. The family established a farm and built a stone house for defense against the Indians.
Robert Beverley's son, Col. William Beverley, a wealthy planter and merchant from Essex County in Virginia, had been granted, in 1736, more than 118,000 acres (478 km²) by The Crown (in what would become Augusta County). This effectively made the Lewis family squatters on Beverley's new land grant. Lewis corrected this in 1739 by purchasing 2,000 acres (8 km²) along Lewis Creek (about a mile (2 km) east of what is now Staunton, Virginia) from Beverley. He named his new home "Bellefonte".
Lewis was considered an ardent student as a young man (partly as a result of his being very nearsighted). Later, he learned surveying and read law. As early as 1739 he began acquiring land of his own to the south and west of Beverley's Manor in what is today Rockingham and Bath counties.
Lewis married Jane Strother (from Stafford County) on January 26, 1749, and moved north to what would later become Rockingham County. The couple built a plantation they called "Lynnwood" near Port Republic. They raised thirteen children. One son, Thomas Lewis, Jr., served in the U.S. Congress.
The Virginia burgesses had authorized the creation of Augusta County in 1738, but it was seven years before the population had grown enough to justify organizing the county. Lewis became one of the first county judges (commissioners) when the county was formed in 1745. Shortly afterward, in 1746, Lewis and Peter Jefferson surveyed part of the boundaries of Lord Fairfax's 15,000,000 acre (61,000 km²) land grant (see the Fairfax Line). Lewis kept detailed journals of several surveying expeditions, which provide a historical view of early Virginia. In 1746 he laid out the first Staunton town plat for William Beverley.
Lewis held a number of local offices, and was surveyor of Augusta County for many years. He served as a founding trustee of Liberty Hall, formerly the Augusta Academy, when in 1776 it was renamed in a burst of revolutionary fervor and relocated to Lexington, Virginia. Other founding trustees along with Lewis were prominent men including his brother Andrew Lewis, Samuel McDowell, Sampson Mathews, George Moffett, William Preston, and James Waddel. Finally chartered in 1782, Liberty Hall was again renamed, to Washington College and finally Washington and Lee University. It is the ninth oldest institution of higher education in the country.
His father had served in the House of Burgesses, and Lewis followed suit. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1765, representing Augusta County.
In the early days of the American Revolution, a provisional government replaced the Burgesses. Lewis attended in 1775 as a delegate for Augusta County. (His brother, Andrew, was a delegate for Botetourt County.) When the new state government was created in 1776, Lewis was elected to the state's House of Delegates.
In 1778, Lewis journeyed to Pittsburgh with a group that negotiated a treaty with the Delaware Indians, guaranteeing their neutrality for the rest of the war. He was one of the commissioners appointed to negotiate a resolution in 1779 with Pennsylvania over the two states' western-border dispute. In 1788, Lewis was a delegate for Rockingham County (created from northern Augusta County in 1777), along with his brother-in-law Gabriel Jones, to the Virginia convention which ratified the U.S. Constitution.
Later life and death
When the Kanawha County court was established, Lewis was designated one of the twelve officers of that court, which met for the first time on October 5, 1789, at the house of George Clendenin in Charleston.
Lewis died at Lynnwood in 1790. He had become one of the largest property owners in the county. On December 19, 1794, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act which established the town of Point Pleasant at the mouth of the Kanawha River (in present-day Mason County, West Virginia) on Lewis' property.
Lewis is buried beside Jane in the Lewis Family burial ground in Rockingham County.
- The Fairfax Line: Thomas Lewis's Journal of 1746; Footnotes and index by John Wayland, New Market, Virginia: The Henkel Press (1925 reprint edition).