Charles Lilburn Lewis

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Charles Lilburn Lewis (1747 – 1831 or 1837[1]), sometimes referred to as Charles Lilburn Lewis of Monteagle, was one of the founders of Milton, Virginia, as well as one of the signers of Albemarle County, Virginia's Declaration of Independence in 1779.[2][3]


Charles Lilburn Lewis was the oldest of eight children born to Colonel Charles Lewis of Buck Island[nb 1] and Mary Randolph. (Her sister Jane Randolph Jefferson was the mother of United States President Thomas Jefferson.)[2][4] On September 12, 1769, Lewis married his first cousin, Lucy Jefferson, President Jefferson's sister.[2] The couple eventually had eight children: Randolph, Isham, Jane Jefferson, Lilburn, Mary Randolph, Lucy B., Martha, and Ann M. (Nancy).[2] In another first cousin marriage, Lewis's daughter, Mary Randolph would eventually marry Randolph Jefferson's son, Thomas, on October 3, 1808.[5]

The family initially lived in a two-story log cabin on a 500-acre tract south of the Rivanna River around eight miles from Charlottesville, Virginia.[2][6] In 1782 Lewis inherited 1500 acres and other property from his father's estate, on which he built a large new home on a bluff overlooking the river; he named the estate Monteagle or Mt. Eagle.[2][6][nb 2]

During the American Revolutionary War, Lewis joined his father in signing a declaration of independence of the citizens of Albemarle County.[2][3] Although he initially served as a lieutenant, by August 1782 he had achieved the rank of colonel, serving as the county lieutenant.[2] Lewis also served on the Albemarle jury in 1785.[2][8]


The grown sons Randolph and Lilburn moved with their families to Livingston County, Kentucky from Albemarle County, Virginia in 1806. Charles and Mary followed with their three unmarried daughters by 1808.[2][9] According to Boynton Merrill, Jr. in Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy, Lewis had fallen on hard times at the end of the 18th century and was forced to sell his land and slaves.[9][10][11][nb 3] Randolph and Lilburn purchased large tracts of land along the Ohio River near Smithland, Kentucky, and Lilburn built his home, "Rocky Hill", on a high point in the center of a 1,000-acre farm.[11]

On December 15, 1811, Lilburn and Isham had been drinking. Isham had "appeared at Rocky Hill for a visit of undetermined length" the previous year after their mother died. Their older brother Randolph had also died, as had Lilburne's first wife Elizabeth. He had remarried and his wife Letitia was eight months pregnant, but he was worried about debt.

The brothers brutally murdered a 17-year-old slave named "George", who had dropped and broken a pitcher of their mother's, with an axe in front of their other slaves.[13] That night, the first New Madrid earthquake struck the region. The brothers tried to hide the remains of George, but his body was revealed two months later, when a chimney collapsed in one of the major aftershocks. The brothers were arrested and charged with the murder. Lilburne tried to persuade Isham to join him in a suicide pact; while they were planning it, Lilburned died by accident. Isham was held under investigation, but escaped and disappeared.

Lewis struggled to help his grandchildren. He died in Livingston County.[2]


In 1953, Robert Penn Warren published a lengthy poem entitled Brother to Dragon: A Tale in Verse and Voices that retells the story of the Lewis family and the murder of George.[14]



  1. ^ Lewis' grandfather was known as Colonel Charles Lewis of The Byrd.[2]
  2. ^ According to Sorely, the estate was located on approximately 1,510 acres of land willed to him by his father who died in 1782.[7]
  3. ^ According to Sorley, Jane and Mary did not move to Kentucky;[12] therefore, the three daughters were likely Lucy B., Martha, and Ann (Nancy).


  1. ^ Merrill Jr., Boynton (1998) [1976]. Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 347. ISBN 978-0-8032-8297-1.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sorley, Merrow Egerton (2000) [1935]. "Chapter 13: Col Charles Lewis of Buck Island". Lewis of Warner Hall: The History of a Family. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0-8063-0831-9.
  3. ^ a b "DECLARATION: 1779, Albemarle County, Virginia". The USGenWeb Project. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  4. ^ McAllister, John Meriwether; Tandy, Lura Boulton, eds. (1906). "Charles Lewis". Genealogies of the Lewis and Kindred Families. Columbia, Missouri: E.W. Stephens Publishing Co. p. 101.
  5. ^ Sorley, pp. 365, 370-371.
  6. ^ a b Merrill, p. 32-33.
  7. ^ Sorely, p. 347, 350.
  8. ^ Woods, Edgar (1901). Albemarle County in Virginia. Charlottesville, Virginia: The Michie Company. p. 48.
  9. ^ a b Merrill, p. ix-x.
  10. ^ Woods, p. 251-252.
  11. ^ a b Merrill, p. x.
  12. ^ Sorley, p. 364.
  13. ^ Merrill, p. x-xi.
  14. ^ Simpson, Louis P. (2000) [1996]. "The Poet and the Father: Robert Penn Warren and Thomas Jefferson". In Madden, David. The Legacy of Robert Penn Warren. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8071-2592-2.