Fielding Lewis (July 7, 1725 – December 7, 1781) was a Colonel during the American Revolutionary War and the brother-in-law of George Washington. A successful merchant in Fredericksburg, VA, he had a plantation, which later became known as Kenmore. Notable for its Georgian mansion, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in the twentieth century.
Early life and education
Lewis was born at Warner Hall, a plantation in Gloucester County, Virginia, the son of John Lewis (1694-1754), a merchant and planter, and Frances Fielding (c1702-1731). He was the third of seven children. His paternal uncle, Robert Lewis (1704-1765), became the grandfather of Meriwether Lewis, who would explore the Louisiana Purchase.
His father had a store in Fredericksburg. In 1749 John Lewis had a fine retail building constructed to display his wares and provide space for a selling floor and storage. The sandstone quoins, usually found only on larger mansions, were a sign of his aspirations. His son Fielding joined him in the business, taking it over in the 1750s.
The originally one-and-a-half story building was expanded to two stories in the early 19th century. Despite competition and changing tastes, the handsome building operated successfully as a store for nearly 100 years, until 1820, when it was finally adapted for residential use. Donated to the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation in 1996, the building has been studied and stabilized for restoration. It is believed to be one of the oldest retail buildings in the United States. The Lewis Store was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Marriage and family
Lewis married Catharine Washington on October 18, 1746. She was his second cousin, the daughter of John Washington (a first cousin to George Washington) and Catharine Whiting. They had three children before Catharine died on February 19, 1750.
A few months later, on May 7, 1750, Lewis married Betty Washington (1733-1797), the sister of George Washington and another second cousin. She was 17 years old. They had 11 children together. Betty outlived Lewis by 16 years, dying in 1797.
- Fielding Lewis, II (1751-1803); married Anne Alexander, had issue. Married Nancy Alexander, had issue.
- Augustine Lewis (January 22, 1752 – 1756); died as a child.
- Warner Lewis (June 24, 1755 – 1756); died in infancy.
- George Washington Lewis (March 14, 1757 – November 15, 1831); married Catherine Daingerfield, had issue (grandparents of Princess Catherine Murat).
- Mary Lewis (April 22, 1759 – December 25, 1759); died in infancy.
- Charles Lewis (October 3, 1760 – 1793)
- Samuel Lewis (May 14, 1762 – December 31, 1810)
- Elizabeth Lewis (February 23, 1765 – August 9, 1830); married distant cousin Charles Carter, had issue.
- Lawrence Lewis (March 4, 1767 – November 20, 1839); married half-cousin Eleanor Parke Custis, had issue.
- Robert Lewis (June 25, 1769 – January 17, 1829); married cousin Judith Carter Browne, had issue.
- Howell Lewis, Sr. (December 12, 1771 – December 26, 1822); married Ellen Hackley Pollard, had issue.
He and his second wife Betty resided on a plantation (later named Kenmore) in Fredericksburg. Like others in the planter elite, they were supported by the labor of slaves. Betty's mother Mary Ball Washington frequently visited them and had a favorite spot she called her "meditation rock".
In 1769, Fielding and Betty started construction of a large Georgian mansion on their property, which was completed in 1775. It has some of the most refined colonial interior finishes of any surviving mansion. Named by later owners as Kenmore Plantation, it has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lewis died in Fredericksburg in 1781 at the end of the Revolutionary War. Before her death in 1789, Mary Washington asked to be buried at her favorite spot at Kenmore, and her daughter Betty arranged for that.
In 1833 a memorial was started at Mary Washington's gravesite, but never completed. Following the United States Centennial in 1889, numerous historic and lineage societies were formed; the Mary Washington Memorial Association held fundraising events and commissioned a memorial for her gravesite. It was dedicated in 1894 at Mary Washington's gravesite in a ceremony presided over by President Grover Cleveland of the United States.
Legacy and honors
- The Lewis mansion and property was later named Kenmore Plantation when purchased before the Civil War by people outside the Lewis family. It is now operated as a house museum, and is open to the public for viewing.
- In the late 20th century, the Kenmore Plantation purchased Ferry Farm, the property said to be George Washington's boyhood home, to keep it from being developed.
- Lewis' great-granddaughter Catherine Willis Gray married into the Bonaparte family of France. A sixth-generation descendant, Fielding Lewis Wright, served as Governor of Mississippi.
- Fielding and his wife Elizabeth "Betty" Lewis are each commemorated with street names in the Ferry Farm subdivision outside Fredericksburg, with Fielding Circle and Betty Lewis Drive.
- Lewis Family Ancestors and Descendants, Historic Kenmore, George Washington Foundation.
- The Meriwether Lewis Connection, Historic Kenmore, George Washington Foundation.
- "Fielding Lewis' Store: The Oldest Retail Building in America?", Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, accessed 13 April 2012
- "National Register of Historic Places Listings". Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties. National Park Service. 2013-01-11.
- Va Sons of the Revolution
- "Fielding Lewis' Store: The Oldest Retail Building in America?", Historic Fredericksburg Foundation
- Historic Kenmore, Official Website