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Gwent local history


83 Autumn 1997

Francis Lewis (1713-1802)

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However, David Williams, who compiled the entry 'Francis Lewis' in the Dictionary
of Welsh Biography, shows conclusively that this American version of Francis Lewis's
parentage is incorrect. There was no Rev. Francis Lewis at Llandaff at this date; the duty
of resident vicar in the parish at this time was performed by cathedral clergy. Similarly
there was no Dr. Pettingal in the parish at Caernarvon, although we know that the most
distinguished member of the family at this time was Dr. John Pettingall (1708-81), vicar of
Christchurch and Whitson, near Newport, who became well-known nationally for his
antiquarian studies. It seems that the passage of time had produced confusion not only in
the Welsh place-names but also in the names of the family members themselves.
It now seems certain that Francis Lewis's mother was Anne Pettingall who married
Morgan Lewis. Anne was a member of the large Pettingall family who produced several
prominent Newport citizens in the early eighteenth century. Her father, Francis Pettingall,
a Newport mercer, became an alderman of the town; her eldest brother, Richard, was town
clerk and an alderman; and her youngest brother, Francis, was vicar of St. Woolos for 21
years as well as vicar of Christchurch.
Another discrepancy in the American version of events concerns the upbringing of the
young Francis Lewis. The Dictionary of American Biography states that he was left an
orphan at an early age and that he was brought up in the care of his mother's relatives (ie
the Pettingalls) in Wales. But this version is contradicted by the evidence of extant wills of
members of the Pettingall family living at the time. The will of Susana Pettingall of
Newport, dated 5 March, 1716, refers to "my sister, Anne Lewis of Cowbridge,
Glamorgan". The will of Anne's father, Francis Pettingall of Newport, dated 3 July 1724,
makes a bequest to "my daughter, Anne Lewis, married to Mr. Morgan Lewis", and in the
will of Anne's cousin, Florence Pettingall of Newport, dated 11 May, 1735, both Morgan
Lewis and Anne Lewis signed as witnesses.
We know little about Morgan Lewis, but it is evident that the young Francis Lewis was
not left an orphan but was brought up by his parents, probably in his early years at
Cowbridge in Glamorgan. There is no reference to the baptism of the infant Francis in the
parish register of St. Woolos, where Anne Lewis's brother was vicar.
There is no further reason to query the American account of Francis Lewis's life. He
was sent to school at Westminster, and this would certainly have been in accord with the
expectations of the Pettingalls. Afterwards he joined a mercantile house in London, and no
doubt it was there that the idea of emigration came to him.
The young Francis left for New York some time between 1734 and 1738. The former
date is given by Julia Delafield, but the latter date, as found in the Dictionary of American
Biography, is more likely. When Mary Pettingall made her will on 9 April, 1740, she left
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