Search
  • Isabel Turk

Morgan Lewis - Revolutionary Soldier

by Bruce R. Tucker, Alfred Historical Society


Sweating and foaming, the horse clattered into Morgan Lewis’s Alfred dooryard. The mud spattered rider from Wells seemed in no better shape than his stead as he nervously sought out Lewis and delivered his message. He was likely a man known to Lewis, probably a member of the Wells Committee of Safety or Correspondence. On this spring day, the 20th of April, 1775, the Wells man’s errand was being replicated all over the Maine country side, most bearing notes similar to the one handed to Lewis. It read:


Wells, Apr 20th, 1775 Gentlemen, I have just rec’d a Letter from Newbury which gives Information that the Regular troops march’d out of Boston the 19th Inst. in order to make an Attack on our people [.] that Engagment actually began at Lexington when 25,000 Men on our Side engaged 4000 Regulars[.] the Country to the Westward as far as York are all in arms + make no Doubt you will be ready to give Assistance to our suffering Brethern which this prest. emergency requires[.] you will notify Mafsabesic + Con[l] Hall

I am yr. most humb. Ser’t

Ebenezer Sayer


His message delivered, the Wells man hurried back down the path that brought him to this part of Sanford, no doubt anxious to see his own militia leader and make his own decision on what role he would play in the coming revolution. Lewis had committed himself to the cause some time ago but as he stood fingering the small folded note, he knew the time had finally come to stop talking treason over buttered rums at Halls Tavern and take some action; to stop drilling his militia on the training ground and shoulder arms in earnest- for the sake of Liberty. He also knew full well that taking arms against the King was treason, a charge from which there was no retreat, no clemency. Everything Lewis had dreamed of and worked for would be at risk if he failed. The fate of everything he held dear- his family, his country, his life hung in the balance as he reflected on the note from Wells. All were dependent on what Lewis did next. And the next thing Lewis did was gather his minuteman militia. And gather they did: Abraham and John Barnes, Issac Coffin, Israel Hibbard from Shaker Hill; Ephraim, Joseph and Paul Gile from Federal Street; Thomas Kimball, Benjamin Tripp, Benjamin Lord and Jedidiah Peabody from Conant’s Mill; Samuel Jellison from Swett’s bridge, Daniel Lary (a tanner) north of the village; Eliphalet Taylor (cooper) at Linscott Mills; Stephen Hatch (brickmaker) at Hay Brook; Andrew Burley making potash in the Gore. Others came from S. Sanford (the Harmons, Nathaniel Bennet, Tobias Lord, Moses Petee); Shaws Ridge (William Tripp, the Lows); Sanford Cor. (Joshua Batchelder- iron bloomer); and others. (note: a complete list later and biographies in Emery’s History of Sanford pages 72- 88). They lay aside their trades and marched the next day, April 21,1775. Word must have reached them enroute that the British were back in Boston and their services were not needed. They turned around and headed back to Alfred. A grateful nation later paid these minutemen for three days service marching “in response to the Lexington alarm”. The fact that they did not fight does not diminish their level of commitment, nor should it trivialize their contribution to the fight for liberty. The decision they made, to risk all for the cause, when the outcome could not be ascertained was a bold one indeed. To challenge one of the most powerful nations on Earth seemed foolhardy at best. They had no way of knowing if their actions would be supported by American political leaders or even their neighbors back home. Their public display of commitment could backfire if the whole thing fizzled and the search began for traitors. The decision to march on that April day was heady stuff, indeed.


Upon his return, Lewis received a letter of thanks dated April 25, from the militia leader of his hometown of York. It read;

Capt. Morgan Lewis,

I thank you and the men under your command for so willingly exerting yourselfs for the safety of our country, and as there is not any necessity for your leaving your Business at Home in the Very Busy Season of the Year, I therefore recommend it to you that as soon as the Weather Permits to return to your several Families, and I recommend to you to inculcate it on your men that they attend with a close application in Prepairing for a Crop of Provisions as Possible with suitable applications the Supreme Being to Bless the Labors of our Hands, and not to leave your particular Business without being called on by the Proper Authority, should their be any need of your Military Service within my limits I will give you as Senseable directions as Possible.

I am yr with esteem, yr Friend and Humble Sert-

Jotham Moulton


Indeed, the outbreak of hostilities could have not come at a worse time of year for New England yeomen. There is not a busier season for a farmer than early spring, especially in a raw, frontier settlement like the Alfred of 1775. The hills of Indian corn had to planted in the rude clearings recently hacked from the forest. Spring leaf out was the perfect time to fell trees to expand the clearings to fields. The wood had to dry before the laborious cycle of piling and burning could begin, a process repeated many times before Alfred’s fields look as they do today. The Lewis’s and their neighbors would plant amid the stumps and pray for enough harvest to get them through the next winter, only a few warm months away. Some field clearing provided Alfredians with their first cash crops, potash from the ashes and lumber from the best trees, if a market could be found. Lewis realized that even a short absence from these essential tasks could be devastating to his family fortunes. He also knew the burden of what he could not do would fall on his wife, older children and extended family.


Spring was also an essential time for the lumbering trade, the industrial engine of the local economy. Few mills had capacity to store much water and in spring there was a steady supply of water to power the saws. If the mill was not washed away in the initial freshet, the sawyers worked day and night to mill the trees their neighbors had dragged to the mill brow during the sledding season. April was no time to be called from this important work but duty to family, God and country knows no season.


The messenger system that called out Lewis’s company was primitive but effective. Older, established towns like Wells or York had official, organized Committees of Safety whose duty was to alert the populous to British activities and insure that political and military resistance could be mustered. Communication between towns was handled by Committees of Correspondence that spread the news and coordinated that response. The author of the note to Lewis was Ebenezer Sayer of Wells. He was the only surviving child of a prosperous Wells doctor, and a graduate of Harvard, class of 1768. He had inherited a sizable estate of over $10,000, including slaves, when his father died in 1774. Though his father was considered a Tory, Ebenezer was involved in radical politics early on and active in the local militia. Exactly how he learned of the Lexington alarm is uncertain. York heard of the fight on the same day (April 20), at 9 at night by post rider. It seems unlikely the rider would have continued up the post road and reach Wells in time for Sayer to write his note that night. He may have heard of it by coaster as the towns he mentioned were all seaports and Wells was very active in the coastal trade.


Sayers life of relative affluence in a settled coastal town contrasted sharply with Lewis’s existence on the frontier in Alfred. The older coastal settlements such as Wells and York were fast filling up. As these towns became crowded, young farmers lost their access to cheap land to farm and found the best opportunities for mill sites had been taken up long ago. Their best course of action was to move to a location where land and opportunity were available to them. Some pioneers, such as Conant, had resources to sell in their hometowns that could finance their move and scarce money to invest in opportunities they found on the frontier. Others of lesser means, such as Lewis, sought cheap land and invested “sweat equity” to forge their farms from the rocky, tree covered wilderness. Occasionally, if they could secure the proper site, settlers could pool their meager resources and build sawmills to be run on shares and expand their economic base. By cooperating with neighbors in similar straits, a little cash investment and tremendous amounts of hard work helped all build a better life for themselves and their families.


At the coming of the Revolution, frontiersmen such as Lewis had less at risk than their prosperous kinsmen who had acquired wealth through shipping or milling. Certainly they had less at risk than the Hutchinsons or Olivers that claimed the vast acreage of the Phillips heirs in interior York County. Lewis and most of his neighbors had come to the frontier seeking a re-deal of the economic cards, hoping for a better hand than they had held in more settled communities. Perhaps they also sought to acquire a higher social standing in the developing new community than they could aspire to in their old home. On the frontier, everyone started with little or nothing, everyone struggled and everyone could make their own way by dint of their own efforts. The playing field was level. Lewis and his neighbors had little interest in protecting the status quo or the advantages of the wealthy. These were the very advantages they sought for themselves. The decision to espouse revolution came naturally to them. They had come to revolutionize their economic and social situation The letter from Sayer was not addressed to a Committee of Safety, it was addressed to the selectmen of Sanford, of which Lewis was one. Selectmen are elected by townsmen because their judgment is trusted and they share common concerns. The Sanford selectmen; Lewis, Daniel Gile and James Garey, all fought in the Revolutionary cause. We can assume the revolutionary bent of local leadership was a reflection of their constituency, the local population of Sanford. Only after the minutemen had returned from the Lexington alarm did townsmen find it necessary to form a Committee of Safety, on May 22, 1775, a few days after Lewis marched again, this time for Bunker Hill.


Upon the return of the local company from the Lexington alarm, Lewis was left pondering his next move. With the British safely back in Boston, an army had to be raised to keep them there. Massachusetts quickly issued letters to several militia leaders, authorizing them to raise regiments. Based on the militia system, volunteers served under men they trusted and reserved the right to elect their officers. Command of the regiment usually went to the person responsible for inducing enlistment from soldiers willing to serve under them. Respect and popularity went a long way in raising and commanding these companies, military knowledge or leadership had almost no part in the proceedings. Naturally, leadership by popularity led to factions loyal to personalities and not to the unit or the cause. Dissension and backbiting was often the result.

One letter to raise a regiment went to York resident Johnson Moulton, another went to James Scammon of Saco. It was assumed that Moulton, an old war horse from the French and Indian War, would assume the colonelcy of any regiment raised in York County and Scammon would be Lt. Col. With Scammon busy raising troops across York County, Moulton hurried off to Boston to hobnob with the high command. Many York men, and men such as Lewis with York ties, enlisted to serve in Moulton’s regiment and were confused and bitter when Scammon refused to relinquish command and wrangled a promotion as colonel of the newly formed 30th Regiment of Foot. Subsequent events proved Scammon would have done well to relinquish command at this time and avoid unpleasant political entanglements.


Morgan Lewis and many Sanford men enlisted in the company of Joshua Bragdon, a Wells man originally from York. Bragdon, a shipbuilder, served 5 days in the Lexington Alarm and returned to raise a company for Scammon. His letter to Lewis read:


Wells, May 4, 1775


To Capt. Morgan Lewis,

Sir, I have an ensigns Commission to Dispose of and if it suit you to take it, the Commission is at your service, and if you don’t Incline to go, I should be glad if you would give Mr. Benj Tripe the offer of the Commission. And if Mr. Tripe should not incline to go you may give Mr. Andrew Borly the offer. Whomever accepts it must enlist about fifteen men immediately so please to Let me know by Sunday next how you succeed. I have sent an enlisting paper to you. Sir, if you incline to go yourself you shall have a Lieutenant’s Commission so if you incline to go please to let me no as soon as possible. I shall be glad if you would enlist about twenty men. I am your Servant,

Joshua Bragdon.

Lewis did accept the Lt. commission and although Tripe (Lewis’ brother in law) had served as Lewis’ Lt. and Burley had served as his Sergeant in the alarm company, both declined to enlist in Bragdon’s company. Undaunted, Lewis got busy recruiting his neighbors for the company being formed, most enlistment’s were dated May 3, the day before(?) the date of Bragdons letter to Lewis. Most of Bragdon’s company were from the Wells/Sanford area, of the total enlistment of 58, 34 were from Sanford (23 from present day Alfred).


Scammon’s Regiment received its marching orders May 10. Joseph Tate of Somersworth, NH kept a diary and noted the various companies marching through his town on their way to Boston. Two companies from Saco passed through on May 12, Bragdons company was sighted on May 23, “Tuesday a Company of Men Marchd thro’ Berwick from Massabeck Wells for Boston. aut Cambridge. (NEHGR 74:191) Bragdon’s company arrived in camp at Cambridge on May 24, 1775. The officers were commissioned on June 2, when Lewis was named Lt. of his company and Moses Swett named ensign. It is believed that Bragdon never assumed command of his company and that Morgan Lewis commanded them throughout the campaign as acting Captain. In a notebook kept by Lewis, he states that the trip to Cambridge cost him 7 pounds, 10 shillings and 4 pence (including 6 pence for a mug of flip). They arrived in Cambridge about a month before Bunker Hill.


The troops gathering around Boston were an army in name only. They were short on arms, artillery, supplies and had virtually no command structure. The army continued to grow like topsy, with no plans to feed, cloth or shelter the men and scant notion of how to use them. Getting troops fed and clothed consumed all the energies of prudent and cautious General Ward, overall commander of the American troops. He hoped to keep his fragile army together long enough to use it before his soldiers drifted home to spring planting and anxious families. Lewis’s compatriots hunkered down with the rest to suffer the boredom, bad food, scant shelter and paralyzed leadership in Cambridge. The poor conditions took their toll, on May 23rd there were 547 men in Scammon’s Regiment but by June 9th, only 396 were fit to fight.


Whatever the American Army in Cambridge lacked, the British Army across the harbor had in spades. They were superbly drilled, well fed and itching for a fight. The Brits were still sore from the beating inflicted on them by the American farmers during the retreat from Lexington. They were anxious to regain their lost dignity and were confident they would best their tormentors in a stand up fight. They also had commanders seasoned on battlegrounds in Europe and America; Generals Howe, Clinton and Burgoyne had joined Gage in Boston with fresh British troops and a cocksure attitude. Upon arrival and learning of the situation in Boston, Burgoyne had exclaimed, “What! Ten thousand peasants keep five thousand King’s troops shut up? Well, let us get in and we’ll soon find some elbowroom.”


For a month the adversaries sat, warily eyeing one another, awaiting the first opportunity or their opponents first misstep. The Americans, anxious to strike before their army disintegrated, decided to provoke the British to action. They would fortify the Bunker Hill section of Charlestown, bringing the town of Boston within cannon range and present a threat to British safety and pride the Redcoats could not ignore. The indomitable Israel Putnam, Connecticut militia officer who had fought beside the British in the French and Indian War knew the American militia would fight but also knew how they fought best, “They are not afraid of their heads,” he said, “though they are very much aware of their legs, therefore, if you put them in trenches or behind breastworks; they will fight forever.” He also knew these farmer/soldiers were likely more expert with pick and shovel than they were with muskets. They were more than capable of producing the protection their shins needed.. Throughout the night of June 16, Americans silently dug like badgers into the side of Breeds Hill. The British, as expected, could not ignore the challenge and came out to fight at last.(The details of the Battle of Bunker Hill are well known. Decisive Day by Richard Ketchem gives an excellent, readable account of the battle.)


From the outset, the American battle plan for Bunker Hill was rife with confusion. Orders from headquarters were sketchy, uncertain and qualified with ambiguities. Field commanders selectively interpreted orders for a variety of reasons; they ignored orders from officers of colonies other than own and rejected orders they did not think their troops would obey. Massachusetts headquarters, in particular, was guilty of issuing vague orders and ,as a result, thousands of troops wandered aimlessly while the vicious fighting raged on Breeds Hill. Reinforcements and ammo aplenty lurched about Cambridge, looking for someone- anyone- who could tell them what to do. An American general summed up the situation, “The Americans were composed in part by raw lads and old men half armed, with no practice of discipline, commanded without order, and God knows by whom.”


Just before noon on the 17th, the English troops boarded open transports on the harbor side of Boston and entered the mouth of the Charles. It was still uncertain to the waiting Americans just where the blow would fall. In case the object of attack was the rebel army headquarters at Cambridge, Scammons Regiment was sent to Lechmere Point, a potential landing site. They waited as the British assault boats were rowed up the center of the Charles beyond sniper range, not betraying their objective. It was colorful pagent, with white oars rhythmically dipping, troops resplendent in scarlet, white and gold, the sun glinting off thousands of bayonets, the boats weaving among the naval vessels belching smoke and red hot cannon balls into Charlestown- setting the town afire. It was a sight that none who saw it would ever forget as long as they lived. At the last instant, the boats veered toward Morton Point at the tip of Charlestown, directly in front of the new rebel fortification on Breeds Hill. The first British troops ashore deployed to secure the beachhead, while their comrades clamored out of the boats and formed ranks for the assault. They then ate a lunch of cooked meat while they contemplated the open field between themselves and the ugly scar of a fort at the hill’s crest. Lewis and his comrades on Lechmere Point found themselves out of the action and were told by an officer to “go round to the hill” by which Scammons assumed was meant Cobble Hill, near Charlestown Neck. Scammon and Lewis dutifully marched off in the direction of Bunker Hill.


Arriving at the Neck, Lewis and company found that floating batteries were raking the exposed narrow expanse with shot and shell, discouraging reinforcements from continuing toward the fight at Bunker Hill. American troops began to pile up on the landward end of the Neck. On Cobble Hill, Scammon found half an American battery was deployed, too timid to advance. They were feebly firing at the British naval vessels hopelessly out of range which, even if they hit, the thick oak hulls would harmlessly deflect the tiny 4 lb. shot. Here, Scammon halted and sent two sergeants to seek out Gen. Putnam on Bunker Hill and request further orders.


Had the sergeants located Putnam at that moment, they would have found him raging about the top of Bunker, trying to drive reluctant troops toward the heavy fighting out on Breeds Hill. They must have just missed his earlier performance at the Neck as he swore and cursed the troops reluctant to brave the storm of shot that swept the narrow isthmus. Putnam was whacking shirkers with the flat of his sword until he broke it over the head of an officer slow to duck. Putnam had already crossed the Neck four times that day and crossed another half dozen times as he called the laggards cowards and traitors. This display of bravery had little effect on the troops but at this point one writer remarked, “They were convinced of Putnam's invulnerability but were not so convinced of their own.” Most of the troops greeted the General’s histrionics with baleful stares but few were compelled to move. It was apparent that on this day their full cartridge boxes would be of no use to their frantic comrades fighting on Breeds with clubbed muskets, rocks and fists. Disgusted, Putnam rode off to the top Bunker Hill to try and move soldiers toward the redoubt on Breeds Hill where the fight was reaching a climax.


Scammon’s Regiment, perched on Cobble Hill, guarding an ineffective artillery, tired of waiting for the sergeants to return and made their way across the Neck. As he urged Lewis and company up the back side of Bunker Hill, he rallied them with a cheer, “Come, my Yorkshire lads, now let us show our bravery.” but it was too late. Before they reached the top of the hill, they met most of the American army coming back down- in full retreat. Scammon could not form his men and he too ordered a retreat, everyone got back across the Neck as best they could. There was to be no glory for the Yorkshire lads that day.


In the wake of the confused command situation and the inability to reinforce the fight on Breeds Hill, American authorities went looking for scapegoats, of which Scammon was one. He was charged with disobedience of orders and not showing proper martial spirit during the battle and tried for court-martial. Here, some of the old animosities about Scammon assuming command over Moulton’s enlistees resurfaced and some York men testified that Scammon’s behavior was indecisive, at best. Others with York roots, to their credit, stood by Scammon and did not take advantage of the general confusion on the day of battle. Morgan Lewis’s testimony was laconic at best, “I saw nothing of cowardice or backwardness in Col. Scammon that day.” ( I include other testimony at Scammon’s trial elsewhere in this issue from Nathan Gould’s history of Scammon’s Reg., 1899. Note the contradictions.)


Given the confusion at the battle, Scammons behavior was deemed understandable or at least no worse than anyone else’s that day. He was acquitted but relieved of command and returned to Maine.

Following the battle, the British held the hill but were too exhausted to advance. Both sides settled down to the waiting game that had existed before the fight. The British had acquired precious little elbowroom but at great expense. Both sides dug in and the stalemate continued until the British evacuated Boston March 17, 1776.

Lewis and his com-patriots were part of the 8000 troops assigned to guard Cambridge during the winter of 1775/76. They served in Fort #1 near the Charles and at a redoubt of Fort #2 with another regiment from Maine, Col. Phinney’s from Cumberland County. Scammon’s Reg. were issued 51 muskets on June 30 and another 40 guns on July 7th in an attempt to standardize weapons within the army. A serious problem during the recent battle had been that every farmer had brought his own musket and the caliber varied wildly. Musket balls had to be recast or simply hammered until they fit in the barrel. This caused some consternation on the battlefield where you could not use your neighbors cartridges nor stop to retrofit the musket balls. When Washington arrived to take command of the army, Scammon’s reg. was reorganized into Gen. Wm. Heath’s Brigade , falling under the command of the redoubtable Gen. Israel Putnam.

On Aug. 19th, Capt. Joshua Bragdon formally resigned. Lewis was later promoted to Capt., (his commission signed by John Hancock) and he assumed formal command of the company. The company continued to serve in Cambridge until Feb.9, 1776 when they returned their cartridge boxes to ordinance stores. Lewis and his men returned to Alfred.


This was not the end of his military service however, as June 26, 1776 he was commissioned Captain of the 12th Company of the First York County Regt., a local militia which was reorganized to support the war effort on the home front. He was commissioned a Major July 17, 1781, a rank he held until his death.


Morgan was responsible for raising supplies and troops to support the army in the field. The pitiful letter from Valley Forge requesting clothing was written to Morgan Lewis (Emery 64, 65). He was also on a committee to purchase beef for the army “as cheap as possible”- 3210 lbs. in 1780 and 6165 lbs. in 1781. (Emery 68, 69) This was Sanford’s share of 2,400,440 lbs. total of beef requested by the Mass. General Court.

The local militia served as a pool of men available for service close to home or for short duration. Local men were drafted to serve in Falmouth, Boothby, Bethel and Rhode Island. Hopefully, some of the militia could be talked into joining the Continental Army to fulfill the towns quota. This chore grew more burdensome as the war dragged on. (Mass. requests for Maine men in 1780/1 exceeded 10% of the entire male population of Maine 16 yrs. and older. Williamson 498) The problem was not only finding men available but paying the recruits for their service. Inflation had wrecked havoc on the value of colonial paper money and most would accept only tangible goods or hard cash as pay; John Gile enlisted for 60 L silver where as recruits who accepted paper money received $200-$280. Thomas Jellison took his bounty in corn at 4s/bu. and Ebenezer Low was delivered 9 cows for a three year hitch. Morgan Lewis signed his receipt. Mass. began demanding taxes be paid in shoes and hose in 1782.


Worse yet for Maine farmers, Nature conspired to conjure up some horrible weather. Droughts struck growing seasons in 1778, 1780 and 1782 and severe winters occurred in winters of 1779/1780 and 1780/1781. Corn became very scarce and Mass. sent food to the Maine coast.


Poor towns such as newly incorporated Coxhall requested an abatement of their war levies in April 1782, “it is New and the People Very Pore. Providence by the Drouth Cutt off our Crops of Corn and Grain so that the more than one half of the People are out of Corn and the others all most out So that we Cannot help one another and nothing but money will Purchis Corn abrod...we are almost Ready to Cry out under the burden of our taxes as the Children Of Isreal did in Egypt when they were required to make Brick without Straw.”(Me. Doc XIX, p.479) Morgan Lewis vouched for the poverty of Massabesic (Waterboro) “not more than one Quarter of the Inhabitants Posses a Sufficianse of Provitians to Last them and Their Families the Year about and one half of them Seavs anything or Very in Considerable Towards There Surport by Reason of Extreem Poverty Haveing Large Families and no oxen to help them Towards Cultivating and bringing tue Those Lands which are Very Hard to Subdue...” (Me. Doc. XX, p.85)


By wars end, the frontier towns had been stripped of all their meager assets and found themselves short of men , livestock and hard cash with no way to generate more. (Emery 68-70) A local man reportedly paid $1100 in wildly inflated currency for a cow. Few could make ends meet and none could prosper in such tumultuous economic times. It took a tough man like Morgan Lewis to put the arm on destitute neighbors in those tough times. If they suspected for one minute that his personal sacrifice did not equal or exceed their own, they would not have contributed to the cause. The Lewis’, no doubt, suffered like the rest on the home front.


Morgan Lewis had been born in York and had become an Alfred resident by 1772 (Parsons 13). His home place on the Middle Branch of the Mousam near the Mast Camp Road was about the last undeveloped water power site in town, a distinct advantage to an ambitious new comer. Phillips agent Jotham Moulton, a York neighbor of Lewis had encouraged settlers to take up claims in Phillipstown and promised deeds after the land was paid for. Unfortunately, Moulton died before executing all these deeds. Lewis may have learned of the areas prospects from the Moultons or he may have discussed them with his brother in law Benjamin Tripp who had helped build Conant’s Mill (current site of the embroidery mill). Or he may have heard of the site from John Sayward, a York man, who would build a mill upstream of Lewis. Whatever the case, Lewis had several ties to the area and ample opportunity to learn of its advantages. Lewis reportedly brought with him from York; Joseph Welch, Benjamin Lord jr., and a McIntire (Parsons 13). One month before the Lexington Alarm, Lewis had purchased 100 acres from Daniel Coffin on the western shore of “Mercybesick Pond” (Shaker Pond), just north of the Crooked House.(YCRD 43/258) The rude condition of this farm is illustrated by the boundary described as a “brush fence”. Permanent fences and stone walls were a thing of the future, for now, brush and branches piled on the boundary lines were all that kept your own cows home and your neighbors cows out of your corn. On this farm he reportedly installed York resident, Joel Allen, as a tenant. (Parsons 13). As Lewis marched toward Lexington, this recent investment was no doubt on his mind. He knew that during his absence the burden of running his household would fall upon his wife, Sarah, and his oldest son Jeremiah, just turned 13 years. Fortunately, after his initial absence, Lewis was around for the duration of the war to assist his young family. Lewis was there to handle family business as executor when his father, Nathaniel, died late in 1781. Lewis had quit claimed his interest in his family homestead to his brother, Nathaniel jr.(YCRD 46/28)


The signing of the Treaty of Paris brought an end to the war and the good citizens of Alfred could return to their mills and farms, breathing the fresh air of a new nation. Morgan Lewis could at last lay aside his civic duties and attend to personal matters. Among the most pressing matters was settling the title to his land. Lewis was among the Alfred men who petitioned Massachusetts in Jan. 1782, explaining that they settled in the wilderness upon land they learned belonged to Gov. Hutchinson who was now in exile and his estate had been seized by the state. “your Petitioner has spent many years hard labour and undergone every hardship in clearing these lands, building houses to secure themselves & families from the inclemency of the weather and have during the present war paid their proportionable part of Taxes and Furnished their Quota of men for the War Therefore, We pray that We may have ye liberty of purchasing the land we have taken up at a moderate price” .The petition was granted by Massachusetts but I could find no deed to Lewis. (Me. Doc. XIX, p.410)


The end of the war proved to be a chaotic economic time. The country had run up huge debts to fund the war and had depreciated its paper money to worthlessness. Very heavy taxes were levied in established towns, causing many to lose their farms or flee to the frontier to seek new prospects. The Lewis’ were joined in Alfred by many from York seeking a new start; Paul Webber, David Bean, the Linscotts, the Saywards, Amos Grandy and others. Many settled on the western side of town, particularly near the Middle Branch (Mast Camp Rd./ Brackett Hill area), where the Lewis’ also lived. The Trafton family, kinsmen of Lewis, also came from York. This family makes frequent appearances in the Lewis family tree- two of Morgan’s sisters married Trafton brothers, and two of Morgans daughters married Trafton brothers. A lot of Traftons also married Saywards, binding the western side of Alfred into one extended family or former York residents known as York Street.


Lewis did not have long to enjoy his post war domestic peace. In the spring of 1784, Morgan Lewis was hard at work, raising the new parish meetinghouse. The day had the makings of a fine party, as the Parish had voted on April 6, to purchase 2 barrels of pork, 4 bu. of beans, 10 gals. of molasses, 10 lbs of coffee, 28 lbs. sugar and 2 barrels of rum to reward the work crew. As he worked on the roof, he surveyed the scene commented that the abutting land would make a fine burying ground. Sometime during the day Lewis drove a nail into his hand, causing a puncture wound that became infected. On Nov. 17,1784, Capt. Lewis died of blood poisoning. Struck down in the prime of life, stunned Alfredians buried him in the lot next to the church, the first buried on land newly consecrated as the parish burying ground.


If his neighbors were shocked, his family was devastated. Dying without a will, his widow Sarah felt unequal to the task of administering his estate. On Dec. 6,1784 she petitioned the court, “desire you to grant a Letter of Administration on the Estate of my Late Husband Major Morgan Lewis late of Sanford Desceased to my eldest son Jeremiah Lewis who is the bearer thereof, as my circumstances are such that I cannot undertake that business myself and you will thereby greatly oblige. Your most Humble Servant, X (Sarah Lewis, her mark). Major Lewis left 300 acres, a dwelling, barn and a corn mill at his homeplace; 100 acres at Shaker Pond; and 18 acres, marsh, livestock and 6 barrels of cider in York- likely residual from his fathers estate. Sarah did the best she could with her very young family but her life was tough. She sent a note to the court in Dec.1790, “ Since the Majors death, she has lost one of her children (John) Mrs. Lewis had large and expensive family to bring up. Her youngest child was but 6 months old when her husband died and has met with considerable losses- 1 cow, 3 sheep soon after they were appraised and prays your honor allow her bring up children and loss of cattle that died in her possession.” Morgan’s estate was distributed April 2, 1792; widow Sarah got 41 acres , the western end of the barn and rights to use the threshing floor, sons Daniel and Morgan received acreage at the homestead, daughter Sarah and her husband Jeremiah Trafton received land they were currently living on, daughter Katherine and husband Benjamin Trafton received less acreage but included the grist mill on the Middle Branch. Eldest son Jeremiah received a double portion of the estate- the 114 acre farm on Massabesic Pond “where Jeremiah now lives” with provisions he make payments to his siblings. Jeremiah sold his farm to Conants in 1795 (YCRD 61/147), settled his debts and moved to Cornish where he remained associated with the Allen family, his fathers former tenants of the Massabesic farm. The older children began choosing guardians to manage their financial affairs; Daniel and Patience (over 14 yrs. 4/20/1791) chose William Parsons, son Morgan (over 14 yrs. 4/25/1791) chose Joseph Garey, Abigail and Dolly (both less 14 yrs. 4/20/1792) retained their mother Sarah as guardian.


It seems a grim fact that Sarah Lewis buried many of her children, many of whom did not survive past early adulthood. Son John (d. 1791) and daughter Abigail died young, daughter Dorcas (d. 1794) had been married only 3 years and daughter Patience (d. 1796) had been married only a year. All the girls died of consumption. Daughter Susan died of cancer.


The new century was not any kinder to Widow Lewis. The Phillips heirs began pressing their claims to land that had been settled by Lewis and his neighbors but had not been purchased from them. The specter was looming that the Lewises would be dispossessed or forced to repurchase the homestead. The fact that those reviving the claim were exiled Loyalists who had been banished to England could not have been lost on the Lewis’. Former Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson and his kinsmen, demanded and received $160 from the Lewis’ for the land they had worked and lived on for almost 35 years (YCRD 410/105). This seems a very high sum compared to the token amounts that other families in similar situations had been forced to pay. Perhaps even in far off England Hutchinson had heard of the contributions that Major Morgan Lewis had made to the cause of Liberty, fomenting a Revolution that resulted in Hutchinson’s flight to another country. Maybe he felt gouging the Major’s widow would somehow even the score. It is certain that Hutchinson had excellent legal representation to handle his transaction- John Holmes. Sarah Lewis’ dutiful sons, Morgan and Daniel, quit claimed her a life estate in the Middle Branch property the same day they settled with Hutchinson. Sarah Lewis lived another decade, dying Oct. 28, 1819 at age 79 yrs.. She was laid to rest beside the Major in the burying ground.


0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

By Bruce R. Tucker, Alfred Historical Society The summer of 1812 found Samuel Wormwood, joiner, of Alfred with little to do. Samuel was the son of Amos Wormwood who lived toward the Kennebunk end of M

by Bruce R. Tucker of the Alfred Historical Committee Seldom, when we grab a bag of flour or loaf of bread off the supermarket shelf, do we reflect upon the fact that the contents were once living pla

by Bruce R. Tucker of the Alfred Historical Committee [Taken from Bennett Quarry paper] PARSONS LIBRARY It was during Charles Bennett’s ownership that the quarry, with the assistance of his brothers E