Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lucy Jefferson Lewis' Monument

At the junction of U.S. 60 and Highway 137 in Livingston County, Kentucky, stands a monument honoring Lucy Jefferson Lewis, youngest sister of Thomas Jefferson, who was the third President of the United States 1801-1809. At first it might seem strange for this monument  to be in Livingston County, but there is a basis for it being located there.

In late 1807, Lucy Jefferson Lewis, her husband, Charles L. Lewis, and their children,  including adult sons Randolph and Lilburne,  left Albemarle County, Virginia to start a new life in Kentucky. Another adult son, Isham, would arrive in Kentucky a little later. When the Lewis family arrived in Kentucky, the state was 15 years old and Livingston County was even younger, being in existence only eight years. Livingston County was sparsely settled, but land was available and there was  opportunity  for a fresh start, especially if  you were in debt like the Lewis family.

Lucy and her family barely had time to settle in and get to know the names of their neighbors before  they were greeted with adversity.  First, Elizabeth, the young wife of Lilburne Lewis, son of Charles L. and Lucy, died, leaving five young children.  Then  Lucy Jefferson Lewis,  died on the 26th of May 1810. Her daughters described her death in a letter to their Uncle Thomas Jefferson: "She gragulery waisted away with little or no pain, for eighteen months enturely sensable to her last moments ...[1] Lucy was buried at the top of the hill overlooking the Ohio River with her grave marked only with a rough stone.

Randolph Lewis, Lilburne's brother,  was likely ill when he wrote his will in January 1811 as he passed away the following month.[2]  Sickness and death seemed to follow the Lewis family - and their troubles were not over.

Later that year the earthquakes began, frightening everyone who felt the shocks and saw the after effects.  And the most horrendous event of all - the murder of George, the teenage slave who was murdered by Lilburne Lewis and his brother, Isham, because he broke a pitcher belonging to the Lewis brothers' mother, Lucy Jefferson Lewis.  [3] 

At this point, Lucy Jefferson Lewis fades from the history books. It is almost as if she had not existed ... until  Mrs. C.E. Purcell, published Stories of Old Kentucky  in 1915 and described Lucy Jefferson Lewis' burial site - "A sunken place, overgrown with the wild wood ..."  In 1920, Fred Neumann, Paducah newspaperman, wrote that only the student of history knew that in Livingston had lived "a Virginia flower," whose brother was Thomas Jefferson.[4]  

Interest in Lucy Jefferson Lewis grew and a  drive was organized  to erect a monument in her memory. On the 26th of June 1924, at a called session of the Livingston County Fiscal Court, $50 was appropriated to pay for the Lucy Jefferson Lewis monument and a small park of one-half acre was purchased from W.H. Warren. [5] Citizens also contributed to the cost of the monument.

Five days later, a large crowd attended the unveiling of the monument with an elaborate program planned. A chorus, accompanied by the Smithland Military Band, provided patriotic music. Mrs. Clyde (LaVerne Purcell) Watts, organizing president of the Lucy Jefferson Lewis chapter of Children of the American Revolution (CAR), in Paducah, presented the monument and the Hon. John Montgomery, Livingston County Judge, accepted the monument.[6]

The monument is simple, but impressive.   

Lucy Jefferson
Sister of
Thomas Jefferson
Virginia 1752
Kentucky 1811

Overlooking the Ohio River 200 feet is a mountain which can be seen in the distance, 1  1/2 miles north of which is the grave of Mrs. Lewis. A simple stone marker identifies the spot which can be reached by following the Birdsville Road to a point indicated by a sign board where a branch road leads to the right and winds its way to the mountain top.

Lucy Jefferson Lewis is not known for heroic deeds or special talents, but she does represent the pioneer women who gave up an easier life to make a home in the backwoods of western Kentucky. 

Another monument has joined that of Lucy in the little park. It is that of Lieutenant Colonel John Montgomery, soldier and pioneer. We will save him for a later blog post.

[1] Boynton Merrill Jr. Jefferson's Nephews  A Frontier Tragedy, Second Edition, (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987) 218; citing letter to Thomas Jefferson from the daughters of Lucy Jefferson Lewis. The date of the letter is 17 Sept 1810, one year previous to the year of death given on the Lucy Jefferson Lewis monument.
[2] Livingston County Will Book A:31, Will of Randolph Lewis, dated 16 January 1811 and proven at February term 1811 of County Court.
[3] Merrill. Jefferson's Nephews  A Frontier Tragedy.  The death of George is thoroughly discussed and documented in  Jefferson's Nephews.
[4] Fred Neumann,"Our Country's Neglect of Her Great and Worthy," Paducah News-Democrat, Sun., 9 May 1920, p. 9.
[5] Livingston County Fiscal Court Order Book 5, p. 15, Special Called Court, Thurs., 26 June 1924.
[6] "Lewis Monument at Smithland is Dedicated Today," Paducah Sun-Democrat., Mon., 30 June 1924, p. 9.

Published 20 June 2019, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,

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