Irish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army on March 1, 1776. He is most famous for his 1774 victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War. He also helps found Liberty Hall, later Washington and Lee University, when it is made into a college in 1776.
Lewis is born in County Donegal to Colonel John Lewis and his wife Margaret Lynn. In 1732 John Lewis, having killed his landlord in an altercation, flees to Virginia with his sons Andrew and Thomas. They become among the first settlers in western Augusta County.
Lewis receives a basic education and learns the skills of a surveyor. He spends at least fifteen years farming and working as a surveyor in southwestern Virginia. He also serves as county lieutenant and later captain in the Augusta County militia.
Early in the 1740s Lewis marries Elizabeth Givens, daughter of Samuel and Sarah (Cathey) Givens, formerly of County Antrim. They establish their own home, called Richfield, in what later becomes Roanoke County near Salem.
The Virginia frontier becomes a battleground in the French and Indian War, as do the frontiers of the more northerly colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Virginia organizes a militia to defend settlers subject to attacks by Indians upset at encroachments into their territories. Lewis becomes a captain in George Washington‘s regiment. However, after the loss at the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, Washington is forced to surrender to the French. Lewis retreats across the Appalachian Mountains.
Washington proposes a series of frontier fortifications to protect settlers east of the Appalachians. Lewis initially serves to build Fort Dinwiddie on the Jackson River of present-day Bath County and is relieved of his command September 21, 1755. The Virginia assembly approves Lewis’ promotion to major and assigns him to oversee the region along the Greenbrier River. On February 18, 1756, he leads the Big Sandy expedition from Fort Frederick with a mixed force of militiamen and Cherokees to raid the Shawnee towns along the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers to retaliate for Shawnee attacks. He leads several expeditions against both Indian settlements and French outposts. During the Forbes Expedition, he is captured during Major James Grant‘s attack on Fort Duquesne during the Battle of Fort Duquesne in September 1758. Taken to Quebec, he remains a prisoner until late 1759.
Upon the formation of Botetourt County from Augusta County in 1769, Lewis is elected to the House of Burgesses and reelected several times until 1780, though the American Revolution precludes much attendance in later years.
When the American Revolution begins, Governor Dunmore suspends Virginia’s legislature. The Whigs form a provisional congress, which includes both Lewis and his brother Thomas as delegates. When the Continental Congress creates a Continental Army in 1775 and makes George Washington its commander, he asks that Lewis be made a brigadier general. However, initially the Continental Congress had decided there should be only one general from each state, and Charles Lee is the first Virginian commissioned as Brigadier General.
On March 1, 1776, Lewis becomes a brigadier general, overseeing Virginia’s defense and raising men for the Continental Army. Virginia’s Committee of Safety calls on Lewis to stop Governor Dunmore’s raids along the coast from his last stronghold, a fortified position on Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay. On July 9, 1776 he leads Virginia’s forces which capture the island as Lord Dunmore escapes by sea, sailing to the Caribbean, never to return.
On April 15, 1777, Lewis resigns his commission, alleging poor health. However, he also faces discontent among his men and the army as a whole. Moreover, he is bypassed when promotions are announced for Major General in early 1777. George Washington, in need of every able officer, expresses his disappointment to Lewis.
Lewis remains active in the legislature, and in 1780, Governor Thomas Jefferson appoints him to the Executive Council. The following year, he falls ill while returning home from a council meeting. He dies of fever in Bedford County on September 26, 1781. He is buried in the family plot at his home. His gravesite is not marked. Colonel Elijah McClanahan, who marries Lewis’ granddaughter, Agatha Lewis McClanahan, attended his funeral as a young man, and later identifies his grave to Roanoke County’s Clerk of the Court. In 1887 General Lewis’ remains are re-interred in the East Hill Cemetery at Salem, Virginia.
(Pictured: Statue of General Andrew Lewis outside the Salem Civic Center)