Early Mississippi Territory, Adams
Title: Seth Lewis Biography
Submitter:  Ginny English
Notice:  SOURCE PUBLIC DOMAIN MATERIAL: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History;
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions and Persona;
Planned and Edited by Dunbar Rowland, LL.D. Director Mississippi Department
of Archives and History; Member American Historical Associations, Vol.
II.L-Z 1907
MSGenWeb Index Page


Seth Lewis  was a descendant of a London merchant who took refuge from
religious persecution in Connecticut.  Daniel, father of Seth, was a farmer
in Massachusetts.  Seth was born October 14, 1764.  In 1774 the parents,
having suffered financial misfortune, migrated to West Florida, taking with
them their three sons and four fo their daughters.  The youngest of these,
Sarah, at a later date married Maj. Isaac Guion, and was mother of one of
Mississippi's governors.  The Lewis family reached New Orleans by sea early
in 1775, and taking a boat up the river began a settlement on the banks of
the Big Black, in the wilderness.  Their privations were severe; the father
died of fever in June and the mother in September.  The children found
refuge with the neighbors, some miles distant, until the elder brother,
Daniel, gathered them together.  In 1777 they moved to Natchez, where Daniel
went into business.  In 178, one of the brothers, Asahel, joined Willing's
command, (q.v.) and was taken prisoner at Manchac by the British loyalists
and carried to Pensacola.  The Tory sentiment being strong at Natchez,
Daniel, with the remainder of the family, moved to Plaquemine, LA., and soon
afterward he was drowned while going to New Orleans.  Seth found it
necessary to bind himself out as an apprentice with a tanner and shoemaker
on the coast.  While in this situation he learned French from his
associates.  This and some instruction in childhood, was all his schooling.
But he had access to books, which he studied in leisure moments.  At 21
years of age he and his sisters went to live at New Orleans, and he became
clerk to a trader, who sent him to Opelousas, where he gained the friendship
of an old French merchant, Duvolde, who took himn as a partner, admitted him
to his family, and gave him a place of honor in the community.  When Duvolde
retired from business, Lewis engaged in various occupations utnil at
Natchez, in 1790, he undertook the sale of a flatboat load of goods at
Nashville, Tenn. From Genevieve.  At Nashville, he formed the acquaintance
of Josiah Love, and began the study of law.  He was married in 1793 to a
daughter of Col. Thomas Hardeman.  In 1795 he began the practice, was
immediately successful, and was elected to the first State legislature.
While preparing to return to Mississippi, for the sake of his health, the
office of chief justice of the Territory became vacant, and he secured the
appointment  from President Adams, May 13, 1800.  Here he found an
unpleasant situation.  The wealthy and aristocratic men of the district,
having adopted theoretically the politics of Mr. Jefferson, professed to be
incensed at the appointment, by a Federalist president, of "a poor, ignorant
shoemaker," as chief justice.  On coming into the office, he drew up a law
regulating the practice of the courts, adapted from the laws of Tennessee,
as required by the United States laws, and united with the governor and
Judge Bruin in passing the act.  His persecutors proposed to have him
impeached for this.  He also excited enmity by his independence as a judge.
When the Jefferson party came into control in 1802, the Territorial
legislature presented articles of impeachment and summoned him to appear
before that body.  In reply, he declared his innocence of all charges of
misconduct, and said he was answerable to the congress of the United States,
before which he was ready to appear.  This ended the legislative proceeding.
After congress had adjourned without action, Judge Lewis resigned his
office, 1803.  It had brought him the salary of $800 a year.  In the course
of his duties he visited the Tombigbee settlement at stated periods, to hold
court, riding through the Choctaw country and fording the rivers.  In 1803
he presented a petition to the general assembly praying that he be
reimbursed for a horse stolen in the Indian country as he was returning from
holding court in Washington district.  At the next election, his enemies
were generally defeated by the people, and Col. Anthony Hutchins, the great
leader of the anti-administration party, in his last illness called in to
take charge of an important matter of litigation.  He was also employed by
two of the sons in law of Hutchins, Col. F. L. Claiborne and William Brooks,
as counsel in the struggle over division of the property which followed the
death of Hutchins, and Lewis arranged for George Poindexter, attorney of the
other heirs, an amicable arrangement.  In April 1807, he was appointed
attorney general for the counties of the Natchez district, an office he
resigned in 1808.  In 1810, he removed to Opelousas, Gov. Claiborne of
Louisiana, offered him the place of parish judge of Attakapas.  Under the
State government, 1812, he was made district judge.  During the time of the
codification mania in 1820-25 he attached the penal code proposed by Edward
Livingston and caused its rejection.  This triumph, however, caused a
renewal of the cry of "shoemaker," that embittered his life, for it actually
estranged many from him.  After 27 years as parish and district judge, he
died Nov. 15, 1848.  Autobiography, Miss. Archives.)  Judge Lewis was the
first master of a lodge of Masons in Mississippi.