After completing his studies, he took up work as an apprentice at a mercantile business house in London.
Upon attaining the age of 21, he inherited some properties left by his father. He converted the properties into merchandise and traveled to New York in 1734.
In New York, he entrusted his business partner Edward Annesley to sell a portion of the merchandise while he went to Philadelphia to sell the remainder. He returned to New York after two years.
As a businessman, he travelled to many faraway lands and visited places in Africa, Scotland, and Europe.
He established a successful business and secured a contract of supplying uniforms to the British during the French and Indian War. In August 1756, he was present at Fort Oswego when the fort was attacked by French forces. Lewis was taken as a prisoner along with others and sent to France.
In 1763, he returned to the American colonies in a prisoner exchange, after seven years of captivity. He was given 5,000 acres of land in New York by the British government as a means of compensation for the lost years of his life.
Ever the astute businessman, he re-established his business and soon accumulated a large fortune. He was also beginning to take a deep interest in politics around this time.
By the age of 52 in 1765, he had become very rich and prosperous. He retired from his business in order to actively participate in politics.
Initially he was a supporter of the Royalists, but changed his political views after the passing of the Stamp Act 1765. He attended the Stamp Act Congress to protest against the taxation policies of the British government.
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He was one of the founding members of the Sons of Liberty—a group of American patriots that protested against the unreasonable policies of the British Government.
In May 1774, a Committee of Fifty was formed for protesting against the closing of the port of Boston. Lewis also joined the group, making it the Committee of Fifty-one.
He was elected as a delegate to represent New York in the First and Second Continental Congresses in 1775. His experience as a businessman made him a valuable member of the congress; he was very generous in utilizing his vast wealth for the campaigning of political causes.
He signed the Olive Branch Petition in July 1775, which was an attempt by the Continental Congress to reach a negotiation with the British government and to avoid a full-blown war.
By 1776, the American Revolution was in full swing with the patriots from the 13 colonies demanding for independence from the British rule. Due to lack of proper communication from the New York Provincial Congress, Lewis and other delegates from New York could not vote for independence on 2nd July.
The vote in favour of independence was cast unanimously by the 12 other states, and the New York delegation received the authorization to participate with the other colonies. On 2 August 1776, he signed the Declaration of Independence along with many others.
In 1778, he signed the Articles of Confederation which constituted independent America’s first constitution. He retired from public service in 1781.
Personal Life & Legacy
Lewis married Elizabeth Annesley, the sister of his business partner Edward Annesley, in 1745. The couple had seven children, of whom only three survived to adulthood.
Elizabeth Lewis was taken captive by British soldiers after the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. She was kept in inhumane conditions and was released after months of imprisonment. She died in 1779.
He spent his later years happily in the company of his children and grandchildren, and died on 31 December 1802 at the age of 89.