Lucy Jefferson Lewis

by Martha Grassham Purcell

As travelers on the waters of "La Belle Rivière" pass between the historic town of Smithland and the unpretentious hamlet of Birdsville, few are aware that they are within a mile or two of the grave of a younger sister of the writer of our Magna Charta.

Though Lucy Jefferson Lewis was the sister of the man to whom we owe our American decimal coinage system, our statute for religious freedom, our Declaration of Independence, the University of Virginia, and the Democratic party; though she was the wife of Dr. Charles L. Lewis, brother of the noted Meriwether Lewis; and though she was blessed with wealth, culture, love, and family; yet to-day she sleeps in an unmarked grave in Livingston County.

Filled with enthusiasm for the then far West, the Lewis family, in 1808, ten years after Livingston County was formed, moved to Kentucky, purchased a tract of land about three miles from Smithland, and on a lonely, rocky hill overlooking the beautiful Ohio, raised their rooftree, and with their Virginia slaves, began a home in the wilderness.

Some say that Dr. Lewis came with his wife, children, and servants; others, that he did not come until eight or nine months after the family arrived. Be that as it may, all agree that he was unsociable and moody, and that he soon tired of his primitive abode and left, they supposed, for his former Virginia home. All alone with her children and servants in the Western wilds, is it any marvel that Lucy Jefferson Lewis should sigh for the happy home of her youth?

On a lonely, rocky promontory, where she could gaze far up the river, she would sit day after day, straining her eyes to see if there might be a "broadhorn" coming with news from her dearly beloved Virginia. If one was spied, a servant was at once sent out in a small boat to bring to her the long-wished-for papers. But this rare Virginia flower did not long survive transplantation, and in 1811 she was buried near her new home, with only a rough stone from the hillside to mark her last resting place.

Only a few short months afterward, there was enacted by two of her sons, Lilburn and Isham, a most revolting tragedy. Then Lilburn died and it is said Isham, under an assumed name, entered the volunteer army and fell at the battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815.

The other son and three daughters left on file, in the county clerk's office at Smithland, a writing dated August 29, 1814, conferring upon Thomas Jefferson the power of attorney to recover certain lands for them in Albemarle County, Virginia. They subsequently married, moved into other states, and nothing is left to mark the homestead but a pile of rocks. Three sunken places, overgrown with the wild wood, show the last resting place of Lucy Jefferson Lewis, her son Lilburn, and his wife, while the cold autumnal winds, sighing through the treetops, chant a sad requiem above the lonely, deserted spot.