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.