John Lewis was born near Belle Air, Spotsylvania County, Virginia, February 25, 1784. He was a son of Colonel Zachary Lewis (who fought in the French and Indian War and the Revolution) and his wife Ann Overton Terrell. Where Mr. Lewis was educated is not known; Hayden could find no record of his name among the alumni of any college that he examined. He apparently studied law before the War with England in 1812, during which he was a captain of cavalry. Afterwards, he devoted most of his time to preparing young men for college at "Llangollen," near North Ann River, and not far from Lewis' Store, Spotsylvania county. Here he taught law, Latin, English and mathematics, and also found time to write two books: "Analytical Outlines of the English Language," Richmond, 1825, and "Tables of Comparative Etymology and Analogous Functions," Philadelphia, 1828.
On November 21, 1808, Lewis was married to Jean Wood Daniel (born in 1786 and died January 3, 1853). They had twelve children, of whom John Moncure Lewis, a budding poet, was the sixth.
In 1832, Lewis took his family to Georgetown, Kentucky. Two years later he removed to Franklin county, in the same state, and bought a farm adjacent to one belonging to his brother, Addison. He named it "Llangollen," after his Virginia home. After his removal to Kentucky, he began to contribute agricultural articles to the Farmers' Register, and in 1844 he wrote a novel entitled, "Young Kate; or, The Rescue. A Tale of the Great Kanawha."(1) It was published in two volumes by Harper & Brothers, and appeared in a second edition in 1845. In 1855, it was reprinted by Bunce & Brother, New York, apparently from the Harper plates, in one volume under the title "New Hope; or, The Rescue." The "Publishers' Preface" to the new edition states that it is issued "under a more appropriate title," apparently considering "New Hope," the name of a town, as more dignified than "Young Kate," the name of a dog. In none of these editions was the name of the author mentioned.
Lewis had begun to write poetry in 1804, and compiled a volume of poems by himself, his son John Aloncure Lewis (born May 11, 1820 and died March 21, 1845), Mrs. Gov. Wood, and Mrs. Huldah Lewis Scott. It was entitled "Flowers and Weeds of the Old Dominion,"(2) and was published at Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1859. While this book was going through the press, Lewis died, August 15, 1858, in Franklin County, Kentucky.
There is no novel, published by Beadle, credited to John Lewis, but one of the original yellowbacks, namely No. 43, "The Allens," actually is a shortened version of his "Young Kate." The author of "The Allens" is given as "Henry J. Thomas," but none of the other Beadle novels having the name Thomas in the by-line is by Lewis. A comparison of "Young Kate" with "The Allens" shows very little change except elisions in the abbreviated version. The dialogue remains practically identical, but parts unessential to the story were omitted to shorten the book from about 99,000 words to 43,000. The name of the principal family was changed from Ballinger to Allen, but Ben Bramble and the minor characters all retained their original appellations.
REFERENCES: Horace Edwin Hayden, Virginia Genealogies, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., 1891, 389 (best source); Anon., Biographical Cyclopcdia of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Chicago, 1896. 469-70; John M. McAllister and Lura B. Tandy, Genealogies of the Lewis and Kindred Families, Columbia, Mo., 1906, 138-43; F. V. N. Painter, Poets of Virginia, Richmond, 1907, 142-45, 332; Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, New York, 1915, 345-46; good review and summary of "Young Kate" in Southern Literary Messenger, X, 1844, 447-48; Boyd B. Statler, "Literature of the Controversial Age," The School Journal, Charleston, May, 1929, 302.
Dime Novels. No. 43
|1||An exhaustive review of this book, by a writer who knew Lewis and who went out of his way to make it flattering, was printed in The Southern Literary Messenger, X, July, 1844, 447. Here is the first hint that it was written "By a Kentuckian." Lewis' actual connection with the book appears from the title page of his book of poems, "Flowers and Weeds of the Old Dominion," given as collected "by John Lewis, the author of Young Kate."|
|2||The title page of this book, of which the only copy known to me is in the Virginia State Library, reads: "Flowers and Weeds/ of/ The Old Dominion/ Poems Collected/ by/ John Lewis/ The Author of Young Kate, etc., etc./ . . . . / Frankfort, Ky./ A. G. Hodges, Printer/ 1859.|