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John Lewis

(c. 1784–6 Jan. 1849),

Originally born in Jamaica in March 1782, John Lewis enlisted as a drummer in the British infantry whilst a young man. Following this, Lewis embarked on a career in the navy and served on numerous vessels. His eventful sailing career saw him travel to destinations as far afield as London, the East Indies, and Africa which he visited on at least three occasions. In 1811, the unfortunate Lewis fell afoul of heightened tensions between the Britain and the United States. In March that year the ship upon which he had recently sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, was deemed to have broken embargo laws and thus he was turned ashore. On land, Lewis hired himself out to a local man John Alford who convinced Lewis to journey to Kentucky under false pretences. Realizing that his new company had become his captors and intended to sell him, Lewis began telling people he was a free man. To prevent his release, Lewis’ captors held him in remote locations in the woods until he was sold and eventually transported to Natchez. Fortunately, as a result of his litigation in the Natchez, he successfully gained his freedom in 1812. 

Further Reading

Davis, Edwin Adams, and William Ransom Hogan. The Barber of Natchez (1954).

Davis, Edwin Adams, and William Ransom Hogan, eds. William Johnson’s Natchez: The Antebellum Diary of a Free Negro (1951).

Davis, Ronald L. F. The Black Experience in Natchez, 1720–1880 (1993)

Gould, Virginia Meacham. Chained to the Rock of Adversity: To Be Free, Black & Female in the Old South (1998).

Lewis vs Carter 1812 Court Documents