The Lewis Albums


In the closing years of his life, around the turn of this century, a Philadelphia banker named George Albert Lewis compiled a truly remarkable series of family albums. He and his wife Anne (their pictures appear on pages 76 and 80), in setting out to record for their grandchildren the story of their forebears and the homes they had inhabited, were merely obeying an urge common to many elderly people. But Albert Lewis brought special skills and imagination to the task. First, he was unusually observant. Second, he was a gifted water-colorist. His delicate, endlessly delightful paintings, scattered throughout the albums amid all the daguerreotypes and old clippings, provide the viewer with a fascinating insight into the life and ways of nineteenth-century urban American society. On these pages A MERICAN H ERITAGE presents paintings and illustrations from two of the books—one written (in longhand) by Albert, the other by his wife, but both illustrated by him. The title page of one of them appears above.

Lewis, born in 1829, was the youngest son of a prosperous merchant engaged in the China trade. Early in life he took it upon himself to act as family historian, and if he had not himself seen a certain house, he collected information about it that would enable him to sketch it. Starting with the homes owned by his grandfather just after the American Revolution, he portrays the Philadelphia houses and offices of the Lewises over a period of more than a century.

The story of the Lewis family in this country begins with Albert’s grandfather, Johann Andreas Philipp Ludwig, who was born in Crailsheim in the duchy of W’rttemberg and came to America during the Revolutionary War as a soldier in one of the Hessian regiments hired by the British. The events that ensued are heralded in one of the Lewis albums by a device (left) bearing stars with letters spelling out the home base of the regiment, Anspach. There is also a painting of young Ludwig in his regimental uniform (opposite). In 1783, during the last months of the war, as Albert Lewis recounts the tale in his meticulous hand (above), the Anspach unit was encamped near Philadelphia, and it happened that Ludwig at this time fell seriously ill. He was thereupon entrusted for care to a local German-American family named Klingemann. One of its daughters, Anna Maria Klingemann, helped nurse him back to health, and as Albert puts it, “As the days wore on his recovery was complete. Hence, the old, old story. Gratitude—regard—love.”

Back with his regiment again, Ludwig made a great decision. Although a post in his government in Germany was being held for him—the Ludwig family had a tradition of public service, and Johann’s younger brother was at that time Royal Bavarian Privy Councillor—he chose instead to remain in the United States. He resigned from his regiment, and two years later, in 1785, he and Anna Maria were married. Ludwig changed his name to Lewis and settled down in Philadelphia to begin a busy life in the new nation.

1st Generation

The first house owned by Johann Ludwig—now Johann Lewis—in Philadelphia was a neat two-story brick dwelling on North Fifth Street, which he and his wife purchased in 1791. His grandson Albert, in describing the sketch he made of the house years later (above), remarks that the location was an excellent one on the edge of town, “away from the whirl and bustle of the…city.” Lewis had taken employment as a prothonotary—a kind of clerk, or notary—in the city government, and his rising stature and success prompted him and his wife to move in 1797 to a larger residence (left) at 60 North Fourth Street. There Lewis carried on his duties as clerk and “scrivener” from an office on the ground floor. For a time in the late 1790's a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia forced the family to move out of town, but Lewis would return whenever his signature was needed on some official document. The family was still living in the Fourth Street house when German-born Johann Lewis died there in 1803.