Back When … The Lewis Family of Montgomery County
By Frank M. Johnson
Three miles west of the City of Willis is the Lewis Creek Reservoir, which supplies water to the adjacent Lewis Creek Power Plant. The 1,010 surface acres of water cover nearly one-quarter of the land granted by the Mexican government prior to the Texas Revolution to Neal Martin, who was among the earliest settlers in Texas, arriving around 1816. The Martin League land grant (4,428 acres) stretched from the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, eastward to present day Willis.
More significantly, the lake covers the graves of John McClanahan Lewis, Sr. and his wife, Susan. He was the last Speaker of the House of the Republic of Texas. In 1849, Lewis bought the majority of the league (4,108 acres) from Martin for the sum of $10,000, which was then a huge amount of money. Soon after purchasing the property, Lewis built one of the finest homes in the area and named it Elmwood.
John M. Lewis, Sr. was born in Virginia in 1802, the son of William and Nancy McClanahan Lewis. His paternal grandfather was General Andrew Lewis, a veteran of the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. In 1831, Lewis married Susan Madison Boyer in Fincastle, Virginia. Soon after, they moved to Franklin County, Alabama where they had four children: sons Eldon, Clint and John, Jr., and daughter Iantha, between 1833 and 1840.
Lewis and his family moved to Montgomery County, Republic of Texas in 1842. Early records and accounts by his friends and neighbors indicate that he was a wealthy and well-respected man. Many referred to him as General Lewis. He served as a member of the Republic of Texas House of Representatives for two terms. During his second term, Lewis became the Speaker of the House and was the last person to hold that office in the Republic of Texas. After Texas became a state, John ran for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives but was defeated in the election by local icon Charles B. Stewart.
For more than a decade, the Lewis family fortune continued to grow. The 1860 U. S. Federal Census for Montgomery County listed Lewis’ real estate holdings at $30,000 and personal property valued at $33,500. With the coming of the War Between the States, the Lewis fortune began to decline. All three of the Lewis sons joined the Confederate Army.
The death of John M. Lewis, Sr. on March 8, 1862 would begin the devastation of the Lewis family. He was buried on his plantation, Elmwood. After their father’s death, Eldon and John M. Lewis, Jr. joined Company B, 24th Texas Cavalry (Dismounted). Clint was severely wounded at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill in Virginia on June 27, 1862; he died of his wounds on July 28, 1862. Eldon and John Jr. were captured at the Battle of Arkansas Post on January 11, 1863 and were sent to separate prison camps. They were paroled and exchanged during the spring and were allowed to rejoin their regiment. John Jr. served as commander of Company B until he was captured for a second time during the Atlanta Campaign on July 21, 1864. Eldon Lewis was wounded on August 31, 1864 near Jonesboro, Georgia and died in the hospital several months later. In 1865, Susan Lewis arranged for Eldon’s body to be retrieved and returned home to Elmwood. It is uncertain if he is buried there. The tragic deaths and the war took their toll on Susan. Following the war, debt forced her to mortgage her property.
The only surviving son, John Jr. had a succesful career in law and politics. He was elected Justice of the Peace for Montgomery County Precinct 1 in 1869. Beginning in 1876, he served three terms as Montgomery County Judge and was involved in an attempt to move the county seat from the town of Montgomery to Willis. He became the Montgomery County Attorney in 1894.
Susan Madison Bowyer Lewis died on February 6, 1883 and was buried beside her husband at Elmwood. The once grand plantation home had fallen into disarray and was later taken down piece by piece to salvage the lumber. Today, the waters of the Lewis Creek Reservoir hide all but the memory of John M. and Susan Lewis.
The Montgomery County Historical Commission provides the content for this page.
For information on the commission and its efforts, visit montgomerycountyhistoricalcommission.com