New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
John L. Lewis (1800-1886)
John L. Lewis was elected the thirteenth Mayor of New Orleans, March 27, 1854, took office on April 10, 1854 and served until 1856. He was born in Lexington, Kentucky, March 26, 1800 and was brought to New Orleans when only three years of age. His father, Judge Joshua Lewis was a descendant of John Lewis who came from Ireland and who, in 1720 established the first white settlement in Augusta County, Virginia. His mother, America Lawson, was the daughter of General Robert and Sarah Merriwether Pierce Lawson, natives of Yorkshire, England. His brothers were Major Theodore Lewis, George Washington Lewis and Dr. L. H. Lewis. He had one sister, Miss N. C. Lewis, all lived to be octogenarians. His parents, both Virginians of Revolutionary stock, were among the earliest settlers of Kentucky. His father obtained large tracts of land in consideration for his services as a soldier in the Revolutionary war. When the United States acquired the vast province of Louisiana, the elder Lewis was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Orleans, by President Jefferson, an office which he held until his death in 1833.|
John L. Lewis was educated by Rev. James F. Hull, the distinguished rector of Christ Church. At the age of 18 he left school to study law. In 1826 he became clerk of the First Judicial District Court of Louisiana. A year later he married Miss de Ferrier and his home life was an exceedingly happy one, but he only enjoyed a few years of this happiness for in 1833 scarlet fever attacked his wife and three children and within a few days all of them died. This terrible loss profoundly affected his life; he sought relief and distraction from his sorrow in the exciting activities of public life. Showing great aptitude for military affairs, he became a member of a volunteer military company and devoted so much attention to military affairs, that he rapidly rose from rank to rank until he became Major General of the State forces of the First Louisiana Division.
In 1845 he was elected Sheriff of the Parish of Orleans and served two terms. In 1852 he was elected to the State Senate and finally, in 1854, was chosen Mayor of the City.
When the War between the States began, General Lewis, although far beyond the military age, offered his sword to the State and joining the Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi Department, served on the staff of the commanding general, behaving with great gallantry. At the battle of Mansfield he was wounded in the head by a bullet, a wound which caused him much suffering during the rest of his life. Governor Henry W. Allen especially thanked him for his splendid conduct.
The close of the war found him stripped of the wealth amassed during a busy and useful life, but he always remained the same courtly, genial gentleman, a man among men, ever generous, brave, hospitable, a typical example of the old Southern Chevaliers. At the time of his death he was Jury Commissioner of the Parish of Orleans, a post he had held for several years prior to his demise. His pleasant manners and winsome personality made him extremely popular.
Under his administration, two important enterprises for the beautification of the city deserve mentioning. They were: The completion of the Jackson Statue and the beginning of the movement which resulted in the erection of Henry Clay’s Statue, unveiled April 12, 1860. The site in the Place d’Armes (Jackson Square, was chosen for the statue of Jackson, because in 1840 Jackson had placed there the cornerstone of what was intended to be a monument to the memory of the Battle of New Orleans. The appropriation $35,000 for the monument was made in a spirit of gratitude by the people of Louisiana and to commemorate the achievements of this hero to whose military genius and patriotic devotion in the hour of their greatest peril, they owe the triumph which served their principal city from capture by an invading enemy and which is one of the brightest pages in the history of the State of Louisiana.
The Statue was made by Clark Mills, the well known sculptor. On the day of the unveiling, business was suspended and it is estimated that 25,000 people witnessed the fall of the canvas showing the bronze figure of the warrior upon his rampant war steed “Old Duke.” That night a banquet was given at the St. Charles Hotel and which was attended by Mills and many other celebrities.
The Statue of Henry Clay was made by the celebrated American Sculptor Joll T. Ha.., and was moulded by Muller of Munich, it cost approximately $50,000. The site on Canal Street at the intersection of St. Charles and Royal Streets, was selected in order that the effect of a somewhat similar monument in Montreal, Canada, which the committee had admired, might be achieved. The cornerstone was laid April 12, 1856 on the 79th anniversary of Henry Clay’s birthday. After being located on this site for 40 years, the bronze statue was removed to Lafayette Square where it stands today. This move was made necessary for the convenience of transportation.
During the administration of Mayor Lewis, efforts were made to improve the methods of making up assessment rolls, a reform which did much towards clearing up a bad situation. Heretofore the assessment of real estate by the city was transcribing from a roll prepared by state assessors with the result that it abounded with errors. Property, in many cases, was assessed in the name of the wrong people.
In the spring of 1855 a new fire ordinance provided that firemen should be paid. Until that date the service was voluntary, it was considered an insult to offer pay for the performance of what was regarded a social and civic duty. The City Government encouraged by the insurance companies, was not averse to seeking the volunteer fire departments disband.
General Lewis stood high in Masonic honors. He became a thirty-third degree Scottish Rite Mason on February 16, 1855 and held this degree longer than any other member of the Masonic order in this State, up to that time.
He died May 15, 1886 at the age of 86. The last rites were held from the family residence, 329 Chartres Street and he was buried in the St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery. He was survived by three sons, Alfred John and Thomas and three daughters, Salvadora, married to Mr. Thos. J. Veau, Henrietta and Louise, children by a second marriage.
|Members of the Lewis Administration|
April 10, 1854-June 17, 1856
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