William David Lewis (1792-1881) arrived in Europe in 1814 at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Having obtained passage from New York as a secretary to the United States peace commission, Lewis soon resigned his office to join the employ of his older brother John Delaware Lewis (1774-1841), a commission merchant in St. Petersburg, Russia. William spent the following ten years there. In 1820, William Lewis was sued for slander by the consul at St. Petersburg, Leavitt Harris, and the seven year litigation involved eminent officials in the United States and in Russia, including John Quincy Adams and James Monroe. Lewis began his own import commission business in Philadelphia in 1825, helped finance several early railroads, and was cashier of Girard Bank, 1832-1842. He served as collector of customs for the Port of Philadelphia, 1849- 1853, despite the strenuous efforts against confirmation by his fellow Whigs from Pennsylvania. Lewis then retired to his estate near Florence, N.J., where he continued to take an active interest in business affairs. He was an ardent supporter of the Union during the Civil War.
William and John were the sons of Joel Lewis (1750-1820) and Amy Hughes (1754-1826) of New Castle County, Delaware. William write this letter to their sister, Eliza (Lewis) Vaughan (1778-1861), the widow of Dr. John Vaughan (1775-1807). Dr. Vaughan was the son of Rev. Joshua Vaughan (1749-1808) and Jane Taggart (1754-1822). John Vaughan was educated in Chester, Pennsylvania, and in 1793 and 1794, while studying to be a doctor, attended lectures on medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Vaughan practiced medicine in Delaware, first in Christiana Bridge and later in Wilmington. He was a member of several professional organizations, including the Philadelphia Academy of Medicine, the Medical Society of Philadelphia, the American Medical Association, and the Delaware Medical and Philosophical societies. Vaughan was a prolific author, lending his pen to topics of medical and scientific importance. He kept his “Medical Diary No. 3″ before and during the serious yellow fever epidemic of 1802. Vaughan died in 1807 of typhoid fever.
The letter is, in part, a sympathy letter intended to console his sister on the loss of her son whose name is given as Lewis. I have searched the on-line ancestry records and can find no Lewis Vaughan who died in 1815 although the Vaughans were known to have had four children.
Addressed to Mrs. Eliza L. Vaughan, Wilmington, State of Delaware
St. Petersburg [Russia]
December 14th 1815
After an absence of nearly two years you will in all probability suppose from having received no letter from me during all that time that it is not my intention ever to write to you. Having disappointed you in the first instance by my silence, I am determined now to surprise you with a more agreeable disappointment for I have taken my pen seriously in hand to write you an epistle. And first, by way of apology for not having done it sooner, allow me to say that this seeming neglect arose from the following causes. When I left home and for a year afterwards, the war then existing between our country and England threw so many obstacles in the way of correspondence between distant friends that I, not feeling my confidence in my letters ever reaching America, confined myself principally to dropping occasionally a few lines to our parents to inform them of my health & well doing, which will of course have been communicated regularly to you. On my arrival in this place, it was judged advisable by our very good brother that I should undertake immediately the study of the Russian language and consequently after staying here but three months I was dispatched to Moscow to reside there and in other interior towns till this object should be in a measure accomplished. There I remained buried — as you may say — precisely a twelve month. On my return here, I found our brother in the hurry of business and so great was the press for a time that I could really find only time enough to write a few short letters to our excellent parents, of which I am heartily ashamed. Thus much by way of apology.
Disagreeable as apologies are both to writer & reader, I would that this were the most disagreeable part of my letter. In the first moments of affliction, consolation and sympathy are painful. But when time has softened the poignancy of sorrow, it cannot but be agreeable to see that our friends participate in our sufferings and are anxious to afford us that kind of alleviation, which, however trivial, or unavailing, is all they have in their power. Accept, therefore, the assurance of my most sincere condolence on the death of your excellent son Lewis, of whom I had written to [our brother] Joel more than once, and whom I looked upon as likely to be to you a great comfort and support. Since, however, Providence has decreed otherwise, I hope and believe that you have submitted to the severe dispensation with that fortitude with which you have borne former ones, and which argues a state of mind & of heart in the highest degree enviable. After having lavished upon him all the cares of education and anxiously instilled into his mind the most pure and virtuous principles, just as he was about to award you a rich return for your fondness, it was indeed hard that he should be snatched away. But recollect, my dear sister, that the ways of Providence are inscrutable. Although I am far from believing that it would have been the case, think that some unforeseen misfortune or disastrous propensity might have embittered your promised pleasure whilst now the remembrance of his dawning talents and budding virtues cannot fail to afford to your mind at all periods the most serene & tranquilizing reflections.
I hope your business since the peace has been very productive and have no doubt it has been so. My brother & self often talk of you & yours and believe me that your welfare lies near to both of our hearts. The war pressed hard upon him as during its continuance he had scarcely any business and was living here at a very great expense. That season of difficulty is, however, finally gone by and the business he has had this year augers so favorably that I am sanguine in the belief that his establishment here will at some day be of no inconsiderable consequence, and I feel fully authorized to say that there is no man on God’s earth more willing to assist his family as far as his means may extend.
As to myself, I have only to repeat the old observation the time may come when I shall have it in my power to be useful to both my sisters — but when, God only knows. I fear it will not be yet awhile. I have but few pleasures here. I look upon my abode at this place as a kind of probatory state, which if I deserve well in it. I hope some day to leave, to return to that country where is everything that I love and venerate.
Remember me most affectionately to our excellent parents of whose kindness I think every hour, to my sister Abbey, & to her and your little ones. To T., if the poor fellow be still living, and to you “over the hills & far away.”
Your affectionate brother, — William D. Lewis