Saturday, January 26, 2008

John T. Lewis

Mark Twain called him "the most picturesque of men" and "an inplacable Dunker-Baptist."

John T. Lewis was one of the few black members of the Brethren in the years before the Civil War, having united with the Pipe Creek church in Maryland in 1853, when he was eighteen years old.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) had many reasons to admire Lewis, his friend for more than thirty years. Lewis had served as coachman for Clemen's father-in-law and was later a tenant farmer near Elmira, New York where the famous writer spent many summers. On August 23, 1877, Lewis saved the lives of Clemens' sister-in-law, her young daughter and a nurse when a runaway horse dragged their carriage dangerously downhill toward a turn in the road. Clemens, in a letter to a friend, describes how Lewis gathered his vast strength and ... seized the gray horse's bit as he plunged by and fetched him up standing!

The rewards that John Lewis received for his courageous act enabled him to pay off his debts and help his father who still lived in Maryland. Writing in a letter of thanks, Lewis said, Inasmuch as divine providence saw fit to use me as an instrument for the saving of those presshious lives, the honner conferd upon me was greater than the feat performed."

John Lewis also played a role in returning to the Antietam congregation in Maryland the large, leather-bound pulpit Bible that had been donated by the Daniel Miller family. The church was at the center of the battlefield in 1862 and used as a hospital for the wounded. After the battle, the Bible was taken from the church by a soldier who took it to New York. Later a group purchased the Bible in order to return it to the church.

John Lewis was for many years the only Brethren living in central New York and he arranged the return of the Bible to Antietam forty-one years after its disappearance.

In preparing his own obituary, Lewis observed that though he had long been cut off geographically from the church, he had tried to be faithful to the New Testament and order of the Brethren.

Source: Preaching in a Tavern, Kenneth Morris