Lucy Thornton Meriwether (February 4, 1752 - September 8, 1837)
Lucy Thornton Meriwether, the focus of this project, was the eighth of eleven children born to Thomas Meriwether and Elizabeth Thornton. Lucy Meriwether married William Lewis in 1768 or 1769. She was either sixteen or seventeen years of age and her husband was 35, eighteen or nineteen years older than Lucy. The only existing portrait of Lucy shows her as an old woman but John Bakeless writes that “her person was perfect” and even in old age, she retained “fine features, a fragile figure and a masterful eye.” An admirer also said that “her activity (went) beyond her sex.” (Bakeless, p. 16-17)
Lucy was locally famous as a “yarb (herb) doctor.” Her type of doctoring could also be called “empiric”. She was a folk practitioner – a practice often filled by women. (Breeden, p. 26) Well into her early eighties, she traveled on horseback throughout Albemarle County caring for the sick. Perhaps following in her father’s footsteps as a healer, Lucy likely grew medicinal herbs and plants in her garden at “Locust Hill” and passed her knowledge on to her children. Her famous son, Meriwether Lewis, relied on the skills he had learned from his mother treating himself and others on his Voyage of Discovery, his Jefferson-sponsored Western expedition. Lucy’s son, John, was educated as a physician and her son, Reuben, according to family accounts, was also a “doctor.”
Lucy had a total of six children: Jane, b. 1770; Lucinda, b. 1772 (died in infancy); Meriwether, b. 1774; Reuben, b. 1777, with her first husband, William Lewis. With her second husband John Marks, she had John Hastings, b. 1785; and Mary Garland, b. 1788.
While writing his biography of Lucy’s son Meriwether, historian John Bakeless spent a lot of time visiting Albemarle County interviewing descendents of the Lewis and Meriwether families who had heard stories from those who knew Lucy. Based on these family stories, he describes Lucy as “a Virginia lady of the patrician breed, a benevolent family autocrat, with a character so sharp and definite that her twentieth-century descendents still refer to her as Grandma Marks.” A neighbor from her Georgia years described her as “sincere, truthful, industrious and kind without limit.” (Bakeless, pp. 15-16)
Known for her Christian spirit, Lucy pulled away from the Anglican Church sometime in the early 1780’s while living in Georgia. Methodism swept through Wilkes County, where she lived with John Marks and her children; in 1788, the county had more Methodists than any other county in the state. (Writers of the Works Administration, p. 32) The Anglican Church had been the official church of the colonies but upon achieving independence, there were no restrictions and many other denominations began to dominate. Lucy later donated the land on which Shiloh Church, a Methodist church, was built in Albemarle County. (Anderson, p. 182)
A more complete biography of Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks and her life in Virginia and Georgia is available on the essay, Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks (1752-1837): Her Life and Her World on this web site.
Patricia Zontine, April 2009