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Ellis Lewis


Attorney General and Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
serving as Chief Justice from 1854-1857

Ellis Lewis "was born at Lewisberry, York county, Pennsylvania, in May, 1798. He was apprenticed to learn the trade of a printer with John Wyeth, at Harrisburg, in 1814, but ran away and a reward of $20 was offered for him. He came to Williamsport in 1819 or 1820, and associated himself with J. K. Torbert in the publication of the Lycoming Gazette. Having a taste for the law he read under Espy Van Horn and was admitted, September 2, 1822, Thomas Burnside, Samuel Hepburn, and Alem Marr, the committee, having reported him favorably to the court. In 1829 he located at Wellsboro and became prosecuting attorney for Tioga county. Next we find him at Towanda Bradford county, where he rose rapidly in public favor. In 1832 he was sent to the Lower House of the legislature from that county, and in January, 1833, he became attorney general for Pennsylvania. In October of the same year Governor Wolf commissioned him president judge of the district composed of the counties of, Lycoming, Northumberland, Union, and Columbia, and he took up his residence in Williamsport. After serving ten years he was appointed president judge of the Lancaster district, January, 1843, and in October, 1851, he was elevated to the Supreme bench, and on November 17. 1854, he became chief justice, which high position he retained until November 17, 1857. He declined a re-nomination and retired to private life. Judge Lewis was a member of the commission to revise the criminal code of Pennsylvania in 1858. During his earlier years he studied medicine, and the knowledge thus derived of medical jurisprudence secured for him the honorary degree, of M. D. from the Philadelphia College of Medicine; he also received the degree of L.L.D. from Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, and Jefferson College, Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania. In addition to his judicial labors be found time to prepare a work entitled, "Abridgement of the Criminal Law of the United States." And be frequently contributed to periodical publications of the day on literary topics. Judge Lewis, about 1826 or 1827, married Miss Wallis, daughter of Joseph J. Wallis, of Williamsport. They had two sons and one daughter. The latter, Juliet, married Hon. James H. Campbell and they reside in Philadelphia. James, the youngest of the family, entered the marine service. Judge Lewis died at Philadelphia, March 19, 1871.

[Source: John F. Meginness (ed.), History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania (1892)] [online text]

"Ellis Lewis was commissioned president judge of the counties of Northumberland, Lycoming, Union, and Columbia, which then composed the Eighth judicial district, October 14, 1833, and took the oath of office on the following 4th of November. He was born at Lewisberry, a borough of Newberry township, York county, Pennsylvania, situated near the center of Redland valley and about ten miles south of Harrisburg. This locality was early settled by Welsh Friends from Chester county, among whom were the Lewis family, a descendant of which, Major Eli Lewis, founded the borough that bears his name in 1798. He was a man of enterprise and consequence; in 1783 he owned nearly a thousand acres in Redland valley, and in 1791 he established the first newspaper at the present State capitol, the Harrisburg Advertiser. Ellis Lewis was his son, and was born, May 16, 1798. His father died in 1807, and the son seems to have been left with but limited means. He was apprenticed to John Wyeth, publisher of the Oracle of Dauphin and Harrisburg Advertiser (successor to the paper founded by his father), but found his position so unpleasant that he ran away and was advertised by Wyeth, in the usual manner. His further acquisition of the printing trade was pursued at New York and Baltimore; and, having completed his apprenticeship, he published the Lycoming Gazette at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1819-20 in partnership with I. K. Torbert. There he read law with Espy Vanhorn, and in September, 1822, was admitted to the bar. Two years later he was admitted at Harrisburg, but the extent of his professional work at that place can not be accurately stated. About this time he held the office of district attorney in Tioga county, residing at Wellsboro. Thence he removed to Towanda, Bradford county, from which he was elected to the legislature in 1832. In this position his ability and talents attracted the attention of Governor Wolf, by whom he was commissioned attorney general of the State, January 29,1833. In the autumn of the same year he succeeded Judge Chapman as president of the Eighth judicial district, continuing in this office until 1843, when he was appointed to a similar position in the Second district (Lancaster county). In October, 1851, he was elected judge of the Supreme court of Pennsylvania, and in November, 1854, became chief justice. In 1857 he declined the unanimous nomination of the Democratic party for re-election to the Supreme bench, and retired to private life. He was appointed a member of the commission for the revision of the criminal code of Pennsylvania in the following year. In the interim of his employment as a printer at New York and Baltimore he had studied medicine at Lewisberry, and the knowledge of medical jurisprudence thus derived secured for him the honorary degree of LL. D. from the Philadelphia College of Medicine. He also received the degree of LL. D. from Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, and Jefferson College, Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania. He was the author of an 'Abridgment of the Criminal Law of the United States,' and a frequent contributor to the periodical literature of the day. His death occurred at Philadelphia, March 19, 1871. Judge Lewis's long judicial career of twenty-four years was begun in the courts of the Eighth district. He came to the bench at an earlier age than any other president judge of Northumberland county; and, while this placed him in sympathy with the younger members of the bar, his character and bearing as a lawyer were such as to command the respect of all. A close student and a profound logician, he was not influenced much by mere oratory; he was quick to detect the introduction of irrelevant testimony, and equally resolute in requiring promptness and brevity on the part of witnesses and attorneys. As a judge his manner was firm, decisive, courteous, and dignified. His temperament was ambitious and aspiring, and this led him to seek the highest measure of success in everything he undertook; but his ability was equal to his ambition, and in every position to which he attained his services were alike honorable to himself and valuable to the public."

[Source: Herbert C. Bell, History of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: Brown, Runk & Co., Publishers, 1891)] [online text]

Ellis Lewis
Appletons Encyclopedia


Ellis Lewis, Romance of Matrimony: A Tale Founded on Fact (Philadelphia: Howard Challen, 1865)


Burton A. Konkle, The Life of Chief Justice Ellis Lewis, 1798-1871: Of the First Elective Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Campion, 1907) [online text]