Who was Joseph R. Lewis Jr.?

Joseph R. Lewis, Jr
Joseph R. Lewis, Jr, September 1883. GPN3852.

Joseph R. Lewis Jr. (1850–1925) was a farm laborer and lived his entire life on Nantucket.

Born in the Cape Verde Islands, his father made a few whaling voyages, while his mother, a Black woman from Pennsylvania, worked as a domestic servant after her husband’s death. His brother John fell from the deck of a ship in Buenos Aires and tragically drowned at age 21. Joseph himself made one sea voyage as a cook.

Around 1870, he lived in Hadwen House on Main Street (now an NHA historic property) with his mother and sister, who the Barney family employed. In his later years, he had a house built at the corner of York and Pleasant streets and worked briefly for the Nantucket Historical Association as custodian of the Old Mill. He married Isabella Garrett in 1888, but they were estranged for decades before divorcing in 1919.


The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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