Guide to the Diary of Joseph Lewis 1806, ca. 1900 MG 295


Descriptive Summary
Biographical Note
Scope and Content Note
Access Points
Related Material
Administrative Information

Guide to the Diary of Joseph Lewis
1806, ca. 1900
MG 295
The New Jersey Historical Society
52 Park Place
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Contact: NJHS Library
(973) 596-8500 x249
© 2004 All rights reserved.
The New Jersey Historical Society, Publisher
Inventory prepared by Stephen Yautz as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Finding aid encoded by Danielle Kovacs. February 2004. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Joseph Lewis
Title: Joseph Lewis Diary
Dates: 1806, ca. 1900
Abstract: Contains a transcript of the diary of Joseph Lewis, a Morris County, New Jersey lawyer, covering the years 1783 to 1795.
Quantity: 1 volume
Collection Number: MG 295

Biographical Note

Joseph Lewis, a prominent Morristown, New Jersey lawyer, was born on December 23, 1748, to Edward and Sarah Morris Lewis in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. At an early age, he and his family relocated to Morristown, New Jersey, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

During the American Revolution, Lewis was appointed commissary, or contractor for the Continental Army. He was charged with the duty of supplying the much-needed subsistence for the troops.

After the war, Lewis became a lawyer, and based his practice in Morristown. Eventually, he became Surrogate of Morris County, New Jersey, a position he remained in until about the year 1785. Additionally, he was Clerk of the County from 1782 to 1787, and served as a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas from 1800 to 1805.

Lewis married Anne Johnes (d. 1826) on August 2, 1772. They had four children: Steven Johnes, Timothy Johnes, Anna, and William Johnes (d. 1864). Joseph Lewis died on July 30, 1814, in Morristown, New Jersey.

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Scope and Content Note

This collection contains a transcript of the diary of Joseph Lewis, a Morris County, New Jersey lawyer, and covers the years 1783 to 1795. The diary is bound in one volume, and is 239 pages in length. Editorial corrections are handwritten in ink. Apparently, Edmund D. Halsey transcribed the diary from the original around the year 1900. The volume contains an index, and precedes the text of the diary.

The entries, for the most part, are made on a daily basis; Lewis reports facts such as the weather for the day, and of events occurring in his community. However, the bulk of the text is devoted to the recording of his daily activities in relation to his law practice in Morris County. The majority of his cases involved the resolution of property disputes and settlement of disagreements over financial obligations. Clients and colleagues mentioned in his diary include Elias Boudinot (1745-1821), Mahlon Dickerson (1770-1853), Benjamin Halsey (1764-1853), William Livingston (1723-1790), Robert Morris (ca. 1745-1815), Moses Tuttle (1732-1819), and others.

Apparently, Lewis was a lawyer with compassion, as indicated by his entry for December 22, 1786. He states that “after court ended I took Timothy Devons out of gaol previous to which I agreed to give him for one year’s hire or labour, 10 [pounds] out of which I engaged to pay his fine and… the costs about 4 [pounds].”

In September 1789, Lewis mentions a curious incident in which people in his community were discovered to be holding secret meetings, during which they were supposedly communicating with spirits. He writes, “They always meet in the night, form a circle in the field then pull off their shoes & go within the Circle as on Holy Ground.” Evidently, it was the purpose of these worshipers to have these spirits reveal secret locations of treasure. In another entry a week later, Lewis reveals that the group was sworn to secrecy, and that there was dissension in the ranks of the worshipers. Some became convinced the activities were the “work of the Devil,” and left the group. However, one stalwart believer, a man by the name of Rogers, dressed as a spirit attempted to sway some of these disaffected people by scaring them into rejoining the secret meetings. Lewis reports that Rogers was then committed to jail for his deed.

Also included inside the volume is a manuscript by Lewis entitled, “Observations on the Law constituting Courts for the trial of small causes,” and dates from 1806. A brief sketch of Lewis’s life, possibly written by Halsey, completes the volume.

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Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.

Use Restrictions

Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.

The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.

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Access Points

The entries below represent persons, organizations, topics, forms, and occupations documented in this collection.
Subject Names:
Devons, Timothy.
Dickerson, Mahlon F.
Halsey, Benjamin.
Lewis, Joseph, 1748-1814.
Livingston, William, 1723-1790.
Morris, Robert, ca. 1745-1815.
Tuttle, Moses, 1732-1819.
Subject Topics:
Occultism–United States–History–18th century–Sources.
Practice of law–New Jersey.
Subject Places:
Basking Ridge (N.J.)
Morris County (N.J.)
Morristown (N.J.)
New Jersey–History–1775-1865.
Document Types:
Journals (accounts)
Subject Occupations
Lawyers–New Jersey.

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Related Material

For an abridged version of the diary in print (in installments), see:

The New Jersey Historical Society. Proceedings, vols. 59-62.

For related collections, see:

Manuscript Group 98, M.F. Dickerson and Company Records

Manuscript Group 101, Dickerson Mine Records

Manuscript Group 196, Morris County Court of Common Pleas Account Book

Manuscript Group 633, Elisha Boudinot Family Papers

Manuscript Group 1196, Hibernia Tract Land Records

Manuscript Group 1306, Halsey Family Papers

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 295, Joseph Lewis Diary, The New Jersey Historical Society.

Acquisition Information

This diary is the gift of Edmund D. Halsey.

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