Historian Virgil Anson Lewis (July 6, 1848-December 5, 1912) was born in Mason County, the son of George W. and Lucie Edwards Lewis. Though he would be remembered for his work in education and history, Lewis’s ancestors were noted for their military service on the frontier. His great-grandfather, Benjamin Lewis, was wounded in the Battle of Point Pleasant and, in 1792 after the end of the Revolution and Indian conflict on the Virginia frontier, settled in what became Mason County.
Lewis was educated in the ‘‘old field’’ schools of Mason County. He taught for several years in Mason County and then in 1878 became the principal of the Buffalo Academy in Putnam County. He decided to read law and was admitted to the bar in 1879. He was not happy with the law as a career and soon returned to Mason County and to teaching.
History was Lewis’s great passion. He was one of the organizers of the West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Society in 1890, and he was awarded an M.A. in history from West Virginia University in 1893. In the early 1890s, he became noted for his educational and historical writing. Between 1890 and 1910, he wrote Manual and Graded Course of Study for County and Village Schools of West Virginia; General History of West Virginia; History and Government of West Virginia; Life and Times of Ann Bailey; The Story of the Louisiana Purchase; Hand Book of West Virginia; How West Virginia Was Made; and three biennial reports of the State Department of Archives and History.
He was elected as the state superintendent of schools in 1892. In 1905, Governor Dawson appointed Lewis as the first director of the Bureau of Archives and History, a post which he held at the time of his death. Virgil Lewis’s home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Lewis’s contribution to West Virginia’s heritage lives on in the West Virginia Historical Society’s Virgil A. Lewis Award.
Read the National Register nomination.
This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Last Revised on January 31, 2013
Atkinson, George W. & Alvaro F. Gibbins. Prominent Men of West Virginia. Wheeling: W. L. Callin, 1890.
Shawkey, Morris. West Virginia: In History, Life, Literature and Industry 5 vols. Chicago: Lewis Pub., 1928.
Charleston Gazette, 12/6/1912.