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A Madison love story by historian John Rankin

Editor’s Note: With Valentines Day soon approaching we thought it would be timely to share a story of a budding love in Madison — the Madison of 1873. Back then the small town was called Madison Station and the love-struck suitor was a local business owner who operated a general merchandise store at 104 Main Street. The subject of his affection was a young woman in Limestone County named Mattie Cartwright. Historian John Rankin tells the tale of this short and strange courtship that began on Valentines Day 147 years ago.

By John Rankin

Arthur Holding Lewis was born October 15, 1848, in Triana, according to the Lewis family Bible. His middle name (sometimes given as “Holden”) was probably chosen in honor of the neighboring plantation owner, Richard Holding, whose large monument is in the old section of the Madison City Cemetery after being moved from the airport during construction in 1984.

A. H. Lewis operated a general merchandise store at 104 Main Street, the present corner with Wise Street. That site later had the much larger store of Jim Williams, but it burned in 1942 and is now a parking lot across from Main Street Cafe. The photo below was used for the cover of my Arcadia Publishers “Images of America” book about the town of Madison.

A. H. Lewis in center of photo, standing in doorway.

While owning the store depicted in the photo, Arthur Lewis initiated on Valentine’s Day in 1873 a short and strange courtship of Martha (“Mattie”) Cartwright in Limestone County. She was the ninth child of Hezekiah Bradley and Martha Cartwright. Her mother’s maiden name was Martha Vaughan, whose first husband was Elijah Bailey. Hezekiah Bradley Cartwright was a son of John Cartwright, an early settler of the Madison area.

The courtship of Arthur and Mattie began with an initial anonymous letter from Arthur {signed as from “Constancy”} to Mattie, dated February 14, 1873. That letter is shown below in its entirety, as is Mattie’s eventual reply. They were married later in the same year, surprisingly, considering Mattie’s reply to Arthur.

Click on photos to enlarge

And Mattie’s reply to Arthur {She apparently knew that Arthur was “Constancy”}:

Besides being owner of a prospering mercantile, Arthur H. Lewis was a City Councilman from 1898 to 1901. In a 1913 special edition of the Weekly Mercury newspaper about the town of Madison, Arthur Lewis was described as “… among the most cheerful and entertaining gentlemen in all of Madison County”. He was stated to be “…a Methodist Church Steward for over 30 years”. He was an officer of the Order of United American Mechanics, a patriotic society with objectives of supporting public education, assuring Bible readings in the schools, and limiting immigration to protect American jobs.

Arthur Lewis and Mattie Cartwright stayed married for their lifetimes, and they had five children: Herman Arthur Lewis (1874 – 1918, married Etta Abernathy), Nina Lewis (born about 1875 and married Levi Garrett), Cora Mae Lewis (married James Hermon Humphrey), James Hermon Lewis, and Oscar Bradley Lewis.

Arthur H. Lewis was also a trustee of the “Madison High School” (believed to be the same as the Madison Training School) incorporated in February of 1895. The papers of incorporation list the trustees as A. H. Lewis, J. B. Floyd, C. G. Fennel, J. A. Watkins, M. A. Bishop, S. M. Doolittle, and J. A. Humphrey. All of these men were prominent Madison pioneers and most of them are known to be buried in the Madison City Cemetery. Mr. Bishop is buried in the nearby Farley-Crutcher Cemetery, but it is not known where Mr. Fennel is buried.

The connections of the Madison Lewis family to the lineages of George and Martha Washington are numerous. In his will, the first United States President left property to his nephew Lawrence Lewis. Through family ties with the line of Martha Washington’s first husband (Daniel Parke Custis), there were marriages that brought Robert E. Lee into the relationships. The Lewis family was among the Colonial settlers of Virginia, holding very large plantations around Charlottesville, where Thomas Jefferson built his own mansion and plantation.

It was in Virginia that the name Meriwether became associated with the Lewis family, when Robert Lewis, father of Nicholas Lewis, married a daughter of Nicholas Meriwether. Nicholas Meriwether was a man of enormous wealth and owned an extensive plantation of many thousands of acres in Virginia. The explorer Meriwether Lewis married Lucy Meriwether. Meriwether Lewis was a close friend of William Clark long before Thomas Jefferson appointed his own close friend (Meriwether Lewis) to head the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. Meriwether in turn chose his friend William Clark, a brother of the famous military man George Rogers Clark, to be his second in command on the expedition.

Meriwether the explorer was born in 1774 in Virginia and died in 1809 in Tennessee. He was apparently murdered at a Tennessee inn as he returned along the Natchez Trace to Nashville.

The murder of explorer Meriwether Lewis has never been solved, but it is interesting that soon after the explorer’s death his cousin James Lewis settled within about a hundred miles of the route of the Natchez Trace where the explorer traveled. This cousin, James Lewis, married Nancy Watkins, and they named one of their sons Meriwether Anderson Lewis, who became the father of Arthur Holding Lewis of Madison.

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