David Campron reads the newly placed grave marker for Ben Lewis, who died from an accidental gunshot wound in August 1902, at the Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

David Campron reads the newly placed grave marker for Ben Lewis, who died from an accidental gunshot wound in August 1902, at the Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A new grave for Black pioneer, Monte Cristo’s ‘largest man’

Ben Lewis was born in Africa in 1854. His story was lost to history until a Granite Falls researcher went looking.

EVERETT — On a sunny morning last week, a small group watched fresh dirt poured around a new gravestone at the Evergreen Funeral Home & Cemetery.

Ben Lewis

B. July 1854 Africa

D. Aug. 1902 Robe, WA

Lewis lived with his family in Granite Falls until he died from an accidental gunshot wound. He left behind a wife and daughter and was buried in Everett.

He was a 32nd-degree Mason who belonged to a Masonic lodge in Seattle. At 6-foot-4, he was known as “the largest man in the Monte Cristo region,” an epitaph printed on his new marker reads.

Until recently, few details were known about Lewis. His original grave marker had disappeared from the Everett cemetery.

Fred Cruger, of the Granite Falls Historical Society, made it his mission to track down history about Lewis, locate his grave and honor him with a new marker for Black History Month.

“We owe him something because he was a Granite Falls kid,” Cruger said.

It started when Cruger received a call from Louise Lindgren, a historian from Index, about 1½ years ago. She was researching Black history in Snohomish County when she came across a 1902 newspaper article on an unusual death. She passed the clipping to Cruger.

After searching 1900 U.S. Census records, Cruger discovered Lewis lived in Granite Falls. A note in those records gave the only clue to his African origins: It’s unclear if he arrived in America as a slave. The last known slave ship to arrive in the United States landed in Alabama in 1860.

Fresh dirt is poured around the grave marker of Ben Lewis at the Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fresh dirt is poured around the grave marker of Ben Lewis at the Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Cruger learned Lewis had a wife of five years, a 2-year-old daughter and several stepchildren. He could read and write, worked as a laborer, and was never unemployed, according to the Census records.

Lewis died at 48 while walking to work at a logging camp in Robe, east of Granite Falls, in August 1902, according to a Daily Herald article.

Lewis got home at midnight after drinking with friends. Fearing he would not wake up in time, he started to work early, carrying a revolver. He was found the next morning with a gunshot wound. The article speculates he was “the victim of an accident or murder.”

Cruger said a subsequent article concluded the death was accidental. It’s presumed Lewis dropped the gun and it accidentally discharged, killing him.

“He was killed in a tragic accident doing the right thing, walking to work so he would be there on time,” Cruger said. “This just deserves a little recognition.”

Cruger said he researched Lewis’s descendants with the help of the Sno-Isle library in Snohomish. He said it appears Lewis’s only daughter never had any children.

Members of Prince Hall Mason lodges throughout the state Friday pray over the grave of Ben Lewis at Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Members of Prince Hall Mason lodges throughout the state Friday pray over the grave of Ben Lewis at Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Last summer, Cruger worked with staff at Evergreen Funeral Home & Cemetery to find Lewis’s unmarked grave. The cemetery’s detailed records showed Lewis was buried in the very first row.

But Cruger believed it would be almost impossible to trace the exact burial site with few grave markers remaining in the area, overgrown with blackberry vines. He was pleasantly surprised to find three nearby markers. They were able to triangulate Lewis’s burial spot within inches, he said.

“That was astronomically lucky,” Cruger said.

Pacific Coast Memorials of Everett created a new granite grave marker for Lewis. On Wednesday, the stone was installed and flowers placed at the grave.

Lewis was also recognized on Friday by about 15 members of Prince Hall Mason lodges throughout the state. Prince Hall Masons are one of the oldest continuous African-American organizations in the world. Lewis belonged to Lodge No. 49 of Seattle, one of the first Black lodges in the state.

Prince Hall Masons came from as far away as Lacey and Oak Harbor to honor their fellow Mason on Friday.

Gilbert E. McClary, Sr., Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, speaks about the life of Ben Lewis during a ceremony Friday at Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Gilbert E. McClary, Sr., Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, speaks about the life of Ben Lewis during a ceremony Friday at Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“We may not have met him, but we know his character,” said Gilbert E. McClary Sr., Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington. “It takes a certain character to be a Master Mason.”

McClary told The Daily Herald the degrees of Freemasonry emphasize certain teachings. Lewis achieved the second-highest rank possible.

“It’s how you live your life, respect mankind and be a good neighbor,” he said.

Prince Hall Masons have existed in Washington state since 1870. However, Prince Hall Masons weren’t recognized by the mainstream Grand Lodge until 1990, McClary said.

Marilyn Quincy, a historian and a founder of the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee, stopped by to pay tribute to Lewis last week. She had never heard of Lewis in her research of early Black residents of Snohomish County. Quincy said she was most interested to learn about the history of local Prince Hall Masons.

Quincy’s mission is to discover and highlight the contributions of residents like Lewis. His membership with the Masons shows he was important.

“Each makes a part of what Snohomish County is today,” she said.

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @jacq_allison.

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