He was born in Philadelphia on the 21st of September, 1748, and in every relation of a citizen was intimately associated with his native city. His paternal ancestor, William Lewis, removed from Glamorganshire, South Wales, to the Province of Pennsylvania in 1686, and purchased a tract of land in Newton Township, Chester County, about twelve miles west of Philadelphia, where he resided until his death, in 1707. Evan Lewis, one of his four sons, retained the homestead until his death, which occurred in 1734. He was a man of considerable importance, and as a prominent member of the Society of Friends, was for a number of years the representative from his own meeting (Newtown), to the Yearly Meeting held at Philadelphia. Between the years 1706 and 1719, he was several times elected from Chester County a member of the Provincial Assembly, in which capacity he was ordered, as one of a committee of three, to prepare and report a bill directing an affirmation to "such as cannot for conscience sake take an oath." Jonathan, the younger of Evan's two sons, removed from Chester County to Philadelphia in 1747, married Rachel, daughter of John Breintnall, and entered into mercantile life, and died early, leaving a widow, his son, Mordecai, the subject of the present remarks, and two daughters.
Mordecai Lewis, though deprived at a tender age of the care and support of his father, pursued his studies with great assiduity, and attained eminence in Latin and the higher branches of an English education. He entered as a lad the counting-house of Samuel Neave, and was, on arriving at his maturity, associated in business with him and Jacob Harman, under the firm of Neave, Harman, & Lewis, ship-owners and importers. This firm was succeeded by Harman & Lewis, and afterwards by Mordecai Lewis & Co., which firm, composed of William Bingham and himself, was extensively engaged in foreign trade. William Bingham withdrew from the house in the year 1794, and Mordecai Lewis continued in business alone until the period of his death, on 13th March, 1799, at which time, besides having varied and extensive mercantile adventures to different parts of Europe, he was owner, in whole or in part, and had the entire management of seven ships, engaged principally in the East India trade, all of which added not a little to the position held by Philadelphia as the then largest commercial city of the United States.
Many members of the Society of Friends, especially among the young, could not remain neutral in the open strife about to begin between England and her Colonies, and Mordecai Lewis, then just arrived at manhood, took a decided part in opposition to the oppressive measures of the mother country. His name, which was on much of the Provincial paper money issued at an earlier date, also appears on the Continental currency authorized by Congress in February, 1776, which only anticipated the Declaration of Independence a few months, for the motto on this currency, "American Congress, We are One," encircled by the names of the thirteen States, really embodied the spirit of that instrument. A little previous to this date, in 1775, we find him a member of one of the volunteer military companies organized in Philadelphia, and composed of the first young men of the city, however he never entered into active service.
At the close of the war, the firm of Mordecai Lewis & Co., in writing to their correspondents in London, say: "The restoration of peace, on the broad basis of independence, we natter ourselves will open scenes of the most extensive nature in the commercial line, and we shall be happy in every opportunity of executing your commands, which our thorough acquaintance with the country, and many other advantages, will enable us to do on the best terms." He went to Europe in 1772, and on his return married Hannah, daughter of Joseph Saunders, merchant, of Philadelphia, on 7th January, 1773. Although his time was much occupied with the correspondence and general management of the extensive business relations of the firm, and with the necessary care of a large family, to whose happiness and advancement he was especially devoted, he took an active interest in many of the public institutions of the city.
He was for a number of years a Director of the Bank of North America, of the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from loss by Fire, of the Philadelphia Library Company, and Treasurer of the Pennsylvania Hospital, which positions he held until the time of his death. His executors, Thomas Morris, Samuel Coates, and Joseph Morris, gave a fair outline of his character in a letter addressed by them to one of his valued correspondents in London, dated Philadelphia, 3d Mo. 27, 1799, of which the following is an extract: "Knowing the intimate connection, and frequent correspondence which has been maintained between thee and our late excellent relative, Mordecai Lewis, ever since his being in Europe, about twenty-eight years ago, and believing that thou, with others, his very numerous friends, was well acquainted with his worth, and held him in due estimation, we take the liberty of thus conveying information of his lamented death, on the 13th of the present month, after four days' illness. His general character for integrity as a merchant, in his very extensive commercial concerns, his unobtrusive benevolence to those who stood in need of his advice or assistance, and the dedication of his time and his valuable talents, in most of our public institutions of merit, as well as his application of them to the benefit of individuals in the settlement of intricate subjects of dispute, have left on the public mind a sense of loss sustained, such as has rarely occurred in our observation. Among his friends who had a more intimate knowledge of him in the private walks of life, his death has left a void more easily imagined than described."
Mordecai Lewis left a widow and seven children. His four sons, Joseph S. Reeve, Mordecai, and Samuel N. Lewis, following the inclination of their father, entered commercial life, which they adorned with the fruits of a liberal education, enlarged views, and public spirit. His death occurring at the age of fifty, in the prime of manhood and recent health, in the full tide of prosperity and usefulness, caused his friends to regret, in a worldly view, a career so short. His life was, however, exemplary in every respect full of Christian kindness; his heart and hand were open to comfort and to give, on all proper occasions; so that it may be truly said, he did not live in vain.