August 4 - Athlete, Attorney, Adversary

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On August 4, 1899, William Lewis, an attorney in Boston, wrote to Paul Laurence Dunbar in Brodhead's Bridge, New York, regarding his efforts to settle lawsuits against Paul's wife Alice over unpaid loans.  Along with his letter, Lewis enclosed several IOUs that Alice signed before she and Paul were married.

I have delayed answering your letter in order to obtain a settlement in the matter referred to.  There were two suits brought, one in Suffolk County and one in Middlesex County.  In both cases, I obtained an agreement for judgment satisfied and filed the necessary papers to close up the case.  I trust that you are enjoying the best of health and happiness.  Best regards to your wife.

William H. Lewis to Paul Laurence Dunbar, August 4, 1899.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Before entering the legal profession, Lewis had been a successful football player.  He was the first Black All-American and later coached at Harvard University.  He was also the first Black lawyer to be admitted to the American Bar Association.  Lewis was appointed to prominent U. S. attorney positions by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

There has been an improvement in the work of the Harvard eleven.  It is nothing wonderful, and the team is not playing the best game imaginable, but it is much better.  During the week, William H. Lewis has been trying to develop Jaffray as a center man, but he might as well give up the undertaking.  Jaffray does not know how to use his six-feet-four, and is about the gawkiest man on the field.

"Athletics and Sports."  Bangor Daily Whig and Courier (Bangor, Maine).  October 13, 1898.  Page 7.

President Roosevelt has determined it shall not be charged against him that he lacks the courage of his convictions.  He has decided to appoint as assistant United States district attorney at Boston a negro attorney named William H. Lewis.  Lewis is a Harvard graduate and was once center rush of the football team of that institution. The position of assistant United States attorney is not literally within the power of the president to fill, as assistants are presumed to be named by the district attorneys themselves, but the president directed that the appointment shall be made to meet the criticism that no negroes are appointed to office in the north.

"Boston Negro Slated."  The Bamberg Herald (Bamberg, South Carolina).  January 15, 1903.  Page 1.

Lewis and Alice were close friends, and Paul seemed annoyed when she mentioned him in her letters.  Lewis once informed Alice that Paul appeared intoxicated at a poetry reading in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia yarn is muchly around here.  My good friend and lawyer, Will Lewis, was in Philadelphia that night and saw you.  Oh!!!!

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, December 27, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

By the way dear, let me tell you once and for all that I don't care a ---- what your "good friend and lawyer Will Lewis" says or what he saw.  My second visit to Philadelphia convinces me that my state that night was only indicated by an exuberance of humor and an overabundance of politeness.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 29, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).

Alice's next letter was written on stationery from William Lewis' law office.  Paul and Alice were not yet married, and she told him how she was socializing without him.

I have just stepped in here to make a call, and while the rest of the "push" are talking I must scrawl you a line.  I have had every minute occupied, but you have never left my thoughts.  I danced Tuesday night until one, getting home at 2:30, danced last night until twelve etc, etc.  You don't know how much I wish you were here.  Your absence from Boston, I fear, helped to destroy some of my pleasure.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, December 29, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Trying to change Alice's opinion of his behavior, Paul sent her an account of the Philadelphia recital, but did not tell her who wrote it.

I cannot tell you whom that letter is from but if I had not attached weight to the person's word I would not have sent it to offset any statement of so good a friend of my wife's as Mr. Lewis.  Wouldn't I like to punch his head, though!

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, January 5, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).