Quaku Walker Lewis
Quaku Walker Lewis was a key figure in early Mormon history as one of the few African-Americans that had the Melchizedek priesthood bestowed upon him. He was an early African-American abolitionist, Freemason, and Mormon Elder from Massachusetts. He was also an active member of the Underground Railroad and the anti-slavery movement.
Lewis was born on 3 August 1798 in Barre, Worcester County, Massachusetts. His father, Peter P. Lewis, was a free black yeoman farmer in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. His mother, Minor Walker Lewis, was born a slave in Worcester County. Together, Peter and Minor Lewis had eleven children, all of whom were born free.
Involvement with Abolitionism
Lewis’ involvement with abolitionism was a central component of his family’s history. His full name was Quaku Walker Lewis, having been named after his maternal uncle, Quacko (Kwaku) Walker. The name “Kwaku” means “"boy born on Wednesday" among the Akan people of Ghana. Per the BlackPast.org website:
- Quacko and his parents were slaves in Worcester County, Massachusetts. In two legal cases in 1781 and 1783, Quacko obtained his freedom from Nathaniel Jennison. Quacko v. Jennison (1781) and Jennison v. Caldwell et al. (1783) are cited as legal precedents for ending slavery in Massachusetts. With this genealogy of slavery and emancipation, Walker Lewis assisted in the formation of the Massachusetts General Colored Association (MGCA) in 1826.
Marriage and Family
Walker Lewis was raised in a prominent middle-class Black family that valued education, activism, and political involvement. When he was a young boy, his parents moved the family to Cambridge, Massachusetts. In March 1826, shortly before he helped found the MGCA, he married Elizabeth Lovejoy (the mixed-race daughter of Peter Lovejoy, who was Black, and Lydia Greenleaf Bradford, who was White). Their first child Enoch Lovejoy Lewis was born in June.
In time, the Lewis family moved to Lowell, where the industrial revolution of textile mills brought economic prosperity to the area. In Lowell, together with his brother-in-law, John Levy, he established his first barbershop in Tewksbury, a town that was later annexed by Lowell, located on Merrimack Street. He also purchased a two-family home in the Centreville section of Lowell. He had two successful barbershops in Lowell and Boston and specialized in children’s haircuts.
The Massachusetts General Colored Association (MGCA)
The MGCA was the first all-Black abolitionist organization in the United States. In 1829, it released David Walker’s “Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World” which was written on 29 September 1829. David Walker was one of the co-founders of the MGCA. His treatise called for the complete emancipation of slaves, armed insurrection (if necessary), and disfavor of African colonization. He wrote the Appeal intending that it be read aloud by literate Blacks to illiterate Blacks. He distributed the Appeal through friends and contacts traveling to the South who carried copies with them. He also sent copies through the regular mail. The full text of the Appeal is available here. The MGCA later merged with William Lloyd Garrison’s New England Anti-Slavery Society, which was then renamed the Boston Anti-Slavery Society.
Involvement with the Freemasons
Along with Prince Hall, Lewis helped establish the Grand African Lodge of Freemasons when he signed the 1827 Declaration of Independence from the Lodge of England. He served as Grand Master of Boston’s African Lodge from 1829 through 1831. He and several of his family members also formed one node of the Underground Railroad.
Baptism and Ordination
Walker Lewis was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1843 by Parley P. Pratt. By 1844, he was ordained an Elder (priest) by William Smith, younger brother of Joseph Smith. The other known African-American who held the priesthood at that time was Elijah Abel who was ordained by Joseph Smith. Lewis emigrated to Utah Territory and arrived in Salt Lake City late September of 1851. By October 1852, he returned to Lowell and was not active in the LDS Church. He passed away on October 26, 1856, from tuberculosis.