John Lewis Gervais (1741-1798)
Mary Sinclair (1753-1806)

1741 John Lewis Gervais was born in Ganges, Languedoc, France, a son of either Francois or Jean Gervaix. Because of the continued persecution of the Huguenots in France the Gervais family emigrated via Switzerland to Germany shortly after his birth. He was educated in the schools and colleges of Hanover before the family moved to England. It was there that his given name, Jean Louis Gervaix, was changed to an English spelling. Also while there Gervais made contact with another Huguenot, Henry Laurens, who already owned land in South Carolina.

1760 Probably while still in England Gervais received a land grant for 150 acres on Stephens Creek in the Abbeville District.

1764 June 28. At age eighteen Gervais arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, along with another Huguenot, James Theodore Russell. Gervais made his first large land purchase of 5,350 acres in the Granville District, later known as Abbeville.

1765 As a partner of Henry Laurens and Theodore Russel, Gervais purchased another 5,000 acres of land in the Abbeville District.

1767 At age twenty-six Gervais was appointed Tax Collector for the southwestern part of Abbeville, and he was also the Justice-of-the Peace.

1768 At age twenty-seven Gervais replaced another partner to Henry Laurens, bringing his total landholdings to 10,500 acres plus his share in the Laurens partnership. He named his plantation Herrinhausen and he quickly recouped his investment by producing hemp, corn, and other grains. Later in life his main contribution of the agriculture of South Carolina involved the cultivation of grapes. Gervais developed a method of grape vine cultivation that proved that wine could be produced in the colonies, after sixty years of various experiments by others. Though he probably owned slaves, Gervais could also employ German immigrants to the Abbeville area because he spoke German.

1773 September 7. At age thirty-two John Lewis Gervais married Mary Sinclair (1753-1806), age twenty, daughter of John and Sarah Sinclair of Charleston. They were married in Charleston. Their primary residence was on Broad St. and he may have owned other nearby properties. In the Charleston City Directory of 1790 he is listed as a merchant at 71 Broad St. In 1794 he is listed as Commissioner of Accounts at 70 Broad St. In 1796 he is listed as Gentleman at 71 Broad St. After her death Mary is listed as a widow at 71 Broad St.

1774-1790 The couple had nine children, one girl and eight boys: Claudia Butler (1774-1797), Henry Laurens (1775-1777), John Lewis (1777-1795), David Sinclair (1779-1838), Henry Laurens II (1781-1803), Rawlins Loundes (1783-1807), Paul Trapier (1785-1856), James Mercier/John Lewis James (1788-1809), and Charles (1790-1807). Only three lived to marry and have descendants.

1775 June 28. Gervais was commissioned as Quartermaster of the First Regiment (of the militia) under Colonel William Moultrie. By 1776 he himself had attained the rank of Colonel.

1775-1776 Gervais served in both the First and Second Provincial Congress in Charleston. Also serving in the first Provincial Congress were Theodore Trezevant (1722-1808) of Charleston and Paul Trapier (1749-1778) of Georgetown.

[Note: A direct descendant of John Lewis Gervais, Katherine Gervais of the sixth Gervais generation, would marry a direct descendant of Theodore Trezevant, Jr., Robert Warren Trezevant of the tenth Trezevant generation, almost two hundred years later, in 1966.]

1776 March 7. He was asked to serve as the Commissary General of the Colony until the end of 1777. He also became a member of the First General Assembly of South Carolina representing Abbeville’s District Ninety-Six.

1776-1781 The American Revolution against England took place. John Lewis Gervais supplied vast amounts of food from his Herrinhause plantation to feed the American soldiers. During that time Charleston was held by the British for almost two years (1780-1782).

1778 Gervais became Commissioner of the Indian Trade formed to conciliate with the Indian Nations. On December 23 he was also appointed by the Continental Congress to be Deputy Post Master General for South Carolina.

1780-1782 Gervais served on the Governor’s Council of South Carolina. In 1780 Gen. Benjamin Lincoln urged Gov. Rutledge to leave Charleston with part of his Council before the British took the city. Gervais, along with Charles Pinkney and Daniel Huger, left with the governor and lieutenant governor, while other members stayed.

1782-1783 Gervais was elected to represent South Carolina in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

1783 Gervais gave distinction to Charleston by founding the first Chamber of Commerce in the United States.

1784-1791 He served in the South Carolina legislature, representing both lowcountry and upcountry districts. In 1786 he sponsored the bill to relocated the state capital from Charleston to a more central site. The new town was named Columbia, and one of its major streets bordering the capital building was named for him.

1798 August 18. At age fifty-seven John Lewis Gervais died at his home in Charleston and was buried in the cemetery of St. Philip’s Parish. He left all of his possessions to his wife Mary to distribute to the children. His oldest surviving son Sinclair David, age nineteen, was appointed to become co-executor of the estate when he turned twenty-one. He occupied the family lands in Abbeville.

1806 November 25. At age fifty-three Mary Sinclair Gervais died in Charleston. A significant rift seems to have developed between her and her oldest son. In her will she left the plantation in Abbeville, not to Sinclair David, but to her daughter Claudia. She divided the remainder of the estate between her living sons, expressly excluding Sinclair David.


ADDENDUM

John Lewis Gervais - Broad Street residence location

John Lewis Gervais - Possible property locations

John Lewis Gervais Will

Mary Sinclair Gervais Will


SOURCES

Beach, Malcolm. Old Gervais Wills. Private family history typescript. 1975.

Butler, Jon. The Huguenots in America: A Refugee People in New World
Society.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983. (background)

The Gervais Family in America. Private family genealogy chart. (author unknown, n.d.)

The Gervais Story. Private family history summary. (typescript, author unknown, n.d.)

Gilbert, Anne C. “The Legacies of John de la Howe and John Lewis Gervais.” Transactions of the Huguenot Society of South Carolina, No. 82 (1977): pp. 78-84.

Lavelle, Brittany [*]. Historic Preservation Research. May 2014.

 

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