James P. Lewis was born in Letcher County, Kentucky, on September 8, 1869. His paternal grandfather, John J. Lewis, came to Harlan County from Virginia in 1819. He served as county judge and was a large slaveholder and a Unionist. James P. Lewis’s father, Wilson Lewis, was born in 1826 and lived in the part of Harlan County which later became part of Letcher County. He died in 1892. He was a large landowner, a Republican, and a Baptist. He married Katie Collier, and the couple raised a large family.
James P. Lewis was the ninth child in a family of eleven children; he had five sisters and five brothers. He attended several schools in four states, including Union College at Barbourville, before graduating from Northern Indiana University at Valparaiso, Indiana, in 1899.
Lewis went into the mercantile business in 1890. He served as Letcher County Superintendent of Schools from 1892 to 1897. During this period, Lewis also became involved in a number of business ventures in banking and coal.
James Lewis served as county judge of Letcher County from 1902 to 1906. From 1906 to 1915, he gave his attention to his business affairs. In 1915, he was elected Secretary of State, the only Republican elected to a statewide office in that campaign. He served from 1916 to 1920 during the administration of Governor A. O. Stanley. He then served four years as state banking commissioner from 1920 to 1923 in the administration of Governor Edwin P. Morrow.
James P. Lewis had business interests in Letcher County and in Georgetown. He served as chairman of the board of trustees of Georgetown College in 1935.
He married Maria Caudill in 1895 in Whitesburg. The couple had eleven children: John Emerson, Ben Edison, Rosa, James R., Gordon Roosevelt, Homer, Hazel, Wilson, Dorothy, Powell Carroll, and Evelyn Marie.
James Lewis resided in Scott County during the last several years of his life. He died on May 22, 1942, in the Hazard Hospital while returning to Georgetown from a trip to Florida. He was survived by his wife and eleven children.
Kentucky Death Records for 1911 to 2000;
Charles Kerr, ed., "History of Kentucky" by William E. Connelley and E. Merton Coulter (5 vols., 1922), Vol 4: pgs 340-41;
Benjamin LeBree, ed., "Press Reference Book of Prominent Kentuckians", (1916), pg 151;
Obituary, "Mountain Eagle" [Whitesburg], May 28, 1942;
Mary Young Southard, ed., "Who’s Who in Kentucky", (1936), pg 245.