Paul Lewis was born in Albemarle County around 1833. He was enslaved by Judge Alexander Rives, who eventually was a board member of the Freedmen's School alongside Lewis. Census records show that by 1870, he was married to his wife, Margaret, and had at least four children: Augusta, Pleasant, James, and Paul Jr.
Lewis was one of the first to join the staff of the Jefferson School. He first worked as a janitor and handyman while attending evening classes, then officially joined the teaching staff in 1867. Colleagues of his described him as a "slow and deep" teacher who paid careful attention to his students' mastery of the material. Lewis named his class the "John Brown School," and mainly taught the primary, or elementary-level, students. Some sources say that Lewis learned to read later in life, which could explain his dedication to the literacy of his students. In 1871, Lewis' primary class had 60 students.
Lewis wrote to the Freedman's Record frequently, and in an 1867 issue, his letter celebrating the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and encouraging African American voting was published. In his letter, he said that while white Southerners expected African Americans to vote for them, since they professed friendship. Lewis wrote "They have never proved their friendship to us yet," and urged Black voters to be cautious.
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- "United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6QYY-H3?cc=1438024&wc=KLY4-2NL%3A518656301%2C518715801%2C518792401 : 11 June 2019), Virginia > Albemarle > St. Anne's > image 153 of 214; citing NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
- Web. [ Disturber of Tradition: A Portrait of Anna Gardner], White, Barbara Ann, Book, Nantucket Historical Association, 2017
- Web. [www.jstor.org/stable/4245969 Freedmen's Schools in Albemarle County during Reconstruction], Joseph C. Vance, Magazine Article, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 61, no. 4. (1953), retrieved June 11, 2021.
- "United States, Freedmen's Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9TH-PSHX-C?cc=2427894&wc=313S-ZNG%3A1556055802%2C1556056601 : 1 August 2016), Virginia > Roll 20, Teachers' monthly school reports, Apr 1870-June 1871 > image 1282 of 1300; citing multiple NARA microfilm publications (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969-1978).