Lewis P.W. Balch - Judge/Abolitionist

Lewis Penn Witherspoon Balch (December 31, 1787 - August 29, 1868) was born in Georgetown, D.C. to Stephen Bloomer and Elizabeth (Beall) Balch. Little is known about Lewis' life before the year 1806 when he graduated from Princeton College with a Master's Degree. For a time Lewis would study law with Roger Brooke Taney* who would later go on to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (best known for the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision). After his studies with Roger Taney; Lewis would go on to practice law for several years in the Loudon County, Virginia area.

On March 14, 1811 Lewis married Elizabeth Willis Wever** and together they had twelve children. Several sources indicate that only six of Lewis' children actually survived to adulthood. Lewis and Elizabeth lived, with children, in the Leesburg, Virginia area until approximately 1826 when they relocated to the Frederick, Maryland area. Little is known of what took place in the years between 1826 and 1834.

Political/Moral Thinking:

For a time Lewis was a slave owner but his thinking would evolve to the point where he would become a firm believer in the abolition of slavery. In 1834 Lewis took twenty two slaves that he had freed to Baltimore. It was in Baltimore where Lewis contributed approximately fifteen hundred dollars, of his own money, to send these same slaves to the American slave colony of Liberia on the west coast of Africa.

Various sources indicate that Lewis was very politically motivated and involved as a member of the short lived Whig party. In a diary entry dated November 17, 1839 Lewis bemoans the selection of William Henry Harrison as the Whig candidate for president.


Balch Genealogica, by Thomas Willing Balch, and indeed Lewis' own diary entry indicates that he had a preference for the "great orator and statesman of the west" more commonly known as Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. In later years Lewis would apparently switch his allegiance, to the newly formed Republican party, voting for John C. Frémont and later Abraham Lincoln in both elections.

All throughout the American Civil War (1861-5) Lewis' would remain a strong advocate of the Union. In one account, provided by Galusha Balch, Lewis is said to have come out of his house, in the midst of a nearby battle, and cheered on the Union soldiers while "bullets were flying thick". It was most likely his strong sentiments, in favor of the union, that helped Lewis secure the position of state circuit judge, within the northeast counties of West Virginia, in March of 1865. Lewis would serve as a state circuit judge until March 1866.

End of Life:

Little information is available to indicate what happened with Lewis in the final years of his life. From March of 1866 until 1868 he was presumably in retirment. On August 29, 1868 Lewis, at the age of 81, passed away leaving behind an interesting legacy.

Genealogy of Lewis:

Father: Stephen Bloomer Balch
Mother: Elizabeth Beall

Wife 1: Elizabeth Emeline Weaver
Married: Unknown


1. Adam Weber
2. Lewis Penn Witherspoon
3. Catherine Elizabeth Spencer
4. Virginia Melancthon
5. Harriet Cornelia
6. Thomas
7. Anna Beall
8. Sylvester Whitefield
9. John Wilson
10. Frances Carter
11. Alexandrine Macomb
12. Stephen Fitzhugh


*Thomas Willing Balch refers to Roger Brooke Taney as Lewis' "kinsman" apparently there is a Balch family connection to the "infamous" author of the Dred Scott v. Sanford case.

**Balch Genealogica indicates his wife's name was Elizabeth Willis Wever while Genealogies of the Balch Families in America lists the name as Elizabeth Emeline Weaver - uncertain which name is correct.

Primary Sources/Links:

Historical Society of Pennsylvania - Balch Family

Balch Genealogica - By: Thomas Willing Balch

Genealogy of the Balch Families in America - By: Galusha Balch

Southern Cousins - Balch Family

Additional Sources/Links:

Princeton Alumni Weekly, Vol. 8 - By: Princeton University

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