LEWIS Background and History
A LEWIS is a simple, but ingenious device employed by operative Masons to raise heavy blocks of stone into place. It consists of three metal parts: two wedge-shaped sidepieces, and a straight centerpiece, that fit together (tenon).
A dovetailed recess is cut into the top of the stone block (mortise). The two outer pieces are inserted first and then spread by the insertion of the centerpiece. The three parts are then bolted together, a metal ring or shackle is attached and the block is hoisted by hook, rope and pulley. By this means, the block is gripped securely.
Once set in its place in the structure, the lewis is removed leaving the upper surface smooth with no clamp or chains on the outside to interfere with the laying of the next course of stones.
Our ancient operative brethren used this tool as early as the Roman era. Stones with the mortised cavity for the insertion of a lewis have been found in England in Hadrian's Wall built c. 121-127 CE. Archaeologists have found further evidence of its use by the Saxons in England in buildings constructed in the 7th century. The origin of the term 'lewis' for this device is uncertain. Some authorities trace its etymology to the French levis from lever - to lift, hoist, raise; and louve - a sling, grip or claw for lifting stones.
Masonic historians conclude that the term came into use in the 18th century. The Lecture in the Second Degree published by William Preston in the 1780s contains a lengthy discourse on the Lewis.
WM- Brother J.W., How were the sons of craftsmen named?
JW - To the son on whom these honors were bequeathed, the appellation of Lewis was given, that from henceforth he might be entitled to all the privileges which that honor conferred, W. Sir.
There are many references to the Lewis in early Masonic Catechisms. The Wilkinson MS Catechism (c 1730 / 1740) states the following:
Q. What's a Mason's Sons Name?
A paragraph in a version of the Junior Warden's Lecture used in the United Grand Lodge of England dating from 1801 gives this instructive explanation: "The word Lewis denotes strength, and is here depicted by certain pieces of metal dovetailed into a stone, which forms a cramp, and enables the operative Mason to raise great weights to certain heights with little encumbrance, and to fix them in their proper places. Lewis, likewise denotes the son of a Mason; his duty is to bear the heat and burden of the day, from which his parents, by reason of their age, ought to be exempt; to help them in time of need, and thereby render the close of their days happy and comfortable; his privilege for so doing is to be made a Mason before any other person however dignified."