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Descendant wants Franny Lew statue

A Whitestone man left his mark on the founding document of our nation’s history, and now one of his descendants hopes to keep his name alive in the community he once called home.

Francis Lewis, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, retired in 1765 to an estate near the shore in what is now northeast Queens, a region that has since dedicated a school, major thoroughfare and park to the Founding Father.

And now one of his descendants, Port Washington, L.I., resident Kathy Coley, is working to see that his name is remembered once more in the form of a monument to the man and his role in the birth of America.

She and Devon O’Connor, founder of the Welcome to Whitestone nonprofit, are combining forces to find a way to install a bust, statue or large informative plaque in his honor in Francis Lewis Park, which currently includes only a plaque dedicated to him that fails to include the tragic tale of his home’s demise.

Much of the expanse was the Lewis family’s yard before the British destroyed his estate and captured his wife, Elizabeth Annesley, in 1776, the first year of the American Revolution. She died in 1779 — a year after her release from captivity — and the city Parks Department said the harsh conditions of her detention by the British may have led to her premature death.

“When I stand in that park, I think of being in Francis Lewis’ backyard and what a grand backyard it is,” Coley said. “If you’re facing the water and you see a little row of hedges on the right, there’s a row of houses and one of the houses is older than the others. They believe that is the footprint of the home, which was destroyed.”

Coley made her first trip to the park, bounded by 3rd Avenue, 147th Street, the East River, and Parsons Boulevard, several years ago, and during a return visit earlier this summer she met O’Connor, who had the idea of erecting a memorial to his legacy there in the shadow of the Whitestone Bridge. She immediately took to the concept.

“When Devon mentioned the notion of having a Francis Lewis plaque or bust, that really made sense to me,” she said. “There’s Francis Lewis High School, there’s Francis Lewis Boulevard, I understand there’s even a Francis Lewis Deli, but this was his home, and this is where a very sad thing occurred. His home was destroyed, his wife was captured and so it makes sense that people who enjoy that space would be able to enjoy a bust or a plaque.”

The idea seems to be taking off. O’Connor is looking into the research and planning necessary to get such a project off the ground, although no concrete steps have been officially taken toward that end.

“As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, it’s just a cool fact that he lived in Whitestone,” O’Connor said. “I think having a statue, a bust or even a plaque explaining everything he did, that’s something I think would be really nice.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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