Henry J. Lewis was born in slavery in Mississippi, sometime in the late 1830s (the exact year of his birth is unknown). He was severely burned as a child, which left him blind in one eye and crippled in his left hand. He lived much of his life in Pine Bluffs, Arkansas. In the 1870s he produced some engravings for Harper’s Weekly, and in the early 1880s worked as a sketch artist for the Smithsonian’s “Mound Survey” of pre-historic Native American sites in Arkansas and elsewhere. His cartoons in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1889 focused on themes of economic, social and political rights for African Americans. He died in April 1891.