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William Williams

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Signer of the Declaration of Independence

WILLIAM WILLIAMS was born in Lebanon, Connecticut on April 18, 1731. The son of Solomon Williams, a Connecticut minister, he graduated Harvard College in 1754. He returned home and devoted himself to theological studies under the direction of his father, planning on following his father and grandfather into the ministry. After about a year, he enlisted in the Continental Army and joined his uncle, Colonel Ephraim Williams, in the French and Indian War on his expedition to Lake George. On September 8, 1755, his uncle, leading 1,200 men, was ambushed by the enemy and at the first volley, was shot through the head. 

William returned home after the war and opened a store in his hometown of Lebanon and prospered as a merchant. In 1771, he married Mary Trumbull, the second daughter of Governor Jonathan Trumbull and allied himself with one of the most prominent and influential families in the colony. He became town clerk of Lebanon and held that office for forty-five years, was a representative in the assembly for more than fifty years, and he fathered three children. Williams became colonel of the 12th regiment of militia in 1773, but resigned his commission to accept a seat in congress in 1776.  William Williams replaced Oliver Wolcott in Congress and arrived too late to vote for the Declaration of Independence.   He was, however, a signer of the engrossed Declaration of Independence on August 4, 1776.


A man of naturally ardent temper, he threw himself vehemently into the struggle for independence, wielding a vigorous pen and drawing generously on his purse in support of military activities. During a great part of the Revolutionary War he was a member of the council of safety, and expended nearly all his property in the patriot cause. He abandoned his business and went from house to house soliciting private donations to supply the army. Williams also made frequent speeches to induce a larger enlistment. Throughout the war, his house was open to the soldiers in their marches to and from the army, and in 1781 he gave up his dwelling to the officers of a detachment that was stationed for the winter in Lebanon. 

Williams was a man of medium build, erect and well proportioned, and had dark brown eyes and black hair. Normally he was taciturn, but upon occasion his strong feelings led him to violence of language. He was a delegate to the Connecticut State Convention of 1788, and voted for the ratification of the Federal Constitution and was a member of the governor's council.

Williams died in Lebanon on August 2, 1811 at 80 years old.


Partly printed Document Signed "Wm Williams." Summons issued for Roger Bailey to appear in court. One page, dated December 31, 1799 from Lebanon, Connecticut





Source: Centennial Book of Signers

For a High-resolution version of the Stone Engraving  

For a High-resolution version of the Original Declaration of Independence

We invite you to read a transcription of the complete text of the Declaration as presented by the National Archives.



The article "The Declaration of Independence: A History," which provides a detailed account of the Declaration, from its drafting through its preservation today at the National Archives.  



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Williams Family History


John Williams

WILLIAMS, John, clergyman, born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 10 December, 1644; died in Deerfield, Massachusetts, 12 June, 1729. His grandfather, Robert, came to this country about 1638, settling in Roxbury, Massachusetts John was graduated at Harvard in 1683, ordained to the ministry in 1688, and settled as pastor in Deerfield, which, being a frontier town, was constantly exposed to the attacks of the Indians. On the night of 28 February, 1704, 300 French and Indians under the command of Major Hertel de Rouville took advantage of the unfaithfulness of the guards, surprised the garrison, and took 300 citizens captive, besides killing several, including two of Mr. Williams's children and a negro woman-servant. They then compelled him, his wife, and all his remaining children, except one, who was absent from home, to begin on foot the march toward Canada, in which they were accompanied by their fellow-settlers. Mrs. Williams fell exhausted on the second day of their journey, and was at once dispatched with a tomahawk. After traveling about 300 miles they reached their destination, and, although Mr. Williams suffered many cruelties from his captors, he was finally redeemed by Governor Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil, and returned to Boston in 1706, leaving his daughter Eunice still in captivity, he resumed his charge in Deerfield in the latter part of 1706 and remained there until his death, he also gave much time to scientific researches and left many manuscripts on these subjects. He published several sermons and a narrative of his captivity called "The Redeemed Captive" (Boston, 1707). See a " Biographical Memoir of Reverend John Williams, with Appendix, containing the Journal of his Son, Reverend Stephen Williams, during his Captivity," by Stephen W. Williams (Greenfield, Massachusetts, 1837). This is in a great part a reprint of "The Redeemed Captive."

--His son, Eleazer Williams, clergyman, born in Deerfield, I July, 1688; died in Mansfield, Connecticut, 21 September, 1742, was graduated at Harvard in 1708, and from 1710 until his death was pastor at Mansfield. He published several sermons.--Another son, Stephen, clergyman, born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, 14 May, 1693; died in Long Meadow, Massachusetts, 10 June, 1782, was taken captive by the Indians in his eleventh year, and, with the other Deerfield prisoners, marched on foot to Canada. After being detained for about fourteen months he was bought from the Indians by the governor of Canada, and in November, 1705, was returned to Boston. His minute account, of this experience is incorporated in the "Memoir of John Williams" that has been mentioned. He was graduated at Harvard in 1713, ordained to the ministry in 1716, and was pastor at Long Meadow, Massachusetts, for sixty-six years. In the course of his ministry he served as chaplain in three different campaigns against the French and Indians, accompanying Sir William Pepperrell to Cape Breton and Sir William Johnson to Lake George during the old French war. He aided in establishing the mission among the Stockbridge Indians in 1734, of which John Sergeant, of Yale, was subsequently in charge. Dartmouth gave him the degree of D.D. in 1773. He published a "Sermon on the Ordination of John Keep" (1772).

--John's daughter, Eunice Williams, born in Deerfield, 17 September, 1696; died in Canada in 1786, was carried captive to Canada when she was in her eighth year. When her father was redeemed she was left among the Indians and no money could subsequently procure her release. She forgot the English language, adopted the Roman Catholic religion, married an Indian named John de Rogers, and conformed to Indian views and habits. She visited her relatives several times, but always refused to adopt English dress or civilized customs. The legislature of Massachusetts offered her a tract of land if she and her family would settle in New England; but she refused, saying that it would endanger her soul.-

-Her putative great-grandson, Eleazer Williams, missionary, born in Caughnawaga, New York, probably in 1787; died in Hoganstown, New York, 28 August, 1858, is supposed to have been a grandson of Ezekiel Williams, an English physician, and Eunice's daughter. Their son, Thomas, married an Indian woman named Mary Ann Konwatewenteta on 7 January, 1779. Eleazer was sent to school at Long Meadow about 1800, and remained there nine years, He then studied three years under the Reverend Enoch Hale in Westhampton, Massachusetts At the beginning of the second war with Great Britain he became superintendent general of the Northern Indian department. At, the battle of Plattsburg, 14 September, 1814, he was severely wounded. He subsequently officiated as lay reader among the Oneida Indians and took orders in the Episcopal church. About 1820 this tribe sold lands to the state of New York and removed to Green Bay, Wisconsin, Mr. Williams accompanying them.

In 1846 the Society for the propagation of the gospel among the Indians gave money for his support as a missionary, which was withheld at the end of two years, the reports of his service not being favorable He left Wisconsin in 1850 and settled at St. Regis In February, 1853, an article by the Reverend John H Hanson, D. D., appeared in "Putnam's Magazine," entitled "Have we a Bourbon among us?" The author had seen a published paragraph to the effect that "Eleazer Williams was none other than Louis XVII., the son of Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette, who was born at Versailles, 27 March, 1785, and supposed to have died in the Temple." Dr Hanson sought an interview with Williams, who assured hint that he was convinced of his royal descent. In an interview he told Dr. Hanson that until he was thirteen or fourteen years of age his mind was a blank ; but by a fall he recovered his intellect, though not his memory. He then said that in 1841, on a steamboat, the Prince de Joinville urged him to sign a solemn "abdication of the throne of France," which he refused to do.

Dr Hanson issued a volume entitled "The Lost Prince" (New York, 1854), intending to prove the identity of Williams with Louis XVII. Hanson's arguments in favor of Williams's Bourbon descent are that his baptism was not registered and that his putative mother once admitted that he was an adopted son. Many physicians attested that Williams was not an Indian, and he had a remarkable resemblance to the Bourbon family. The belief was general that the Dauphin was removed from prison and brought to America. Skenondough, an Indian, had made oath that the youth was brought by two French gentlemen to Lake George. Other evidences are the money that was sent from an unknown source to educate him, the De Joinville interview, which Williams recorded in his diary, and the marks on his body, which the Dauphin also bore. On the other hand, many Indians denied Skenondough's story, and Bishop Charles F Robertson, Williams's literary executor, refutes from Williams's own papers the statement that he was educated with funds that were supplied by unknown persons, he having original bills to the contrary. Prince de Joinville denied the alleged interview with Williams, in a letter addressed to John Jay, of New York. Williams became interested in genealogical research in 1822 and assisted in preparing a life of Eunice Williams, and it is probable that his taste for investigation of historical subjects, with the knowledge of the doubtfulness of his parentage, created in his mind a sincere adherence to his singular delusion. He was an authority on Indian history, maimers, and customs, and was thoroughly familiar with the labors of the early French missionaries. In 1846 he became a corresponding member of the New England historic-genealogical society. He is the author of "A Spelling-Book in the Language of the Seven Iroquois Nations" (Plattsburg, 1813)" "A Caution against Out' Common Enemy," in the Iroquois language (Albany, 1813" English translation, 1815); and a "Life of Te-ho-ra-gwa-ne-gen, alias Thomas Williams" (printed privately, 1859). He also translated into Iroquois "The Book of Common Prayer" (New York, 1853).

--John's grandson, Samuel Williams, clergyman, born in Waltham, Massachusetts, 23 April, 1743; died in Rutland, Vermont, 2 January, 1817, was graduated at Harvard in 1761, where his proficiency in mathematical studies induced Professor John Winthrop to select him to go as his companion to Newfoundland to observe the transit of Venus on 6 June of that year. Mr. Williams taught at Bradford while studying theology, was licensed to preach in 1763, and was pastor of the church in Bradford in 1765-'80. He continued his school while occupying this charge, and gave lessons in natural philosophy to Benjamin Thompson, afterward Count Rumford, who was an inmate of his family, and with whom he maintained a scientific correspondence in later years. He was Hollis professor of mathematics and national philosophy in Harvard in 1780-'8, lectured on astronomy to the senior class in 1785-'8, and in the last-named year, by request of the American academy of arts and sciences, went to Penobscot bay to observe a total eclipse of the sun. In the same year he was appointed by the colonial government to survey the western boundary of Massachusetts. In 1788 he resigned his professorship, and he was pastor in Rutland, Vermont, from 1789 till 1795. He subsequently preached in Burlington, Vermont, for about two years, but his later life was passed in Rutland, where he edited the "Herald." He surveyed the western boundary of Vermont in 1805 by appointment of the governor, and delivered a course of lectures in the University of Vermont not long after its establishment. The University of Edinburgh gave hint the degree of LL.D. in 1785, and Yale the same honor in 1786. He was a member of several scientific bodies, here and abroad. He left many valuable manuscripts on philosophical, scientific, and mathematical subjects, and published, besides pamphlets and addresses, The Rural Magazine, a monthly devoted to Historical and literary subjects, and a "History of Vermont," a work of great labor and research (Rutland, 1794, 2 vols., 1809).--

Samuel's son, Charles Kilbourne Williams, jurist, born in 24 Cambridge, Massachusetts, January, 1782 died in Rutland, Vermont. 9 March, 1853, was graduated at Williams in 1800, practiced law in Rutland, Vermont, and became an eminent member of the state bar. During the second war with Great Britain he served in one campaign on the northern frontier. He was frequently in the legislature from 1809 till 1821, and again in 1849, state's attorney in 1814-'15, a judge of the supreme court in 1822-'4 and in 1829-'42, collector of customs for the state of Vermont in 1825-'9, and chief justice of the supreme court of Vermont in 1842-'6, at the same time occupying, ex officio, the position of chancellor of the state, lie was president of the officers of censors in 1847, and governor in 1850-'2. With his retirement from that office he closed a public life of forty years. Early in his career he took great interest in the organization of the militia, and rose to the rank of brigadier-general. He was an active member of the Abolition party, and while governor of Vermont he approved the once celebrated habeas corpus act which had passed the legislature and was the beginning of the struggle in Vermont against slavery. In 1843 he became a corresponding member of the New England historic-genealogical society. In 1834 he received the degree of EL. D. from Middlebury. See a "Memoir" of him by Chief-Justice Isaac Redfield (Rutland, Vermont, 1852).

--A great-grandson of John, Stephen West Williams, physician, born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, 27 March, 1790; died in Laona, Illinois, 9 July, 1855, was the son of Dr. Thomas Williams, a well-known physician in western Massachusetts. Stephen was educated in his native town, studied medicine under his father and, after attending a course of lectures at Columbia, settled in practice in Deerfield, and attained to success in his profession. In 1816 he turned his attention to the study of natural history and botany. With Edward Hitchcock and Dennis Cooley he explored the forests and valleys of Deerfield in search of plants that were subsequently collected in an herbarium. He lectured on medical jurisprudence before the Berkshire medical school in 1823-'31, and in 1838 became professor of materia medica, pharmacy, and medical jurisprudence in Willoughby university, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which chair he resigned in 1853. In 1838-'9 he lectured at Dartmouth medical college. Dr. Williams was a member of many historical societies, president of the Franklin county, Massachusetts, medical society, and vice-president of the Massachusetts medical society. He delivered many lectures on scientific subjects, and published, besides many pamphlets, "Report of the Indigenous Medical Botany of Massachusetts' (Deerfield, 1819)"Traditionary and Historical Sketch of the Indians who formerly resided in the Valley of the Connecticut," in the "Scientific Tract series (1819) "Catechism of Medical Jurisprudence" (Northampton, Massachusetts, 1833)' "Biographical Memoir of Rex'. John Williams "(Springfield, Massachusetts, 1837) ; "American Medical Biography" (1845); and "The Genealogy of the Williams Family in America" (1847). He edited James Bedingfield's "Compendium of Medicine" (Deerfield, Massachusetts, 1818).--

John's first cousin, William Williams, clergyman, born in Newton, Massachusetts, 2 February, 1665' died in Hat-field, Massachusetts, 29 August, 1741, was graduated at Harvard in 1683. He was settled as pastor of the church at Hatfield in 1685, and labored there for fifty-five years, he published numerous sermons and theological treatises, and commanded a wide influence in his community. --

William's son, Elisha Williams, clergyman, born in Hatfield, Massachusetts, 24 August, 1694; died in Wethersfield, Connecticut, 24 July, 1755, was graduated at Harvard in 1711, studied law. settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and for several years was clerk of the state general assembly and a member of that body. After the Collegiate school of Connecticut (now Yale) was removed from Saybrook to New Haven, seine of the students refusing to obey the rules of government, Mr. Williams was chosen to instruct such as wished to withdraw, and taught them at Wethersfield for two years. He was ordained to the ministry in 1721, and served the church at Wethersfield till 1726, when he became president of Yale, holding office till 1739. He subsequently represented Wethersfield again in the legislature, and was chosen a justice of the superior court. In 1745 he went to Cape Breton as chaplain of the Connecticut troops, and the next year, when an expedition was planned to Canada and a regiment of 1,000 men was raised in Connecticut, he was appointed its colonel. The troops were not called out, and in 1749 he went to England to solicit the royal government to pay the wages of the enlisted men that had held themselves in readiness to march for more than a year and a half. His mission was unsuccessful, but on his return he was employed in several public offices. Dr. Philip Doddridge, who was his intimate friend, said of him:" He possessed an ardent sense of religion, solid learning, and consummate prudence. I look upon him as one of the most valuable men on earth."

--Elisha's son, Samuel Porter Williams, clergyman, born in Wethersfield, Connecticut, in 1779; died in Newbury-port, Massachusetts, 23 December, 1826, was graduated at Yale in 1796, was ordained to the ministry, and in charge of the church at Mansfield, Connecticut, in 1807-'17. From 1821 until his death he was pastor at Newburyport. He published many sermons and addresses, a volume of which, with a memoir, appeared after his death (New Haven, 1827).-

Another son of William, Solomon Williams, clergyman, born in Hatfield, Massachusetts, 4 June, 1700; died in Lebanon, Connecticut, 29 February, 1776, was graduated at Harvard in 1719, ordained pastor of the church in Lebanon in 1722, and held that charge until his death. Yale gave him the degree of D. D. in 1773. Dr. Williams possessed wide influence among the clergy of New England. In the course of his ministry he engaged in two important controversies. One, in 1741, was with Reverend Andrew Croswell. on the " Nature of Justifying Faith," and the other with his relative, Jonathan Edwards, the elder, in 1751, on "The Qualifications Necessary to Lawful Communion in the Christian Sacraments." He had an extensive correspondence abroad and in this country. He published nineteen sermons (1729-'75).

--Solomon's son, Eliphalet Williams, clergyman, born in Lebanon, 21 February, 1727; died in East Hartford, Connecticut, 29 June, 1803, was graduated at Yale in 1743, and held a pastorate in East Hartford from his ordination in 1748 until his death. Yale gave him the degree of D. D. in 1782. He was a member of its corporation from 1769 till 1801, and published several popular discourses.

--Eliphalet's son, Eliphalet Scott Williams, clergyman, born in East Hartford, Connecticut, 7 October, 1757; died in Beverly, Massachusetts, 3 February, 1845, was graduated at Yale in 1775, the same year became adjutant of a Connecticut regiment, and fought at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He then enlisted in the navy, and participated in the engagement between the "Hancock" and the "Levant," in which Captain Edward Hardy was shot down by his side. He settled in Maine in 1790, taught and was a farmer, and in 1799 was ordained to the ministry of the Baptist church, he was pastor of the church in Beverly, Massachusetts, in 1803-'12, and was then dismissed at his own request, becoming a minister at large, with his residence in Boston. He gave liberally for the erection of churches, and to missions.

--Another son of Solomon, William Williams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, born in Lebanon, Connecticut, 18 April, 1731 ; died there. 2 August, 1811, was graduated at Harvard in 1747, resided with his father and studied theology for about a year, and in 1755 attended his relative, Colonel Ephraim Williams, on the expedition to Lake George. He became town-clerk of Lebanon in 1756, holding that office for forty-five years, was a representative in the assembly for more than fifty years, for many years speaker, and for more than ninety sessions was not absent more than five times, except during his service in congress in 1776-'7. He became colonel of the 12th regiment of militia in 1773, but resigned his commission in 1776 to accept a seat in congress, signing the Declaration of Independence on 4 July of that year.

During a greater part of the war he was a member of the council of safety, expended nearly all his property in the patriot cause, and, abandoning his business, which was that of a merchant, went from house to house soliciting private donations to supply the army, and making speeches to induce a larger enlistment. He became an assistant, or councilor, in 1780, held office for twenty-four years, was judge of the county court of Windham, and judge of probate for Windham district for forty years. Although prudent and economical in many cases, he frequently devoted all the emoluments of his offices to benevolent objects. Throughout the war his house was open to the soldiers in their marches to and from the army, and in 1781 he gave up his dwelling to the officers of a detachment that was stationed for the winter in Lebanon. He was a member of the Connecticut convention in 1787 that ratified the constitution of the United States, strongly advocating its adoption. He married Mary, second daughter of Governor Jonathan Trumbull.

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