One of eight children born to Reverend Tim Solomon Williams and Mary Porter, William Williams arrived on April 23, 1731 in Lebanon, Connecticut. Following a public school education, William enrolled in Harvard College at the age of 16 and graduated with honors in 1751. For the next four years, he studied under his father, the pastor of First Congregational Church in Lebanon.
During the Campaign of 1755, Williams learned a lesson he never forgot. The British commanders he encountered possessed a haughty attitude and demonstrated little, if any, love for the American colonies and her citizens. Williams came to the reality at that time if America was to see days of prosperity and peace, she must be free of the British yoke. Williams resolved he would do his part, whatever that may be, to see to it the separation occurred. He later put forth efforts to awaken the feelings of others to the matter through the use of essays and public speaking; incorporating his patriotic zeal in the delivery of the messages, which were laced with a good amount of independent spirit.
William became a merchant in Lebanon, naming his store The Williams, Inc. In the opening days of the American Revolution, Williams determined he would make whatever sacrifices were needed to further the cause of victory for the American patriots. At this time, the country’s paper money carried little value. As a result, the Continental military was unable to use the currency to purchase the goods they needed. To help aid the cause of the military, Williams exchanged $2,000 in coin for the paper money to benefit his country, and wound up losing the entire sum. He also showered great financial benevolence upon widows and orphans during this time, even though it created financial hardships for him later on.
One of the ways Williams served his country during this timeframe was as the “selectman” for his area; a position he would maintain for 25 years and throughout the course of the American Revolution. As selectman, it fell on Williams to procure the necessary articles required to outfit the new recruits, furnish supplies for the army itself, and help maintain the families of indigent soldiers. Williams’ unending zeal resulted in him being able to encourage contributions from numerous families on behalf of the army. He was able to deliver more than 1,000 blankets, given with patriotic love by the various families for the soldiers in camp. Bullets were made from the lead which was previously housed in the weights of clocks. The freedom-hungry American citizens willingly parted with the comforts of life to help further the cause they sought to pass on to the next generation and those yet to be born.
Love found Williams in 1771. At the age of 41, he married Mary Trumbull, daughter of Governor Jonathan Trumbull. Three children, two sons and a daughter, were born to the couple.
An example of Williams’ patriotic spirit was displayed in the closing days of 1776. Attitudes of gloom and doom were beginning to infect the American patriots, now wondering if maybe they had bitten off more than they could chew by undertaking this war with Mother England. A meeting of Connecticut’s Committee of Safety was called in Lebanon. Two members of the group, William Hillhouse and Benjamin Huntington, shared living quarters with Williams for a brief time.
During an evening’s conversation, comments were made regarding the probability of American success against the British. Williams told Hillhouse and Huntington, “Well, if they succeed, it is pretty evident what will be my fate. I have done much to prosecute the contest, and one thing I have done, which the British will never pardon - I have signed the Declaration of Independence. I shall be hung."
Listening to his words, Hillhouse expressed his desire to see the Americans succeed in their endeavors, then stated if for some reason the British won the conflict, he should have no fear of the gallows. He had neither signed the Declaration, nor written anything derogatory regarding the British. Hillhouse’s words kindled a patriotic fire in the eyes of Williams who looked at the man and stated, "Then, sir, you deserve to be hanged, for not having done your duty."
Elected to the Continental Congress in 1776, Williams took the place of Oliver Wolcott, who had become seriously ill. Though he arrived after the vote was taken on the Declaration of Independence, he did, however, sign the document and was appointed as a member of the committee who framed the Articles of Confederation.
When the American Revolution ended, Williams was present at the convention in Hartford when Connecticut ratified the Constitution. When he voted in favor of the document, a number of his constituents were opposed to the measure. They soon discovered the error they made and commended Williams’ fortitude.
In 1780, Williams moved from the Lower House (House of Representatives) to the Upper House (Senate), serving for 24 years. Over the course of 90 sessions, he was seldom absent.
Williams final years were spent serving as a County Court judge. In 1810, his oldest son, Solomon, died in New York. The death had a strong emotional impact on Williams, producing a grief from which he never recovered. Four days before he died, he lost all ability to speak and lay in a stupor. Those around felt Williams would never utter another sound this side of the grave. On August 2, 1811, 80 year old William Williams suddenly cried out in a loud, clear voice for Solomon, requesting him to come to the side of his father, then died a few moments later. He was laid to rest in the Old Cemetery, Lebanon, Connecticut.
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