Brig. General James Henderson Williams

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Brig. General James Henderson Williams

Birthdate: (39)
Birthplace: near Old Fork Church, Hanover County, Virginia, Colonial America
Death: October 8, 1780 (39)
Battle of King's Mountain, Gaston County, North Carolina, United States (DIed of wounds received at Battle of Kings Mountain)
Place of Burial: Gaffney, Cherokee County, South Carolina, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Daniel Williams, I and Ursula Clark Williams
Husband of Mary Clark Wallace and Rachel Clark
Father of Robert I Williams; John Williams; Sarah Williams; Daniel Williams; John Williams and 7 others
Brother of Mariah Goodman; Henry Williams; John Williams; Mary Mitchell and Joseph Williams

Managed by: Gwyneth McNeil
Last Updated:

About Brig. General James Henderson Williams

A Patriot of the American Revolution for SOUTH CAROLINA with the rank of COLONEL. DAR Ancestor # A126181

Brigadier General James Henderson Williams

Birth: Nov. 10, 1740 Old Church Hanover County Virginia, USA

Death: Oct. 7, 1780 Gaston County North Carolina, USA

James Henderson WILLIAMS, born November 10, 1740, Old Fork Church, Hanover County, Virginia, died during the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7, 1780, in Gaston County, North Carolina.

James Henderson WILLIAMS, 1740-1780, was son of Daniel WILLIAMS, 1710-1759, and of his wife, Ursula HENDERSON, 1709-1765. He was orphaned in his youth, travelled from Virginia to North Carolina, moving into the home of his brother, [Colonel] John WILLIAMS, a lawyer, then living in Granville County, North Carolina. John ensured his brother, James, received a basic but good education before James set out on his own.

James Henderson WILLIAMS, 1740-1780, married 1762, Granville County, North Carolina, Mary Clark WALLACE. Mary Clark WALLACE WILLIAMS CALDWELL, born 1743, died 1804. By 1773, they migrated from Granville County, North Carolina and pioneered along the Little River in the area known then as Ninety-six District, in South Carolina. He started a farm, built a mill and was a local merchant. He moved to a plantation called Mt. Pleasant, settling on the Edgefield District side of Mud Creek; today, this area in which he settled is known as Laurens County.

He was of the Presbyterian faith, and was an elder of Little River Presbyterian Church, in Laurens County, South Carolina.

James served as one of the representatives of South Carolina in the First Provincial Congress held in Charleston on January 11, 1775. He also represented in the Second Provincial Congress November 1, 1775, and March 26, 1776. He was appointed Justice of the Peace March 36, 1776 through April 11, 1776, and was a member of the local Council of Safety.

He served in the local militia, where in 1775, he became Captain. At the Siege of Ninety-Six, Capt. James H. WILLIAMS watched the loyalist forces surrender under a white flag. By 1776, as tensions grew in the back country of the colony, local militia units became increasingly divided between Loyalist and Patriot factions, Williams was named Lt. Colonel of a militia regiment. James was a patriot whereas many of his neighbors supported the Loyalist position. He identified, recruited and trained his men, successfully organizing a militia group. During the campaign against the pro-British Cherokees, his militia group was encircled and suffered deadly fire. His unit was then ordered to Florida to fight a Tory force there, suffering from heat, hunger, thirst and disease and had to turn back.

Lt. Colonel Williams led his body of men into action at The Battle of Stono Ferry, Briar Creek, and as far afield into expeditions against Savannah, Georgia.

On August 19, 1780, after the disaster of Camden, he led his detachment into the engagements of the Battle of Musgrove Mill where their success earned him a promotion to Colonel.

Williams led a 100 man detachment from his Little River Regiment to meet other militia detachments in pursuit of Cornwallis' western force, led by Major Patrick Ferguson. He joined other militia units at Cowpens on October 6, 1780. The next day he joined them in the major American victory at the Battle of King's Mountain where patriots overwhelmed an 1,110 man force, losing only twenty-eight killed. According to eyewitness accounts, Colonel James Henderson Williams was mortally wounded, October 7, 1780, after the enemy raised the white flag. Before he died, Williams was carried by horse 12 miles before dying in the arms of his son, Daniel WILLIAMS, on the banks of the Broad River near the mouth of Buffalo Creek.

Initially buried at this location, in 1910, his remains were transferred and re-interred to a vault at the Carnegie Library, also known as the Cherokee County Administration Building, on North Limestone Street, Gaffney, Cherokee County, South Carolina. A prestigious memorial marker with a bronze tablet was placed over the vault and surmounted by two small cannons procured by Senator Benjamin TILLMAN, in 1917. Today, there is a large monument erected for James Henderson Williams at King's Mountain National Battlefield.

Under the South Carolina Provincial Congress, Williams was to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General for his victory at Musgrove Mill, but he died from his battle wounds during the American victory at the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7, 1780, before the commission could be delivered.

In November, 1781, "Bloody Bill CUNNINGHAM" took over his plantation house at Mount Pleasant, and moved James's widow, Mary, and her children to a barn behind the house to live in. He later hung and disembowled two of their children, sons, Daniel WILLIAMS, 1763-1781, and Joseph WILLIAMS, 1767-1781, along with about 14 other patriots in the Haye's Station Massacre on Edgehill Plantation, in Laurens County. A mass grave marks the site where these American patriots were hacked to death.

In 2005, the South Carolina General assembly confirmed the rank originally bestowed upon him some 225 years prior. In the same act, General James Williams was further honored by renaming the Little River Bridge, "James Williams Memorial Bridge" marking the northeast corner of his original plantation.

Children of this marriage include:

son, American Revolutionary War Veteran Major Daniel WILLIAMS, 1763-1781, buried mass grave, Haye's Station, Edgehill Plantation, (today) Clinton, Laurens County, South Carolina, Find-A-Grave Memorial # 54698849;

son, American Revolutionary War Veteran Joseph WILLIAMS, 1767-1781, buried mass grave, Haye's Station, Edgefill Plantation, (today) Clinton, Laurens County, South Carolina, Find-A-Grave Memorial # 54699679;

daughter, Mary WILLIAMS, 1769-1828, md. her first cousin, James Atwood I WILLIAMS, 1767-1816; to their marriage, eight (8) children are known;

daughter, Elizabeth WILLIAMS, -1807, died Musgrove Mills, buried Williams-Nance Family Cemetery, Mountville, Laurens District, South Carolina, Find-A-Grave Memorial # 28175606; md. John GRIFFIN; md. James TINSLEY;

son, John WILLIAMS, d. 1794; reputed (not verified) to have died of poisioning at the close of the American Revolutionary War while on business in Virginia;

daughter, Sarah WILLIAMS, md. James TINSLEY;

son, James II WILLIAMS, d. 1832;

son, James Washington WILLIAMS, 1777-1829, buried Williams-Nance Cemetery, Mountville, Laurens County, South Carolina, Find-A-Grave Memorial # 66502333; md. February 2, 1797, Sarah GRIFFIN, 1778-1849, buried Williams-nance Family Cemetery, Mountville, Laurens District, South Carolina, Find-A-Grave Memorial # 81900012, daughter of Richard I GRIFFIN, 1734-1805, and Nancy Ann 'Anna' Clarke, 1740-1794;

Family links:

 Daniel Williams (1710 - 1759)
 Ursula Clark Henderson Williams (1710 - 1765)

 Mary Clark Wallace Williams (1743 - 1804)

  • Elizabeth Williams Tinsley (____ - 1807)*
  • Daniel Williams (1763 - 1781)*
  • Joseph Williams (1767 - 1781)*
  • James Washington Williams (1777 - 1829)*
  • William Williams (1796 - 1851)*
 Brigadier General James Henderson Williams (1740 - 1780)
 Elisha Williams (1747 - ____)*
  • Calculated relationship

Inscription: "Col. James Williams / Hero of the Battle of Kings Mountain / 1780 / Erected by Daniel Morgan Chapter D.A.R. / 1917"

Burial: Cherokee County Administration Building Gaffney Cherokee County South Carolina, USA Plot: Front of Cherokee County Building, Limestone Street, Gaffney County, South Carolina


The American Revolution in South Carolina

Brigadier General James Williams


James Williams was born on November 10, 1740 in Hanover County, VA, the fourth child (third son) of Daniel Williams and Ursula Clark Henderson. Daniel's will is dated November 15, 1759 and was probated in Granville County, NC. James William married Mary Wallace in 1762. James and Mary remained in Granville County, NC until around 1773, when they moved to the Little River area of the Upper District between the Broad and Saluda Rivers, South Carolina - near the Laurens and Newberry County lines of today. James Williams established himself as a farmer, a miller, and a merchant - and was elected to the SC First Provincial Congress in 1775. He was also elected to the Second Provincial Congress later that same year.

As a member of the First Provincial Congress, James Williams was one of the signers of the "Association" adopted on June 3, 1775, when word of the fighting in Massachusetts reached South Carolina. His brother John Williams was also elected into this congress. Both brothers were very active in the Patriot cause and they had considerable influence in the backcountry, even with the Loyalists. However, the noted Loyalist, Robert Cunningham, defeated Williams in the first senatorial election of the Little River District during 1778.

In November of 1775, James Williams was elected as a Captain to lead a company within the Little River District Regiment (militia), and he served under Col. John Lindsey. He was promoted to Major in mid-1776, and to Lt. Colonel later in 1776. By February of 1777, he assumed command of the Little River District Regiment (militia) as a Lt. Colonel. In September of 1779, he became Colonel.

At the Fall of Charleston in May of 1780, two key backcountry militia leaders surrendered and gave their parole - BG Andrew Williamson and Col. Andrew Pickens. If the British truly thought that this would bring an end to the conflict they really misunderstood the commitment of Col. James Williams as well as a few other militia leaders. The backcountry degenerated into a veritable Civil War between Patriots and Loyalists, each faction confiscating the other's crops and livestock, burning each other's homes, and hanging as traitors those who were unlucky enough to fall into their opponent's hands.

James Williams had his plantation, Mount Pleasant, confiscated in early June of 1780 - apparently he foresaw this happening because he had already removed most of his slaves and personal belongings and took them to his brother, Henry's, home in Caswell County, NC. While there, he prepared his last will, naming his wife Mary and children, Daniel, Joseph, William, John James, Washington, Elizabeth, and Mary.

Upon returning to South Carolina in late June or early July, Col. Williams immediately raised his Little River District Regiment once again. He was in camp on the Catawba River with Col. Thomas Sumter on July 4th. Shortly thereafter, Williams and his men linked up with other regiments when appropriate - with the primary goal of keeping local Loyalists in their homes and not out raising troops. His regiment was involved in many battles and skirmishes in the backcountry.

For some unknown reason there was a strong tension and perhaps even animosity between Col. James Williams and Col. Thomas Sumter - of course, each led their own regiment of militia and each considered themselves fully suited to help lead South Carolina out of the military mess it was in after the Fall of Charleston. However, with no civil authorities within the state, both men managed to keep their egos in check and kept their focus on harrassing the British and thwarting the plans of the Loyalists.

In exile at Salisbury and Hillsborough, NC, Governor John Rutledge learned (or already knew) of the tensions between Williams and Sumter, and some contemporary documentation hints that Rutledge intended to use the rivalry between the two to animate the backcountry militia's resistance. Since the Fall of Charleston, those who chose to follow Sumter seemed to idolize him - and all referred to him as General, a rank he did not yet hold, but a rank that he strongly coveted. Many regimental colonels deferred to him as though he were senior to them - several did not, including Col. James Williams. Perhaps Gov. Rutledge was well aware of this fact.

In late September or early October of 1780, Gov. John Rutledge commissioned Col. James Williams as a Brigadier General, thanks to his great service at the battle of Musgrove's Mill on August 18th, among other battles and skirmishes since then. Sumter was mortified, as were his followers. Five rode to Hillsborough immediately to press the exiled governor for a general's commission for Col. Thomas Sumter.

In the meantime, the battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780 resulted in a mortally wounded Col./Brig. Gen. James Williams - and, he died the next day, with full knowledge that the Patriots had won the day before. On October 27, 1780, Gen. George Washington recognized Col. James Williams and his death at Kings Mountain in an order issued for his headquarters in Totoway - most understand that this was issued to help rally the morale of the Carolina troops at that point in time.

Some historians claim that James Williams died never knowing that he had been promoted to brigadier general. Others claim that he received word on his promotion the day before the battle of Kings Mountain, whereas others claim that he "harrassed" Col. Thomas Sumter and his minions several days earlier by waiving his new commission and bragging about it within Sumter's camp. Whatever the truth is, one key fact remains - James Williams was the first brigadier general commissioned by the South Carolina civil authorities after the Fall of Charleston, proving that he was a very remarkable leader of men in his time.

Biography from Benson J. Lossing in his Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution [with minor edits]: James Williams was a native of Granville County, North Carolina. He settled upon the Little River in Laurens District, South Carolina in 1773, where he engaged in the pursuit of a farmer and a merchant. He early espoused the patriot cause.

Williams first appears as a colonel in the militia in April of 1778. In the spring of 1779, he went into actual service and he was probably at the Siege of Savannah. He was with Sumter in 1780, but does not seem to have been permanently attached to the corps of that partisan.

In the early part of that year, he was engaged in the battle at Musgrove's Mill on the Enoree River. After that engagement, he went to Hillsborough, North Carolina, where he raised a corps of cavalry and returned to South Carolina; and during Ferguson's movements, after crossing the Wateree River, Williams continually hovered around his camp.

In the sanguinary battle upon Kings Mountain, he was slain. He was near Maj. Ferguson and both officers received their death-wound at the same moment. He died on the morning after the battle, and was buried within two miles of the place where he fell. Tradition says that his first words, when reviving a little soon after he was shot, were, "For God's sake, boys, don't give up the hill!"

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Brig. General James Henderson Williams's Timeline

November 10, 1740
Hanover County, Virginia, Colonial America
November 10, 1740
Hanover, Hanover County, Virginia, Colonial America
Age 14
Newberry, SC, USA
Age 19
Age 19
Age 21
Age 23
Granville Co., NC
Age 27
Virginia, United States
Age 28