A Congregational pastor's son, Williams was born in 1731 at Lebanon, Conn., his lifelong home. After graduating from Harvard in 1751, he began studying for the ministry under his father. Four years later, during the French and Indian War (1754-63), he accompanied a British expedition to Lake George, in northeastern New York, that won a victory. Back home, he became a merchant. In 1771 he married a daughter of Jonathan Trumbull, Royal Governor of Connecticut; they had three children.
During his long political career, Williams held a myriad of local, provincial, and State offices: town clerk (1752-96) and selectman (1760-85); member, clerk, and speaker of the lower house of the colonial legislature (1755-76); State legislator (1781-84); member of the Governor's council (1784-1803); judge of the Windham County court (1776-1805); and probate judge for the Windham district (1775-1809). He also represented Connecticut at various New England meetings, and attended the 1788 convention that ratified the Federal Constitution, of which he approved.
Upon the outbreak of the Revolution, Williams threw his weight behind the cause. Besides writing tracts for the press expressing the colonial viewpoint, he prepared Revolutionary state papers for Governor Trumbull. Williams also raised money for and personally contributed to the war effort. Between 1773 and 1776 he held a colonelcy in the Connecticut militia and served on the provincial council of safety. In Congress (1776-78 and 1783-84), he sat on the Board of War and helped frame the Articles of Confederation, though he did not sign them. During the winter of 1780-81, while a French regiment was stationed in Lebanon, he moved out of his home and turned it over to the officers.
Williams died at the age of 80 in 1811. His grave is in the Trumbull Cemetery, about a mile northeast of town.
Drawing: Oil, 1873, by James J. Sawyer, after John Trumbull, Independence National Historical Park.
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004