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James Williams
Born 1740
Died October 7, 1780 (aged 39–40)
Place of birth Hanover County, Virginia Colony
Place of death Kings Mountain battlefield
Place of burial Gaffney, South Carolina
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch South Carolina militia
Years of service 1773-1780
Rank Colonel

James Williams (1740 – October 7, 1780) was an American pioneer, farmer, and miller from the Ninety-Six District in South Carolina. In 1775 and 1776, Williams was a member of the state's Provisional Assembly. During the War of Independence, he held a colonel's rank in the South Carolina Militia. He was killed at the decisive Battle of Kings Mountain.

Early life

Williams was born in Hanover County, Virginia and orphaned before he was twelve. He moved into the home of his brother, John, in Granville County, North Carolina. John, being a lawyer, gave him a basic education before James set out on his own. He settled on the Little River in South Carolina.

By 1773, Williams had started a farm and built a mill in the Ninety-Six District on the western frontier (in what is modern Laurens County, South Carolina), and was an officer in the local militia. Tensions rose before the revolution, as many of his neighbors took Loyalist positions. Williams, however, supported the American cause. He joined the local ', and was elected to the state's Provincial Congress in 1775 and again in 1776.

War of Independence

In 1776, the Ninety-Six militia split into Loyalist and Patriot factions. Williams was made a lieutenant colonel of a regiment, but he had to recruit, and train the new men. He succeeded in organizing a militia group, but pressure from Britain and her allies meant that Williams always had to leave some troops behind for home defense. Williams led forces of local men into action at nearby Briar Creek and Stone Ferry, and as far afield as the expedition to the Second Battle of Savannah.

On August 19, 1780 he led his detachment into the Battle of Musgrove Mill. The Patriots' success there, even in such a limited engagement and coming so soon after the disaster of Camden, earned him a promotion to colonel.

Battle of Kings Mountain

Williams led a 100 man detachment to meet up with other militia gathering in pursuit of Cornwallis' western force, led by Major Patrick Ferguson. He joined with the other units at Cowpens on October 6. The next day these forces won a major victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain, where the out-numbered Americans overwhelmed a 1,100 man Loyalist force, suffering only twenty-eight fatalities. Col. Williams was one of them.

Memorials

Williams' original hastily dug grave at the site of the battlefield was eventually moved, and he was re-interred on the lawn in front of the Cherokee County Administration building, on Limestone street in Gaffney, South Carolina. It is marked by a large memorial.

The South Carolina Provincial Congress had promoted Williams to the rank of brigadier general, but he died before the commission could be delivered. In 2005, the South Carolina General Assembly confirmed the rank originally bestowed upon him 225 years before. In the same act, Gen. Williams was further honored by renaming the Little River Bridge, "James Williams Memorial Bridge", marking the northeast corner of what had been his plantation.

Further reading

  • William Graves; "James Williams, An American Patriot in the Carolina Backcountry"; 2002, Writers Club Press, ISBN 0-595-21374-X.

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