Hamilton County Celebrates 200th Anniversary; Chattanoogan.com To Feature Series Of Articles On Remarkable Williams Papers

Tuesday, January 1, 2019 - by John Wilson
Samuel Williams
Samuel Williams

Hamilton County turns 200 this year.

When the county was formed on Oct. 25, 1819 by the Legislature sitting in Murfreesboro, it was named for Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the Treasury. "to honor and to perpetuate his memory."

A portion of the designated territory south of the Tennessee River was still Indian lands.

But settlers had already begun living around the Sale Creek area.

Gradually some also crossed the river and commingled with their Indian neighbors.

Some of the first to spy out Ross's Landing were members of the Williams family - father George Washington Williams and sons Samuel Williams, George Washington Williams Jr., Jesse Williams and Silas Williams.  

The father soon died, as did G.W. Williams Jr. and Silas Williams while on onerous cattle drives. Jesse went to Oklahoma with some of the Cherokee.

But Samuel Williams stayed on and gained a broad vision for the future of the Ross's Landing trading post, which was in a beautiful setting on a strategic point of the Tennessee River. He organized several land syndicates as he promoted the town far and wide.

Samuel Williams eventually became known as the "Father of Chattanooga."

When workers were remodeling the old Title Guaranty Building on Walnut Street they recently found behind a wall a large pile of papers that turned out to be fascinating documents relating to a Williams lawsuit.

There were some 800 pages, including land grants, depositions from many of the early settlers of Ross's Landing, details about the store the Williams family operated, the cattle drives to Baltimore and Augusta, and the Williams slaves.

The Williams papers give the best record of who was living in and around Ross's Landing in the latter part of the 1830s and the 1840s.

The Williams family lived at Paint Rock in Jackson County, Ala., before coming up to Hamilton County in the early 1830s. The father died here on Feb. 18, 1832. He is referred in the papers as "the old man" though he was only 45 at the time of his death. Then George Washington Williams Jr. died Aug. 9, 1842, after being taken ill on a cattle driver. Silas Williams died around the same time from the effects of a cattle drive.

G.W. Williams Jr. had come up from Paint Rock and was living with his father at a beautiful river setting across from Williams Island when his father died. The mother, Temperance Kyle Williams, had died in 1824. Afterward, he lived in the homeplace and Samuel Williams resided at Ross's Landing. G.W. Jr. had a wife, Elizabeth, and they had young sons, Pleasant and Calvin.

When G.W. Jr. died at 33, the widow and the young sons were left at the homeplace. Samuel Williams, who was much more financially capable than G.W. Jr. earlier had set up a partnership with him - G&S Williams. After his brother's death, Samuel moved in the homeplace with his wife and several children, along with son-in-law John L. Divine. Due to the cramped quarters, Mrs. G.W. Williams Jr. eventually moved out. She married Claiborn Gott, who was from Marion County and had recently lost a first wife also named Elizabeth. Gott and the widow Williams then filed suit against Samuel Williams, claiming she had been pushed out of her home and deprived of her share of the estate.

Fortunately for Chattanooga history lovers, this lawsuit went on for years and delved into the intricate details of the Williams business dealings - going back to the days when the Cherokee Nation was still at Ross's Landing.

About half of the papers were rescued intact by Rob Bentley, who has a strong interest in Chattanooga's history.

Unfortunately, workmen had tossed about half of the papers into a dumpster on Walnut Street. They were retrieved from there, but had significant water damage.

Sam Hall, who operates the Chattanooga Deep Zoom website, scanned one set of the papers and photographed the second damaged set.

Chattanoogan.com will run the series through this 200th anniversary year, and at the time of the first article Mr. Hall will make the papers live to the public. 

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