Julien Williams

JULIEN WILLIAMS. Among the many old, prominent and substantial families of Waterford township, Oakland County, none possessed more historic interest than that of the Williams family. Julien Williams, the present worthy representative of this family, was born August 13, 1840, on the old homestead of 200 acres, located on Williams Lake, sections 17, 18 and 8 Waterford township, but now makes his home in the pleasant village of Waterford. He is a son of the late Ferdinand and Phebe (Cook) Williams.

Ferdinand Williams was born in the quiet little French town of Detroit, on the banks of the beautiful river of that name, in the Territory of Michigan, October 26, 1806. Detroit is now a great and flourishing city and the metropolis of the State of Michigan, a wonderful contrast to what it was on the birthday of her estimable citizen almost a century ago. The father of Ferdinand was Maj. Gen. John R. Williams, a distinguished and wealthy citizen of Detroit, who was chosen its first mayor and held the office for five times thereafter, and by his public spirit, activity and sterling business qualities did much toward the growth and prosperity of the city and the developing of the resources of the country. The wife of General Williams was, prior to marriage, Mary Mott, of Albany, New York, who was closely connected with some of the old Dutch families on the Hudson. She was a lady of rare accomplishments and of great personal beauty. Ferdinand, the first son, was sent to a private school when about five years of age and was thereafter kept at various private schools in Detroit until near 15 years of age, when it was thought by his preceptors that he was sufficiently prepared to enter college. His father having relatives and many personal and business acquaintances in New York State, some of whom resided at Utica, not far from Hamilton College, it was resolved by his father to take him there to finish his education, and some time during the year 1823 they started by stage, and after a tedious land journey of some weeks arrived at their destination. It was found, upon examination, however, that the young man was not sufficiently up in his studies to meet the high standard required for admission to the college, and he was advised by the professors to enter the advanced classes in the academy at Utica and prepare for another examination.

The youth was therefore placed in the family of John C. Devereux, a well known merchant of Utica, who was a warm personal friend of his father and who was only too glad of the opportunity to serve his old friend by exercising a father's care over his young son. By close application and hard study for a few months, Ferdinand was able to pass the examination and was duly admitted to the freshman class at Hamilton College. Being naturally of a quiet, sober and thoughtful turn of mind, he was not often engaged with his fellow students in cutting up pranks, according to his own account, but was fond of hunting and fishing, and spent his leisure moments in the solitude of the woods. A short time previous to graduation and the receiving of his degree, in 1827, he returned to his home at Detroit and entered the law office of the late Hon. A. D. Fraser, and commenced the study of the law. After some time spent in the acquiring of the principles and looking into the practice of the law, and finding that his tastes were not adapted to the profession he gave it up and took a position to edit a newspaper, the progenitor of the present Detroit Free Press. After some months he also abandoned editorial work and made up his mind to become a farmer. Being of a wild, romantic disposition and fond of the woods, he formed the resolution to explore the interior of the Territory, which was then a vast, unbroken wilderness, and after some time found a place to his taste on the banks of a beautiful lake which still bears his name, located 34 miles west from Detroit, and two miles southwest of the present village of Waterford in Oakland County. Selecting there a quarter section of wild land, he erected a log house with his ax and the assistance of an old colored man named Frank who had been a servant in his father's family for many years.

About this time he met with an old farmer and his family who had lately arrived from the central part of the State of New York, one of whose daughters became his wife, and on the 4th of November, 1829, he moved with his young wife, and some provisions and a few household articles, to his future home and thus became one of the first pioneers of the county. As soon as he was settled, he began to chop off the heavy oak timber and clear away the brush from a piece of land for cultivation, but, unaccustomed to hard work, and with no practical knowledge of farming, he met with poor success and experienced many hardships in getting a living for himself and increasing family, becoming very dependent upon the fruits of the chase. Having become a skillful hunter, and deer and other game being abundant, they were not often reduced to extreme want and in danger of starvation, although there was no market for anything, and the nearest point for procuring supplies was the small village of Pontiac, nearly 10 miles away through the forest.

As the country about him began to be settled in the course of a few years, he was often urged by his neighbors to accept offices of trust, by reason of his superior education and eminent fitness, but he always declined and never held any public office except for a few months that of deputy register of deeds of Wayne County, in which Detroit is situated. For more than 20 years, or until his last sickness, he had no serious illness, and was remarkably erect, vigorous and active. He died November 12, 1896, in his 90th year, his death resulting from the effects of a fall.

The venerable mother of our subject died at her home in the village of Waterford, on April 29, 1892. In recalling this remarkable woman and the events of her life, we can do no better than to use data prepared by a friend of the family. Mrs. Williams was a daughter of Seth and Urania Cook and was born in West Bloomfield, New York, near Rochester, March 16, 1808. She was one of a family of eight children, of whom she was the last survivor.

Her parents, with some of her elder brothers, migrated from Rhode Island many years before and settled on some heavy timber land in the forests of Western New York. During the War of 1812 her father served as a soldier in the American Army for a short time and was wounded in one of the battles, for which he received a pension from the government. After many years of toil in providing for daily necessities and in clearing the land and making a comfortable home for the family, the painful discovery was made that the title to the property was worthless, and the family was obliged to leave everything in the hands of strangers and seek a home in another place. About this time flattering reports of the attractiveness and advantages of the Western country reached them through a son who had come to Michigan and the parents and family resolved to go westward. They packed all their earthly possessions and, loading them in a wagon, started with an ox team for Buffalo, which they reached after a toilsome journey of many days. There the family took passage for Michigan on one of the first steamboats built on the lakes, and after a very rough and unpleasant voyage, landed in Detroit on June 2, 1824, and put up at Ben Woodworth's hotel. Detroit was then but a small French town numbering from 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. After remaining there a year or so, the family settled at Pontiac, on what is now known as the Captain Parks farm. Mr. Cook subsequently sold it to Captain Parks and removed to Shiawassee County, locating near Owosso.

On February 25, 1828, Phebe Cook was married to Ferdinand Williams of Detroit, a young man then but a few months out of college, and, after living for a time with her people, on November 4, 1829, they settled on a wild piece of land on the west bank of Williams Lake, in the township of Waterford. They country was then an almost unbroken wilderness, their nearest neighbor being two and a half miles away at what is now the village of Waterford and which consisted of a sawmill and three houses owned and occupied by Capt. Arch. Phillips, Alpheus Williams and Henry Sanderson and their families. Pontiac at this time was the nearest market where supplies could be obtained and comprised a half dozen houses and a general store or two. Oliver Williams and family, residing on the banks of Silver Lake, were the only white people living outside of these places in any direction for many miles until Grand Blanc was reached on the west, where there was a solitary Indian trader. While the country was new, few of the early pioneers of Michigan suffered greater hardships than Mrs. Williams and her husband. They had to battle with fever and ague and poverty.

On one occasion, during the Black Hawk War, her husband had to make a trip to Pontiac for some provisions, and as wild and exciting reports of a general Indian uprising and the murdering of the whites had reached them, the poor wife and mother in fear of her life from the merciless savages thought it would be safer away from the house than in it. She locked it up and taking her two little children concealed herself in some bushes under the bank of the lake near the spot where since were laid two of her children, and there with trembling limbs and anxious eyes she watched and waited all day for the return of her husband, who had been delayed and could not get back as soon as they expected. Mrs. Williams [w]as exceedingly unfortunate and met with numerous sad accidents all through her life. When about 14 years of age she had her left arm dislocated at the elbow from a bar pole falling upon it and through the stupidity of the doctor, who declared it only sprained, the member was left in a partially crippled condition which caused her much pain and inconvenience all through her life. At another time, after she had passed middle age, she dislocated her left knee and subsequently, when she had reached nearly three score years and ten, she had to undergo a painful surgical operation for the removal of a cancerous tumor on her left cheek, which ever afterward weakened the left eye. Several years, after, she suffered a severe injury to her left foot, on a broken sidewalk in Pontiac, from which she never fully recovered.

Mrs. Williams was a devoted and faithful wife and a loving and affectionate mother and her interest in the welfare of her children and grandchildren never ceased as long as life lasted. She helped them in times of need from her scanty means and was ever kind and charitable to the poor and afflicted. Often in the early times she walked long distances through rain and mud to sit up nights with some sick neighbor. She was a woman of strong character and remarkable for her frugality, industry and energy and all the disappointments in her long life she bore with the greatest fortitude. Although she and her aged husband had lived apart for many years, he called to see her a number of times during her last sickness.

Being so patient and self-sacrificing, she was beloved by her children and grandchildren and she taught them the great truths of religion and to love that which was pure and good and to shun evil and all forms of vice. She was the mother of these children: Sexton C., deceased; Mary F. (McKeand), of Pontiac; Emily Tilden (Streeter); Elizabeth (Ganong); Ferdinand J., Theodore, Jr., Julien, and Flora Burt. But two of this family still survive.

Julien Williams lived in Waterford township until the age of 21 years, obtaining his education in the district schools, the academy at Clarkston and the Union School at Pontiac, subsequently taking a literary course at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and also a course in law. He was graduated in 1864, was admitted to the bar and entered the office of Gray & O'Flynn of Detroit, where he remained one year. In addition to his practice Mr. Williams was interested in real estate in Detroit, where he resided until 1886 when he returned to Waterford township and took charge of his parents large real estate interests.

In politics Mr. Williams is a prominent Democrat and during 1870 and 1871 he served as alderman of the old 10th Ward in Detroit.

Last Reviewed: 10/29/2020 MR