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Henry Williams

Emmitsburg's Forgotten Revolutionary War Hero

Thomas Schart

(Originally published in the History of Western Maryland. 
Updated by Michael Hillman)

Capt. Henry Williams, of Revolutionary fame was the son of John and Mary Williams, who emigrated from Chester County, Pa., to Frederick County about the year 1753, and settled in the valley of Flat Run on land which, in 1812, he would formally name Fort Henry. (Well over 350 acres in size, Fort Henry is not occupied by Emmit Garden, Silo Hill, and the Jubilee shopping center.)

Henry’s parents were contemporaries of the Reids, Marshalls, Hugheses, Cochrans, Shield's, Annans, Cawicks, Bayards, Pattersons, Nobles, Porters, Coopers, McKessons, and McNairs, etc., who were among the early immigrants from Pennsylvania to the Emmitsburg area. The William's were of Scotch-Irish descent.

Capt. Williams' first wife was a Miss McDonald, and his second wife, a widower, was Jane Witherow With Jane, Henry he had several children.

Mr. William Patterson, one of Capt. Williams' earliest and warmest friends, used to relate that Henry’s first wife often repaired to an old graveyard in Pennsylvania to visit the graves of her parents and strew flowers over them. It was the oldest graveyard in the settlement of Adams County, or in that section of country, except that of the Elders of Frederick County.

Upon the breaking out of the Revolutionary war, Capt. Williams, then quite a young, man, was elected second lieutenant of Capt. William Blair's company, belonging to the regiment commanded by Col. John Eager Howard. [Commonly referred to as "The Flying Camp Battalion"]

When Capt. Blair fell mortally wounded at the battle of Brooklyn Heights, Capt. Williams took charge of the "Game Cock" company, First Lieut. Hockersmith yielding the palm to Lieut. Williams on account of his great popularity with the non-commissioned officers and privates of the company. Under Henry’s command, the company participated in many hard-fought battles, and Capt. Williams was always in the thickest of the fray. Capt.

Williams was a member of the Masonic order, and at an early period of the Revolutionary era enjoyed the friendship of Washington and Lafayette. When Gen. Lafayette was in this country in 1824-26, The Society of the Cincinnati in Baltimore gave him a dinner, and it was agreed that each one would in turn relate something of a personal nature. When it came to the turn of Gen. Lafayette, he related a story highly characteristic of the American troops, as showing,, their eagerness to rush into battle.

"At the siege of Yorktown he said, there were two columns, one of French the other of Americans drawn out to assault two bastions, and both were to move at the same moment. Of course there was much excitement as to who should make the capture first.

In recognition to Gen. Lafayette support of the American cause, he was asked by Washington to led the American Column, as such, Henry Williams reported to him.  Both columns started simultaneously, each one watching the other. On the march William Curran, Jr., of Capt. Williams' company, stepped up to the general, apparently unaware of Gen Lafayette ancestry, and, tapping him on the shoulder, said, "Hurry, general; those dammed Frenchmen will get in before us yet.""

An old resident of Frederick supplies the following concerning Capt. Williams: "My first acquaintance with Capt. Williams was in 1811. He was then a hale and hearty old country gentleman of sixty summers. He had quit the sword, and, like Cincinnatus, had taken to the plow. I often saw him riding in his plain country wagon driven by his trusty yellow servant, Gabriel Briscoe, and his other colored servant, Sam Diggs, accompanying him. I was told by my father that Capt. Williams was a prominent man in the Emmitsburg, District and had served with distinction in the stormy periods of the nation's birth."

In the language of a writer in the Maryland Chronicle of May, 1786, Capt. Williams and his company (recruited chiefly in the Emmitsburg District) "covered themselves with glory and received the special commendation of Washington and Lafayette." Capt. Williams was also very useful and active as the commander of one of the scouting-parties which were engaged in unearthing the Dunmore-White Eyes conspiracy.

When the war was over he returned home to his estate near Emmitsburg, where, until his death, be followed the quiet pursuits of a farmer. He also took an active part in the politics of the county, the State, and nation from 1786 to 1816, but seldom appeared as a candidate for office, although frequently solicited to stand for the House of Delegates, which be invariably declined. He sided with the Democratic party and generally supported its nominees.

In 1812, however, believing with the Democrats of New York and many other States of the Union that DeWitt Clinton was a more energetic statesman, and would carry on the war then waging against Great Britain with more spirit and success than President Madison, and holding to the one-term principle for the Presidency, he yielded to the earnest solicitations of his friends in this county, and announced himself (without any nomination) as a candidate for Presidential elector in the district composed of Frederick, Washington, and Allegheny Counties.

He was chosen in conjunction with Daniel Rentch, of Washington County, by 450 or 500 majority in Frederick County, and about 160 in the district, over Frisby Tilghman and Joshua Cockey, two very popular men, who were the Madison candidates for electors. It was no doubt owing to Capt. William’s Revolutionary record and great personal popularity that the district was carried for Clinton.

Capt. Williams frequently filled the position of a member of the Levy Court and county magistrate, and at the time of his death, in 1821, was a justice of the peace. He was a firm and consistent member of the Presbyterian Church, but was universally respected by the members of other creeds.

That Capt. Williams bestowed special attention to the science of farming appears from the fact that the first essay on that subject ever published in a Frederick paper was written by him, and appeared in the Maryland Chronicle of May 3, 1786. Capt. Williams named one of his sons Washington, after the father of his Country. His other son, John H. Williams, was editor of the Frederick Examiner, and later president of the Frederick County National Bank.

Capt. Henry Williams and Gen. John Ross Key, who resided only about twelve miles apart in Frederick, were bosom fiends. Both entered the Revolutionary war about the same period, said both died about the same time. Gen. Key died at his residence near Middleburg, Frederick Co., May 21, 1821. The people of Emmitsburg and Taneytown District, then in Frederick County, passed resolutions at the time of their decease eulogizing their memories and extolling their public and private virtues.

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Read other articles on the Revolutionary War

Editors note:

This story on Henry Williams was 'discovered' during research for our upcoming article on 'Fort Henry', a name associated in local folklore with a mythical revolutionary war fort, but in reality, was the homestead of some of the bravest men and noble women that any town could ever hope to have.

Much like The History of Stony Branch, 'The of History Fort Henry' tells the story of the land east of Flat Run, including Emitt Gardens and Silo Hill, to Harney Road, and north to North Seton Ave.  Land that Henry Williams called 'Fort Henry'. 

The story leads you thru time, beginning with the earliest settlers and ending with the mysterious fire that destroyed the Baumgarder House, that is still talked about today.  Along the way, we'll tell the stories of the families that called 'Fort Henry' home.

Along the way, take advantage of the many hyperlink detours, each one of which will allow to explore & discover your own way through Emmitsburg's rich history.  

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