Governor Joseph Williams
A Collection of Biographical Sketches of all the Governors since the formation of the State.
Prepaired under the direction of Henry Chase
Portland, ME.
The Lakeside Press, Publisher

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JOSEPH H. WILLIAMS of Augusta was born at Augusta, Feb. 15, 1814. He is a son of the late Hon. Reuel Williams and Sarah Lowell (Cony) Williams, a daughter of Hon. Daniel Cony. Reuel Williams was born in Augusta, then Hallowell, June 2, 1783. There he lived his whole life and died July 25, 1862. His father was Seth Williams, who emigrated from Stoughton, Mass., to Augusta in 1779. Reuel Williams was a man of great natural ability, of untiring energy and perseverance, and, as a matter of course, he was a power in the Kennebec Valley. He was largely a self-made man. Before he was fifteen years old, he had fitted himself for college while working as a shoe-maker. At one time he was toll-gatherer for the bridge at Augusta which was built across the Kermebec in 1798. He was admitted to the Bar in 1804, and rose rapidly in his profession. In 1822-5 he was in the House of Representatives, and in 1826-8 he was a member of the State Senate. He was influential in locating the State Capital at Augusta. In 1822 he became one of the forty-nine corporate members of the Maine Historical Society. February 22, 1837. he became a United States Senator. He was re-elected in 1839 for the full term, but in 1843 he resigned to attend to his private business. Mr. Williams was one of the foremost promoters of the Kennebec & Portland Railroad. It was in this enterprise that he lost large sums of money, but he once said that, considering the great public good that had been accomplished, he did not think he much regretted the loss. He held many offices and was a leader in many other enterprises.

Joseph H. was educated in the public schools and at a boys' boarding-school at Wiscasset, taught by Hezekiah Packard. He entered Harvard College in 1830, graduating in 1834. He then attended the Dame Law School, Cambridge, two years, and began the practice of his profession in 1837, succeeding to his father's extensive law business on the latter's election to the Senate. He remained in practice twenty-five years, until the death of his father, in 1862, when the care of settling a large estate made it necessary for him to relinquish the greater part of his law practice. Governor Washburn, at this time, complimented Mr. Williams with a nomination to a seat on the Bench of the Supreme Court, but growing infirmities and increasing cares made it necessary for him to decline the honor.

Reuel Williams was an ardent Democrat, and his son, Joseph, followed in his footsteps in his early years. In 1854, then a member of the Democratic State Convention and chairman of the Committee on Resolutions, he felt compelled to disapprove of the administration of President Pierce, who had forfeited, in his opinion, all claim to further allegiance by an approval of the bill to repeal the Missouri Compromise. From that time Mr. Williams ceased to vote with the Democratic party as long as the interests of slavery continued to shape political issues. In 1856 he took an active part in the presidential election, and entered the canvass in support of the Fremont ticket, doing good service wherever called, but with no thought of being recognized for promotion at the end of the campaign. On returning home, just before the annual election, he found his name bad been put upon the Republican ticket for Kennebec Senators by a convention which had met, acted, and adjourned without previous public intimation of such a purpose. The result was an election of the ticket bearing his name.

At the beginning of the session in 1857 Mr. Williams was elected to preside over the Senate, and it was by virtue of this office that he became Governor of the State. Mr. Hamlin was elected Governor in 1856 and took the gubernatorial chair the following January. On February 25, 1857, he resigned the Governorship to accept the United States Senatorship, and Mr. Williams succeeded him as Governor of the State. He discharged the duties of the office acceptably and with credit to himself. He was urged to become a candidate for the office the coming year, but he was not anxious for it. Mr. Williams was never an advocate of the theory of prohibition, though always a temperate man, and he felt that at that time, with prohibition as one of the leading planks of the platform, he would not be the logical candidate of the new party. During the war he was a strong supporter of all war measures and a valued adviser of the Governor. He was in the Legislature in 1864-5, and once or twice after that time. He still resides in Augusta in the quiet enjoyment of a fine home and the high respect of the citizens of the city. All the time he cares to devote to business is required in the care of his large estate.

Mr. Williams was married, September 26, 1842, to Apphia Putnam, daughter of Sylvester Judd, of Northampton, Mass., who was the father of Rev. Sylvester Judd, formerly a brilliant pastor of the Unitarian Church in Augusta. They have no living children.

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