There is one known photo of Silas Walker Williams. I would say that he was quite dashing, with bright eyes; dark hair; and a pleasant face. In the photo, he is seated. He looks well-dressed. How I would love to be seated beside him right now to converse about his life, his family, and his adventures.
Where would I even begin the questions? I would ask Silas, “Who were your parents? Tell me about them. What was your mother’s name? Where did your name ‘Walker’ come from? Which of your great-grandfather Williams came to the new world, and when, and from where? And why did they come to America?” I would continue, “As long as I have you sitting here, tell me about your wife’s family history and about their personalities, interests, and endeavors.” I would ask, “Please tell me about your childhood. How in the world did you survive the Civil War, and how and why did you find your way to Arkansas, and what was that trip like?” Of course, I would do a lot of listening…. And listening. And note-taking, if I could keep from looking into his engaging eyes, trying to understand his life experiences and perspectives.
What we do know about Silas is he was born in Tennessee on Feb. 11, 1851, so prior to the Civil War. Silas’ grandchildren knew that he had a younger brother named Lenard or Leonard, born April 3, 1860. Lenard stayed in Tennessee after Silas married and headed to Arkansas. His grandchildren, in their ancestral research, visited descendants of Lenard who were still living in Tennessee, and unfortunately, their knowledge of the family history did not shed any more light on the brother’s story than what was already known. The story held by both families was that after the Civil War, the boys were traveling together on horseback. Lenard decided to stay in Tennessee, while Silas traveled on, coming to Arkansas.
By July 17, 1873, Silas was in Tippah County, Mississippi. On that date, at age 22, Silas married Mary Elizabeth Watts (1849-1916), 23-year-old daughter of Vincent (1805-1879) and Nancy Lunicey Watts (1818-1894). On the marriage license, Silas’ name was listed as William Williams. His brother Lenard would have been 13 years old. Why was Silas in Mississippi? Was Lenard with him at that time? Was Lenard living with Silas? Where were their parents?
The addition of Williams as a given name on his marriage license is interesting, for sure. William Williams. William Silas Walker Williams. It is the only time, so far, we have seen the “William” given name used for Silas, but bears acknowledgement for our research.
Now we turn to the family of Silas’ wife Mary Elizabeth Watts, for Silas apparently was all-in with her family as he moved forward with his life. Mary Elizabeth was the granddaughter of Garrett Zachariah Watts (1736-1838) and his wife Anna Self (1766-1855), who have many, many descendants. Garrett Z. is documented as a Revolutionary War pensioner, with a record of his pension enrollment interview transcript available as a historical document. Many researchers wish that the interview had been a little bit longer with more specific documentation of his ancestry, which would have saved many headaches over the years. A significant element in the Garrett Zachariah Watts story is his connection with the Cherokee people, and more documentation in his pension inverview would have clarified the extent and nature of his Cherokee connection.
For our story members of the Watts family had gradually moved westward, from Virginia to Anson County, North Carolina; Georgia; and Perry County, Alabama where Garrett Z. died. As noted, his son Vincent was in Tippah, Mississippi in the 1870’s, but married in 1841 in Obion County, Tennessee and lived several years in Pontotoc County, Mississippi.
By 1860 Vincent Watts’ older brother Malachi Watts had moved to Johnson County, Arkansas. From there, several of Malachi’s children and other family members went to Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma, seeking land ownership promised to tribal members under a particular Cherokee regulation that later was overturned.
On December 16, 1873, Malachi Watts, older brother of Silas’ father-in-law, died in Johnson County, Arkansas, where he happily resided. We know that at some point between July, 1873 when they married and 1879, Silas and Mary Elizabeth moved to Arkansas with parents-in-law Vincent and Nancy Lunicey Watts. The evidence that they moved sooner rather than later is that the first child of Silas and Mary Elizabeth, Silas Vincent Williams, was born in 1874. Some sources suggest a date in March or April of 1874. Perhaps they left immediately after the wedding? Perhaps after uncle Malachi passed away in December? Surely sooner, in order to avoid the winter months of travel?
And what was the route they took to get to Arkansas? A main thoroughfare across the Mississippi has been through the bootheel of Missouri from the northwestern corner of Tennessee. If, in fact, Silas and Lenard were born in Tennessee, they may still have had contacts in Tennessee. If Lenard was with Silas in Mississippi and not keen on uprooting to go to Arkansas, perhaps the family decided to go by way of western Tennessee and make the northern crossing, leaving Lenard with friends and family. There may have been family connections in Western Tennesse, not only from the Williams, but from the Watts, since Vincent and Lunicey married in Tennessee and Vincent’s mother Anna Self had died in Gibson, Tennessee in 1855.
After the move to Arkansas, we do not know the exact movements or timeframe of the family. It is entirely likely that the family stopped by Johnson County, Arkansas to see Malachi, if he was still alive when they arrived, or to visit the family. We know the Watts family was very close, based upon the frequent family reunions through the years. But we do know that by the 1880 census, Silas and his young family were in Jasper Township, Crawford County, Arkansas. The children born and listed in the census were Silas Vincent, Lunicey Matilada Ann, and Ben (Benjamin Leonardlee). Lunicy was living with them as a widow.
Yes, a widow. By 1880. You see, Vincent had been shot and killed in 1879 in or near Crawford County, Arkansas. The assailant is unknown. Some believe the incident was related to a dispute about land when Vincent was inquiring about the land available to Cherokee, which is the story that has been passed down in the family. Or was he on his way to visit his Watts relatives who were living in Muldrow? As yet, no documentation or newspaper account has been located to verify the account or reveal specific information.
Can you imagine the shock of Vincent’s sudden death? One thing we do know about Arkansas in that era was that it was on the edge of lawlessness and injustice. Judge Isaac Parker had just been on the bench since 1875, trying to regain control of the area and the disputes between the Native American tribes and the criminals hiding in the hills. The James gang is documented to have been in the area. It was an ugly time, and losing a beloved husband, father, and grandfather in such a violent way had to have been painful and unnerving.
By the 1900 census, Silas and his family had moved back eastward about 60 miles to Spadra Township, Johnson County, Arkansas. Living with the family were sons Solon and Alfred. We do not have the benefit of the 1890 census, but we know that son Solon Ethel Williams (1884-1947) was born in Ludwig, Johnson County, Arkansas, so it appears that the family was in Crawford County for no longer than 10 years, moving to Johnson County between 1880 to 1884. Ludwig was the area was near the home place of Silas’s uncle Malachi, where many of his children had married and established homes. Also by 1900 Mary Elizabeth’s sister also had moved to the area. By the 1910 census, Silas had died, and we do not know the circumstances of his death. He is buried at Mt. Airy Cemetery, not far from Ludwig.
For a moment, please picture beautiful Ludwig, Arkansas. It is north of Clarksville, north of the Arkansas River. Ludwig is a pretty plateau in the very southern reaches of the Ozark Mountains. The road to Ludwig winds over and around several hills, increasing more and more in elevation with each hill. It became known for farming, especially fruit farming and Arkansas peaches. It would be hard to find a prettier place anywhere. Silas and Mary Elizabeth certainly picked a beautiful and bountiful area to relocate their family.
In each of the census records, Silas’s occupation is listed as a farmer. Based upon the skills of his children, it would be likely that Silas was a very skilled and curious agrarian, learning as much as he could from family and knowedgeable neighbors over the years and sharing the information generously with others. It also is likely that he was a good problem-solver who worked with wood, at least as a carpenter. Silas likely was musical and liked to sing and may have played instruments like fiddle or guitar. His children certainly were musical in all ways. He was Christian, Protestant, and would have attended church. He could read and write. He valued education and taught his children to enjoy music, taking them to touring musical shows. He was interested in new inventions and would have been eager to have them in his home as he could afford them. He was kind and loving. He enjoyed his wife and his children, and he valued family. He encouraged and supported family members. He was soft spoken, but firm and determined and not to be crossed.
It would be interesting to know how much of this described personal dynamic is attributable more to his wife Mary Elizabeth Watts Williams than to Silas. I believe she shared many of his interests and passions, and likely personality traits as well.
So, back to the first question: Who were Silas’ parents?
DNA testing and significant research have not shown any definite answers, although there are some clues. There is a very interesting family with a Silas Williams, with approximate date of birth similar to our Silas, in the 1860 and 1870 census in Haywood County, Tennessee that suggest a father and mother for a Silas Williams. By 1870 census there is a Lenard in the family as well, as you would expect, but by 1870 the boys’ father is gone and mother has remarried a Mr. Hicks. Is this Haywood County family that same as our Silas Walker Williams and brother Lenard’s family? In addition to the names and ages matching, another curious aspect of the census is that the father James L Williams is listed as a shingle maker in 1860, living next door to J. R. Williams who is married, has a family, and is a wagon maker. It seems very likely the two Williams men are either brothers or cousins. Both have died by 1870. The woodworking occupation of the men is consistent with the skill sets of Silas’ son Solon who became a skilled carpenter who built and remodeled houses. Future research needs to find documentation to determine if James L. and J. R Williams fought and/or died in the Civil War and if there are any documents substantiating their identity and heirs. That James and J. Williams are common names in Tennessee and surrounding states during the Civil War complicates the research efforts. The death of the James L. Williams during the time frame of the Civil War is consistent with the family story about Silas Walker Williams and his brother Leonard, whose described wanderings were consistent with a family broken by the war.
Deep ancestry discoveries with Silas’ Y-DNA line have been very fascinating, suggesting a British Isles lineage, very likely Welsh, which helps explain the surnames found during research. Eventually, as more firm research becomes available, results of this line of the Williams deep ancestry will be published. The line is Williams Group 8 in the Williams Surname Project of Family Tree DNA. Williams men who take the FTDNA Y-DNA test can register for the Williams Surname Project and commence the journey of discovery to see which Williams line may be theirs, helping all Williams families sort their lines, both in terms of deep ancestry and more recent heritage and kinship.
Back to our man in the photo. I have a message for you, Mr. William Silas Walker Williams: Thank you for doing your best to protect your family, your little brother, your pregnant wife, and your children. Thank you for allowing your wife to be close to her family when she felt they needed her. Thank you for providing your family and mother-in-law a safe, warm home and food, nurturance, intellectual support, and spiritual and emotional stability. I would love to meet you in person and hear your story in your words. I remain your great admirer.
If you want to know more about William Silas Walker Williams or his wife Mary Elizabeth Watts and her heritage, read Watts, Williams, Vaughn, and Taylor: Pioneer Families of Johnson County, Arkansas, by Drs. Clarence R. and Katala A. Williams, available through Lulu Publishing.