Williams, John (Springfield, IL)

Born: 1808-09-11 Bath County, Kentucky

Died: 1890-05-29 Springfield, Illinois

Flourished: Springfield, Illinois

John Williams was a merchant, banker, and businessman. Williams spent his early years working on the family farm and attending school in the winter months. At the age of fourteen, he started working at a store in Owensville, Kentucky. In the fall of 1824, he left his native Kentucky to join his parents, who had moved to that part of Sangamon County, Illinois that would become Menard County. In October 1824, Williams moved to Springfield and soon acquired a job in Elijah Iles’ store. He worked there for six years before purchasing the store from Iles. In March 1840, he married Lydia Porter, with whom he had six children. An ardent Whig, he was a friend of Abraham Lincoln, and his children played with the Lincoln children. In 1850, Williams was running his store and owned real property valued at $40,000. In 1851, Williams became a charter stockholder in the bank of the Springfield Marine & Fire Insurance Company. After the demise of the Whig Party, he embraced the Republican Party. In 1856, William was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives on the Republican ticket. He campaigned for Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Governor Richard Yates appointed Williams the commissary general of the state, a position he held for two years. President Lincoln appointed him as disbursing agent of the federal government for the building of the federal courthouse and post office in Springfield. In 1864, he chartered the First National Bank and became its first president. After Lincoln’s death, Williams was among those chosen to accompany Lincoln’s body from Washington, DC to Springfield. In 1865, Williams was a member of the board of commissioners responsible for constructing the Springfield waterworks. Williams was a long-time member of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield.

John Carroll Power and S. A. Power, History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois (Springfield, IL: Edwin A. Wilson, 1876), 771-72, 783; Susan Krause, Kelley A. Boston, and Daniel W. Stowell, Now They Belong to the Ages: Abraham Lincoln and his Contemporaries in Oak Ridge Cemetery (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2005), 110-12; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Springfield, Sangamon County, IL, 83; Gravestone, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, IL.