William Williams 1727-1791, Author, Painter and First American Novelist

by Robert Bruce Williams, triple-great-grandson (11/2007)


Self Portrait of William Williams a few years before his death in 1791

In 1933, my father, John F. Williams II(1894-1985) wrote a biography of William Joseph Williams (1759-1823), his great grandfather, and the son of the subject of this web site. He was an exceptional portrait painter, the most famous of his paintings was of George Washington, while he was still a sitting president, in 1794. It was one of my father's passions to pursue his genealogy, something he continued most of his life. He completed a supplement of the biography in 1948, which included copies of letters between George Washington and Governor Henry Lee on the behalf of the artist William J. Williams. My father continued his pursuit, digging up facts about and references to the artist's father, who, he later learned, was also named William Williams. Dad combined the findings of his research with identified supposition to produce the book The Ancestor (1971).

David Howard Dickason, a professor of literature at Indiana University, meantime also became fascinated with William Williams, finding his novel The Journal of Llewllyn Penrose, Seaman an extremely important American literary work. Dickason took on the task of analyzing Penrose, and writing a biography of its author in William Williams, Novelist and Painter of Colonial America (1970). He also brought out a new edition of Penrose (1969), the first to be based on the original manuscript. The eminent scholar, James Thomas Flexner (1908-2003), also wrote enthusiastically: "The activities of this forgotten genius spread across almost every branch of American culture". Dr. Barbara Harrell Carson, a recently retired English literature professor, has written articles about William Williams as well. Some of Barbara Carson's work on William Williams. Look for more of her works soon.

She and I went to Bristol in 2005 and again 2007, seeking to discover further facts about William Williams' Ancestors from the Bristol archives. Those archives are available only in Bristol, and only when viewed on microfiche.

Findings to date: William Williams' ancestors and descendents. (Move through the genealogy tree by using the hyperlinks.)

Williams Family Album by John F. Williams II

The Journal of LLewllyn Penrose, Seaman by William Williams