ARCHIVE LIBRARY

AN INTERESTING HISTORY OF A NATCHITOCHES FAMILY …

by Descendents of the Williams Family

One of 318Central.com’s friends from the Natchitoches area was kind enough to share his family history with us. It will give you an insight into the early lives and times of the Williams Family. A lot of time and effort has gone into putting this family’s heritage together and we hope you enjoy these interesting facts!

THE JAMES HENRY WILLIAMS FAMILY

JAMES HENRY WILLIAMS

James Henry Williams was born in Shiloh, Union Parish, Louisiana on May 14, 1855. In 1859, he moved with his parents to Winnfield, Louisiana, where his father, Richard Bray Williams, ran a mercantile business and was the Winn Parish recorder and treasurer. In 1872, the Williams family moved to Colfax, Grant Parish, Louisiana.

James Henry Williams received his primary and secondary education at schools in Winn Parish and also business school at Soule College in New Orleans. Upon returning to Colfax, he operated a mercantile business with his father, under the firm name of R.B. and J.H. Williams. In 1900, James Henry Williams moved to Natchitoches and established the mercantile firm of Williams, Weaver and O’Quinn.

Over the years, he acquired several plantations in Natchitoches and Grant Parishes, including High Die, Plauche, Jericho, Vienna, Favrot, Ferguson, Blanchard, Curry and Sunnyside. He also served as president of the Exchange Bank of Natchitoches (presently the oldest bank in Louisiana under the same name), as vice-president of banks in Montgomery and Colfax, Louisiana and as president of the Natchitoches Cotton Oil Company.

James Henry Williams was married twice. His first wife was Mary Edna Milling, of Winnfield, who was the daughter of Thomas D. Milling and Mary A. Teddlie. Eight children were born of their marriage: Richard Milling Williams (1877—1880); Maria Annette Williams Carroll (1878-1968); Robert Randall Williams (1881-1901); Helena Estelle Williams McNeely (1883-1965); Mary Edna Williams Stephens (1885-1968); Ruth Williams Pierson (1913-1973); Henri D. Williams Alcock (1894-1975) and Pearl Milling Williams (born and died on August 18, 1898).

MARY EDNA MILLING WILLIAMS

In August 1898, Mary Edna Milling Williams developed complications during her pregnancy. James Henry Williams placed her on a riverboat and she was transported to Hotel Dieu Hospital in New Orleans. The complications grew worse and on August 18, 1898, Mary Edna Milling Williams died, along with her infant daughter, Pearl Milling Williams. At the time of Mary Edna Milling Williams death, she was survived by five daughters and one son.

Almost two years to the day of Mary Edna Milling Williams’ death, her surviving son, Randall Williams, also died. Randall Williams was attending business college in Poughkeepsie, New York, and caught pneumonia. His health quickly deteriorated and a telegram was sent to his father, James Henry Williams, informing him of his son’s illness. As James Henry Williams started for Poughkeepsie, he received another telegram informing him that Randall had died. James Henry Williams boarded a train to Poughkeepsie to retrieve Randall’s body. During the return trip to Natchitoches, he refused to be separated from Randall’s coffin. After burying Randall, James Henry WilIiams continued to raise his four daughters, three of whom were minors.

MARIE ELIZA CORNELLA PAYNE WILLIAMS

Marie Eliza Cornella Payne Williams was born on January 19, 1871, at Evergreen Lodge, also referred to as Mulberry Grove, which is located at 1800 Williams Avenue in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Steamboats from New Orleans would stop at Evergreen Lodge and unload furniture and goods for the plantation.

Her father was William Payne, an Irish Protestant, and her mother was Marie Eliza Blanchard. William Payne was previously married to Mary Theresa Long, who died on October 31, 1866, leaving four daughters, Mary Emma (14), Emily Phoebe (12), Mary Ellen (10) and Annie Lee (2). More than three years later, on February 22, 1870, William Payne married Marie Eliza Blanchard. The wedding ceremony took place at the bride’s home, Isle Aux Vaches Plantation. This plantation was located at the head of Cane River’s junction with the Red River.

In addition to the four children from William Payne’s first marriage, six children were born during the marriage of Marie Eliza Payne, one of which was Marie Eliza Cornelia Payne.

Marie Eliza Cornelia, who went by the name Eliza, was the oldest child of William and Marie Eliza Bludworth Payne. Eliza became one of the first students to graduate as a teacher from the Louisiana State Normal School, now known as Northwestern State University, in Natchitoches. She received a teaching assignment at Campti from 1891-1894 and then taught at New Roads, and at Barkley, Louisiana. After teaching at Barkley for several years, she returned to Natchitoches. Her brother-in-law, Dr. Tom Harrison, convinced her to take a teaching position in Grant Parish at Wheeling, Louisiana, now known as Atlanta. Her salary at the Wheeling school was forty dollars per month. At times, she spent almost her entire salary purchasing much needed supplies for the school.

As part of her teaching duties, Eliza was required to contact the Grant Parish School Board about the schools, needs and pupils. It was during one of Eliza’s visits to the Grant Parish School Board that she first came to the attention of one of the school board members, James Henry Williams.

Sometime later, after seeing Eliza at a campground, the following letter dated August 20, 1901 arrived at Eliza’s home from James Henry Williams stating “ Dear Miss Eliza, You will no doubt be surprised to receive a letter from me, one who you … scarcely know at all … hoping you see proper to extend to me the courtesy to call, you can name the date and place I assure you that I shall appreciate the honor very much … Which on the contrary, I shall take no offense if you should in your judgment deem it best that I should not call … I shall never mention same … J.H. Williams”

THE BRIBE, MARRIAGE AND ROSE LAWN

Eliza Payne’s reply was quick and to the point. “August 25, 1901. Dear Sir: Your favor was indeed a great surprise and I appreciate it very much the honor you wish to confer. But, I must frankly assure you that it is useless for you to take any further interest in me. Eliza C. Payne” Through several follow-up letters, James Henry asked Eliza to reconsider her rejection of him, but on April 7, 1902, Eliza’s letter to James Henry left no doubt, “Dear Friend: It grieves me to say again that it is impossible for me to ever regard you otherwise than a friend … Eliza C. Payne.”

James Henry was in a dilemma. After much deliberation, he decided on a plan … he decided to bribe someone. The someone was Payne Harrison, who was Eliza’s nephew and who drove her buggy home every day after school. James Henry spoke with Payne Harrison and after an exchange of several dollar bills, an amazing event occurred: James Henry met Eliza’s buggy on a daily basis at several remote locations. “An astonishing coincidence,” James Henry exclaimed as he handed the reins of his horse to Payne Harrison and climbed into Eliza’s buggy to drive it home.

The bribe was money well spent by James Henry Williams. The marriage of Eliza and James Henry took place at Evergreen on June 30, 1903.

Twenty-five acres of land had previously been purchased for $2,500 that was used by the Lecompte Race Track and run by the Natchitoches Jockey Club. Today the property is located across the Cane River from downtown Natchitoches at the corner of Williams Avenue and St. Maurice Lane.

James Henry had contacted an architectural firm in Nashville, TN. The firm had designed the previously built Natchitoches Parish Courthouse on Second Street and Exchange Bank on Front Street. The same firm designed a three story house built for $15,000 on the property for James Henry and Eliza to call home. It consisted of eleven rooms and nine fireplaces. Construction was completed in September of 1903. The front lawn was planted with a rose garden and the home was named Rose Lawn.

James Henry and Eliza had five children together: Helen Elizabeth “Beth” Williams (1905-1980); James Henry “JH” Williams (1907-1991); Richard Blanchard “RB” Williams (1910-2001); Evelyn Cornelia Williams (1912-1999); and, Joseph Williams (born and died on August 21, 1915).

 

 

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