William C. Williams
(ca. 1815-1888)

Welsh Immigrant - American Businessman

Bedwelty, Monmouthshire, Wales
to Scranton, Pennsylvania

William C. Williams was born circa 1815 in Bettws, Monmouthshire, Wales. At this point in time we know nothing about his parents, or how he spent his time as a youth. The 1851 census tells us that William married a woman named Mary. Their daughter Elizabeth (1844-1915) was born circa 1844, followed by David C. in 1846, the two being their only known children. Elizabeth married first George Hares and secondly William B. Morley, while David (1836-1923) married Mary Watkins, both children raising families in Scranton/Hyde Park.

In the 1851 census, we find the family living in the village of Victoria, just south of the town Ebbw Vale in Monmouthshire. Victoria, once a part of Bedwellty parish, eventually became part of the parish of Ebbw Vale, and is mentioned in Kelly's 1901 directory of Monmouthshire, as follows:

"EBBW VALE is a parish constituted by Order of the Monmouth County Council, confirmed by an Order of the Local Government Board, dated November 19, 1894, and previously formed into an ecclesiastical parish in the year 1870 from the civil parishes of Aberystruth and Bedwellty, comprising the following places: Ebbw Vale, Briery Hill, Newtown, Pontygof and Victoria."

The village of Victoria, which no longer exists today, was comprised almost entirely of workers houses and cottages built for laborers working in the Victoria colliery to the north and the Victoria Iron Works to the south, the village being situated between the two. It is here, then, that we find the family of William C. Williams in the 1851 census, as follows:

1851 Census, Bedwellty, Monmouthshire, Wales
Number 28, Lethbridge Terrace, Victoria Iron Works

Name Relation Age Occupation Where Born
William Williams Head 35 Labourer, Iron Works Mon, Bettws
Mary Williams Wife 45   Mon, Caerleon
Elizabeth Williams Daur 6   Mon, Bedwas
David Williams Son 4   Mon, Bedwas
Edwin Thomas Lodger 35 Cinder Hauler Mon, Bedwas
David Lewis Lodger 18 Miner, Iron Works Cardigan

The 1851 census provides several valuable details about the Williams family. First, it tells us that William worked for the Victoria Iron Works, and even names the row of cottages where the family lived. In the returns, the Williams family is shown living at number 28 Lethbridge Terrace. Another notable detail from the return is the fact that William's wife Mary was 10 years his senior, a fact that is confirmed by certain other records found in America. She was born in the ancient town of Caerleon, notable for its Roman amphitheater, baths and soldier's barracks. Both Caerleon and Bettws (the latter being William's place of birth), are in the southern part of Monmouthshire, while Victoria/Ebbw Vale lies to the northwest of William and Mary's place of birth. Children Elizabeth and David are shown as being in born on the parish of Bedwas which is southeast of Victoria. Given al this information, it is possible to propose a migration pattern for the family. William was born in Bettws, while Mary was born in nearby Caerleon. We don't know where the two were married, however, we do know that by the time of the birth of their first child, Elizabeth, they had moved to Bedwas. They remained here until at least 1846, their son David being born there in that year, but y 1851 the family had moved north to Victoria, where William gained employment with the Victoria Iron Works. Given this, the biggest family migration was yet to come.

 

Below: View of Lethbridge Terrace, Victoria/Ebbw Vale, Monmouthshire, Wales (date unknown). The worker houses here were built between 1837 and 1839, and were named after Thomas Lethbridge, an official of the Monmouthshire Iron Company. The houses were destroyed in the 1950s.

 

The next record we have for the Williams family is the immigration record of Mary, Elizabeth and David from 1853. On 9 June 1853, Mary, Elizabeth and David arrived at the port of Philadelphia on board the ship "Mary Pleasants." William was not with the family, as it is likely that he emigrated earlier, then sent for the rest of the family, a typical practice in those days.

According to the obituary of David C. Williams, after he and his family emigrated from Wales to America, they settled initially in Danville, Montour County, Pa. Census returns from 1900 and 1910 indicate that the family likely left Wales circa 1853, while the 1860 census tells us that the family moved from Danville to Scranton sometime before 1860. As such, it appears that William C. Williams and his family were still living in Wales when the 1851 census of Monmouthshire was taken, however I have been unable to identify the family there.

The first U.S. record we have of William C. Williams and family in America is the 1860 census of Hyde Park, in what was then Luzerne Co. Pennsylvania, as follows:

1860 Census, Hyde Park Borough, Luzerne Co., Pa., page 217

Name Age Occupation Place of Birth
William C. Williams 35 Laborer Wales
Mary 45   Wales
Eliza. 16   Wales
David 14   Wales
Thomas Philips 35 Laborer Wales

Ironically, the Williams family appears on the same census page as the family of John J. Thomas. As mentioned earlier, Elizabeth's daughter Mary Jane would eventually marry John J. Thomas' son William.

The next glimpse we have of the William C. Williams family comes from the 1870 census. By then there had been some dramatic changes to the Williams family. In 1865 daughter Elizabeth married Civil War soldier and Welsh miner, George Hares, at her father's house in Hyde Park. Unfortunately George died in 1867, and Elizabeth was left widowed with an infant daughter, the aforementioned Mary Jane. In 1870 we find Elizabeth living with her parent's family in Hyde Park's 5th ward, as follows:

1870 Census, 5th Ward, City of Scranton, Luzerne Co., Pa.

Name Age Occupation Real Estate Personal Prop.
Williams, William 58 Grocer-Retail $4,500 $1,000
Mary 68      
David 24 Carpenter    
Hares, Eliza 27 at home    
Mary 5 at home    
Sanders, William 16 Teamster    

The 1870 census tells us that sometime between 1860 and 1870, William C. Williams began operating a grocery store on Main Avenue in Hyde Park. This is confirmed by the following entry in the 1870 city directory of Scranton:

1870 Scranton City Directory
Grocers, Retail
Williams Williams C., Main, n. 6th, H. P.

Subsequent directory listings would reveal that William's grocery store was located at 134 South Main Avenue in Hyde Park's 5th Ward. The grocery store also served as the Williams residence, which was valued at an impressive $4,500 by the census. How our ancestor managed to make the transformation from a simple laborer in 1860, to a successful grocery store owner/businessman in the space of ten years is not known. Regardless, the achievement remains impressive.

According to her grave marker, William's wife Mary died in 1879, a notion that is supported by her absence in the 1880 census. In the returns for that year, the census again lists William as a retail grocer. Living with him were his son David and his wife Mary. David is listed in the returns as a clerk in the store, an indication that he had temporarily given up his trade of carpentry to help his aging father maintain the family business. Daughter Elizabeth is absent because in 1871 she remarried Welsh miner William Morley, and was busy raising her new family nearby in Hyde Park's 4th ward.

Sometime before his death in 1888, William C. Williams remarried a woman named Maria, who is referred to in his will found below. At this point nothing is known of this marriage, nor have I been able to identify Maria in census returns subsequent to William's death.

William C. Williams died on December 16, 1888. His death certificate states that he died from Albumonia(?) at the age of 74 years, 6 months. He was buried two days later in the Washburn Street cemetery in Hyde Park. His will was written several months earlier in February of 1888, and reads as follows:

I, William C. Williams of the City of Scranton, County of Lackawanna, State of Pennsylvania, being of sound mind, memory and understanding, do make and publish this my last Will and Testament, hereby revoking and making void all former wills by me at anytime heretofore made.

First, I direct that my body be decently interred and that my funeral be conducted in a manner corresponding with my estate on life. After the payment of my just debts and funeral expenses, I dispose of such estate as shall remain as follows:

Item - I gave and bequeath to my son David C. Williams and to my daughter Eliza Morley, wife of William Morley, all my personal estate of whatever kind or description, to be divided between them equally, share and share alike. If they, my said children, shall be unable to agree upon such division, me executor hereinafter named shall make such division and his action in doing so shall be final and binding upon both of my said children.

Item - I give and bequeath to my said daughter Eliza Morley, the use and occupancy of my house and lot on Hyde Park Avenue, 4th Ward, Scranton, Pennsylvania, for and during her natural life - she to pay, during such time, all taxes and insurance, and to make necessary repairs. At her death I give devise and bequeath the same to her children in common, and to their heirs and assigns forever.

Item - I give and bequeath to my wife Maria the sum of five dollars each and every month so long as she shall live, to be paid to her by my said son as hereinafter provided. Which said monthly sum or payment shall be in lieu of dower and all her rights under the Intestate laws of this Commonwealth; the same being fully set forth in an agreement made and entered into between my said wife and myself pervious to our marriage.

Item - I give devise and bequeath to my said son David C. Williams, my house and lot where I now reside on Main Street in the 5th Ward of the City of Scranton aforesaid, to have and to hold the same unto my said son and his heirs, and assigns forever. Subject, nevertheless, to the condition or stipulation that from and after my decease he shall will and timely pay or cause to be paid unto my wife Maria Williams the sum of five dollars each and every month so long as she shall live, as hereinbefore bequeathed. An in the event of the death of my said son David C. Williams, or failure to make the payments above stipulated for the period of six consecutive months, I hereby direct, authorize and empower my executor hereinafter named to at once take possession thereof, so long as my said wife shall live, and from the rents and profits, if sufficient, pay to my said wife the said amount of five dollars monthly, and also the necessary expenses for collecting said rents, managing said estate and performing said duty. And then at the death of my said wife my said executor shall re-deliver possession of said property to my said son or his heirs or assigns.

Lastly, I constitute and appoint my friend Benjamin Hughes sole Executor of this my last Will and Testament.

In witness whereof I, William C. Williams, the Testator, have to this my will, written on one sheet of paper, set my hand and seal this 7th day of February A.D. 1888.

William C. Williams (seal)

Signed, sealed, published and declared by the above names William C. Williams, as and for his Last Will and Testament, in the presence of us, who have hereunto subscribed our names at his request as witnesses thereto, in the presence of the said Testator, and of each other.

C.H. Wells
John Wickyer (?)

The will contains several noteworthy points for his descendants to consider. First, the will tells us that following the death of his wife Mary in 1879, William remarried a woman named Maria. William goes to great lengths to see that his second wife receives five dollars a month for the remainder of her life, but nothing else from his estate, making mention of what appears to be a pre-nuptial agreement waiving Maria's normal rights of dower. The somewhat complex conditions of the will, along with the fact that he was a business owner, tells us that William was a man with some education, as he demonstrates a clear understanding of his own financial affairs.

Second, in his will William gives his house on Hyde Park Avenue to his daughter Elizabeth Morley and her heirs. This is no doubt the duplex located at 538-540 North Hyde Park Avenue, a property that remained in the Morley family until the early 1920s. We find Elizabeth and her family living in number 540 in the census of 1900, and shortly thereafter, her son-in-law and daughter William H and Mary Jane Thomas and their family moved next door into 538, where they remained until the early 1920s. This then, answers the question of how the family acquired this property - it originally belonged to William C. Williams, who then gave it to his daughter Elizabeth.

Third, the house on Main Avenue that William gives to his son David C. Williams, was undoubtedly William's residence located at 134 South Main Avenue, identified as such by Scranton city directories. This was also the location from which William C. Williams operated his retail grocery business for many years. This particular piece of property has proved difficult to identify in modern times, as it appears Main Avenue was renumbered in the 20th century.

Lastly, it is interesting that William's executor was no other than Benjamin Hughes, a high-ranking official with the D.L.&W Railroad and President of the West Side Bank. It is certainly interesting that William uses the term "my friend Benjamin Hughes," which indicates something more than just a casual relationship with a man who was arguably Hyde Park's best-known and most influential citizen..

Benjamin Hughes returned his final account of the William C. Williams estate on July 19, 1892. In it we learn that Elizabeth and David managed to successfully divide the household furnishings, and that the remainder of their father's estate amounted to $1,987.08. Deducted from this amount were claims and expenses of $1,913.65, leaving a balance to be distributed to Elizabeth and David of $73.43. Although this may seem like a trivial amount, keep in mind that both Elizabeth and David also received a house from their father's estate.

With his estate settled, the story of William C. Williams comes to a close. Arriving in Hyde Park at a time when the region's industry was beginning to explode, William managed to establish a niche in his community and became a successful businessman. In this regard, William's life is representative of an important chapter in the history of Hyde Park, as he was among that group of Welsh entrepreneurs who broke from the coal and steel industries to become successful American businessmen.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
January 2004
jltbalt1@verizon.net


Below: the Williams-Hares-Morley plot in the Washburn Street cemetery.


Death certificate of William C. Williams
Continue the story with William's daughter Elizabeth Williams Hares-Morley
Return to the main page at the Thomas family web site
Return to the main page at the Thomas GenWeb site

Web site copyright 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved
e-mail: jltbalt1@verizon.net