Ephraim Williams, Jr. was a popular leader in the Massachusetts militia in the 1700s. He encouraged westward expansion in the colony and was the benefactor of Williams College.
Ephraim Williams, Jr. came from a prominent family in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and eventually came into possession of a large estate in Stockbridge. He was also a member of the militia and was placed in charge of the construction of Fort Massachusetts during King George’s War. He was called back into service during the French and Indian War. He died at the Battle of Lake George, during the Bloody Morning Scout. Williams College was built on the estate he left behind, in accordance with his will.
Facts About His Early Life, Education, and Family
- Born on March 7, 1715, in Newton, Massachusetts.
- Parents were Ephraim Williams, Sr. and Elizabeth Jackson Williams.
- He was raised by his maternal grandparents after his mother died in childbirth in 1718.
- The Williams family was highly regarded and was part of the group that was referred to as the “River Gods” in western Massachusetts. The families were given the name due to their proximity to the Connecticut River.
- Married Abigail Jones in 1719. They had six children.
Facts About His Early Military, Political, and Professional Career
- Moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1742.
- After King George’s War, he played a key role in the settlement of the western part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
- Made his first will on May 5, 1748, which set aside money to help fund the education of the Stockbridge Indians in Christianity.
- Took over management of his father’s estate in Stockbridge in 1752.
- After the defeat of General Edward Braddock at the Battle of Monongahela in 1755, he drafted a new will. The new will left a large portion of his estate to be used for a free school, to be located in the township west of Fort Massachusetts, which would later become Williamstown.
Facts About His Role in King George’s War
- Received a commission in the Massachusetts militia on June 10, 1745, and was placed in command of forts on the northern border of the colony.
- Lived at Fort Shirley and oversaw the completion of Fort Massachusetts.
- Moved his headquarters to Fort Massachusetts in 1746, but was not there when the French and their Indian allies attacked and overtook the fort on August 19.
- Was placed in command of Fort Massachusetts in 1748, after the fort was rebuilt.
Facts About His Role in the French and Indian War
- Was reinstated as commander of Fort Massachusetts in 1754 after George Washington was defeated at Fort Necessity, and Indians began raided Stockbridge in September.
- Was given a royal commission by Governor William Shirley in 1755. However, when Shirley was told his officers would be coming from England, and not from the Massachusetts Bay colony he had to withdraw from the commission.
- Williams accepted a commission to serve under Sir William Johnson in the expedition to attack Crown Point, which was part of Britain’s strategy to attack French fortifications in the summer of 1755. Williams commanded 10 companies, including Roger’s Rangers and Burke’s Rangers. One of his aides was William Williams, who would be one of Connecticut’s signers of the Declaration of Independence.
- His regiment reached the “Great Carrying Place,” a 15-mile stretch of swampy land between the Hudson River and Lake George, in August.
- On September 8, 1755, he was leading troops to Fort Lyman (later called Fort Edward) to help fortify the fort against a suspected attack from French forces and their Indian allies. His force was accompanied by Mohawk Indians led by King Hendrick (Theyanoguin).
- They were ambushed by the French and their Indian allies in what is called the Bloody Morning Scout, the first engagement of the Battle of Lake George.
- When his men panicked, Williams jumped on top of a rock so they could see him, and tried to rally them.
- Williams and King Hendrick were both killed in the battle. Williams was shot while he was on top of the rock.
- Williams was buried nearby the road where the ambush took place. His body was eventually disinterred and moved to a permanent grave in Thompson Chapel at Williams College. A stone marker with his initials on it was placed at the site of the original grave.
Ephraim Williams and Yankee Doodle Dandy
Although Williams is regarded as a hero for his service to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, there has always been speculation that he failed to send Indians as advance scouts are what led to the rout at the Bloody Morning Scout. What may have also contributed to this perception is the fact that one of the earliest versions of the song Yankee Doodle Dandy appears to poke fun at him.
Brother Ephraim sold his cow
To buy him a commission
And then he went to Canada to fight for the nation.
But when Ephraim he came home
He proved an arrant coward,
He wouldn’t fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devoured.
The song was originally written by Richard Shuckburgh, a surgeon in the British army, who was stationed at Fort Craillo in New York in 1755.