James D. Williams

Infobox Politician
name =James D. Williams

birth_date= January 16, 1808
birth_place= Picaway County, Ohio
death_date= November 20, 1880
death_place= Indianapolis, Indiana
party = Democrat
spouse = Nancy Huffman
children = Seven
religion = Methodist
profession = farmer
nickname = Blue Jeans Bill
order =
office =Indiana House of Representatives
term_start =1844
term_end =1870
office1 =United States House of Representatives
term_start1 =March 4, 1875
term_end1 =January 8, 1877
office2 =Governor of Indiana
order2 =Seventeenth
term_start2 =January 9, 1877
term_end2 =November 20, 1880
predecessor2 =Thomas A. Hendricks
successor2 =Isaac P. Gray

James Douglas Williams (January 16, 1808ndash November 20, 1880) was a farmer and Indiana Democrat politician holding public office for forty-one years, and was the only farmer elected the governor of Indiana and served from 1877 to 1880. He was famed for his frugality with both private and public funds, and was nicknamed "Blue Jeans Bill" for his humble style of dress.


James Douglas Williams was born on January 16, 1808 in Pickaway County, Ohio. He moved with his family to Knox County, Indiana at the age of 10, and settled near Vincennes, Indiana where he remained much of the rest of his life. He received little schooling, but did occasionally attend the log schoolhouse near his home. [Woollen, p. 147] Williams' father died in 1828, and being the oldest son, Williams became the caretaker of his family, continuing to run his fathers farm. In 1831 Williams married Nancy Huffman, and together they had seven children. With Williams regularly in the public service, she ran the family farm for much of her life. She suffered a fall in January, 1880 and died on June 27, 1880.Woollen, p. 148]

Public career

In 1839 Williams first entered public service serving as justice of the peace of Vincennes, Indiana until he resigned in 1843. The same year he was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives and remained in the General Assembly until 1874, serving in both houses. Williams was responsible for the authorship of many bills, including laws that permitted widows to inherit the estate of their husbands. He wrote the bill that established the state's first sinking fund. He also encouraged the development of the State Board of Agriculture and served as a member for sixteen years, during which time he accumulated a large estate of lands.Woollen, p. 149] William became known for his frugality with both public and private money. He never purchased expensive clothing but instead choose to wear homespun clothes and denim, earning him the nick name "Blue Jeans Bill". [Woollen, p. 150]

During the American Civil War Williams' was accused of being a Copperhead when he attempted to interfere with the war effort and submitted legislation to require Governor Oliver Morton to show what the money in the state emergency fund was being spent on. [Gray, p. 182]

In 1872 he was the Democratic candidate for the United States Senate, but was defeated by Oliver Morton. Williams was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Indiana in 1874 and served from 1875 to 1876. During this time he served as chairman of the committee on accounts and was responsible for considerable reform, and significant saving by cutting business costs. While still in Washington he was informed that his party had nominated him to run for governor, and nomination he was not a candidate for. Instead of declining, he decided to not seek reelection to Congress, but instead returned to Indiana to campaign for governor.


Williams was elected governor of Indiana in 1876, defeating future Republican President Benjamin Harrison in a close election, winning by about 5,000 votes. Williams became the only farmer to be elected Governor of Indiana. [Woollen, p. 159] He was inaugurated on January 9, 1877. During his administration he sought and acquired funds to being the construction of a new state capitol building. He sought to run the government with economy but sought increased funding for the state assistance programs to the war veterans. [Gray, p.184]

He was instrumental in finding the funds for Purdue University and was a "women's rights" activist before such a thing was even known championing the right for women to own property. He fought for budegetary constraint and was known for his thrifty management of the house's budgetary committee. [Gray, p. 181]

Starting in late October 1880, Williams developed a kidney infection. His health steadily deteriorated and he died shortly before the ends of his term as governor in Indianapolis, on November 20, 1880. [Woollen, p. 153] James Douglas "Blue Jeans" Williams is buried in a rural Monroe City, Indiana cemetery on ground he donated to establish Walnut Grove Methodist Church near his home. His family purchased a large obelisk for his grave which was unveiled on July 4, 1883, and it still stands above the tiny Bedford Stone church in 2008. [Woollen, p. 157] Many of the members of the church are Williams descendants.


The following is Governor Williams obituary in the New York Times. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9E01E0DF123FEE3ABC4951DFB767838B699FDE]

Gov. Williams Dead.The Home-Life and Public Services Of Indiana's Governor.Indianapolis, Indiana Nov. 20- The illness from which Gov. Williams has been suffering for nearly three weeks terminated fatally at 12:30 o'clock today. Such a result has not been anticipated until within the past 48 hours and even then it was the opinion of his physicians that he might live several days, if not weeks. For 15 years the Governor has been subject to bladder inflammation, and it was this, aggravated by malarial fever, that caused his death. He died in the room he has occupied since his incumbency, the Executive office in the Washington Clubhouse, there being with him his physician, the nurse the wife of the janitor of the building, and Judge Scott, of the Supreme Court, and his son, John Williams, who arrived at midnight from Wheatland, Knox County. the Governor's only other child, Mrs. Eliza Dunn, a widow, was compelled to remain at the homestead, near Wheatland, by sickness. The Governor's death was very peaceful. For 12 hours he had been unconscious and he did not rouse at all, but passed away without a word or a muscular quiver.

James Douglas Williams was born in Pickaway County, Ohio, Jan. 16, 1808. His parents were Virginians. His grandfather was from Scotland, coming to this country in the middle of the eighteenth century and locating on the James River. George Williams, the Governor's father, settled in Ohio in an early day in the history of that State and thence removed to Knox County, Indiana where the family home has been ever since. The Governor's father died in 1828 , leaving him the eldest of a family of six children. He remained with his mother on the farm until he was 21 years old, when he married Nancy Huffman, the daughter of a neighbor, and the two began a life in a rough location on a quarter section of wild land. As the result of their work, the Governor leaves probably the finest farm home in Indiana. His estate, compromising over convert|2000|acre|km2, is in splendid cultivation, and with comfortable, generous improvements.

Mrs. Williams died a few months ago from the effects of a fall, and five of seven children are also buried on the homestead. His wife's death greatly affected the Governor. His associates have noticed a great change in his manner, but never a word of complaint or repining from his lips. At the old home, a room was always kept for his use, fitted up with a broad fireplace and the furniture to which he had been accustomed to in early life. At one of his windows, his wife always sat to welcome him on his return home. Since her death he has not cared to return to the scene of his loss. He went occasionally, but it was always a trial. Recently, his daughter missed him from his usual place, and after a long search he was found in the barn, his grief welling up in great sobs that shook his frame. His domestic life was a happy, homely, modest one.

His public life began in 1839 by election to the office of Justice of the Peace. In 1841 he was elected to the lower house of the State Legislature by 90 majority, though the county was strongly Whig. Defeated in 1843, he was elected in 1845, and successively until, in 1858, he was elected to the State Senate, and kept there almost continuously until 1874. In 1872 he was the caucus nominee of his party for United States Senator to succeed Senator Morton. In 1874 he was elected Representative from the Second Congressional District to succeed the present Supreme Court Judge Niblack. At the expiration of his term he came home to take the candidacy of his party for Governor, in 1876 - he having been nominated as a compromise between Franklin Landers and William S. Holman, between whom the convention of 1876 was divided. He canvassed the State, accompanied by Senator Vorhees and was elected over General Benjamin Harrison by a plurality of 5,500 votes. The Governor wore a suit of blue jeans, the yarn for which was spun by his wife. From this fact he was called "Blue Jeans" Williams." This habit he kept up until within a short time when he bought a suit of clothes of another color and texture. For 16 years he was a member of the State Board of Agriculture, and for 4 years was its President. He was the devoted friend of the common school system of the State in the earlier years of its development, and assisted Gov. Whitcomb and Gov. Wright in laying the foundation for our present splendid school fund. Probably no man in Indiana was better versed in State legislation, as no man has ever served so long a time in its General Assembly.

Governor Williams was 6 feet, 4 inches in stature, of spare build, weighing only 170 pounds. His personal appearance was such that he was called the Abraham Lincoln of Indiana. His angular features and ungainly figure, clad in his homespun jeans, made him a curious spectacle. He was rugged in his virtues, simple in his tastes, Spartan in his honesty, and although uneducated and unpolished, he served the State to the best of his ability, was a pure upright man in all private relations and commanded the respect and confidence of all the people. His last public appearance was three weeks ago tonight at the dedication of the new dining hall of the House of Refuge at Plainfield. He took to his bed on the evening of the Presidential election day, Nov. 2.

A meeting of citizens was held tonight attended by prominent men of all parties. Senator McDonald presided and Secretary of State Shanklin acted as Secretary. Committees were appointed to arrange for the funeral of Gov. Williams. The Committee on Memorial is headed by United States Judge Gresham and is to report to a meeting to be held Monday morning at 9 o'clock. The body will lie in state at the Courthouse from 11 o'clock Monday morning until 5 in the evening. On Tuesday it will be taken to Vincennes and lie in state 3 hours and be then taken to Wheatland for interment. Mayor Caven has issued a proclamation asking for the suspension of business between 11 and 12 o'clock Monday morning and 5 and 6 in the afternoon during which hours the body will be moving from the clubhouse to the Courthouse. A committee consisting of Senator McDonald and General Harrison was appointed to invite the President and Cabinet members of Congress and Governors of adjacent States to attend the funeral. Telegraphic invitations went forward tonight. The pall bearers will be ex Govs Hendricks and Baker, Messrs. English and Landers, Gov. Gray, Mayor Caven, Judge Niblack, Gen. Manson, State House Commissioners Nelson and Morris, W.R. McKeen of Terre Haute, and Judge Scott of the Supreme Court.

Columbus, Ohio, Nov 20 - The flags on the State house here are at half mast as a token of respect to the late Gov. Williams of Indiana.

from The New York Times. Published November 21, 1880.

ee also

*List of Governors of Indiana




External links

* [http://www.statelib.lib.in.us/www/ihb/govportraits/williams.html Biography and portrait from the Indiana Historical Bureau]

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