Samuel May Williams

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Samuel May Williams
Born (1795-10-04)October 4, 1795
Providence, Rhode Island
Died September 13, 1858(1858-09-13) (aged 62)
Galveston, Texas
Ethnicity Anglo-American
Citizenship American, Mexican, Texan
Occupation Secretary, businessman, politician
Spouse(s) Sarah Patterson Scott
Children Joseph Victoria, Austin May, William Howell, Mary Dorothea, Caroline Lucy, Samuel May, Jr., and three others
Parent(s) Howell and Dorothy Wheat Williams

Samuel May Williams (October 4, 1795 – September 13, 1858) was an American businessman, politician, and close associate of Stephen F. Austin.

Early life[edit]

Samuel May Williams was born October 4, 1795, in Providence, Rhode Island, to Howell and Dorothy (Wheat) Williams.[1][2] His ancestors arrived in New England in the 1630s, and his family tree included a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a president of Yale University.[3]

After some schooling in his native city, he apprenticed to his uncle, Nathaniel F. Williams, at the age of fifteen. His uncle was a commission merchant in Baltimore. Later he was employed as supercargo to oversee freight bound for Buenos Aires, where he stayed to conduct further business in South America.[1][2] He traded tobacco with the Karankawa people on Galveston Island as early as 1821.[4] He moved to New Orleans around 1815, where he worked as a bookkeeper. In March 1822, he arrived at Matagorda Bay, Texas, with about ninety settlers equipped with farming implements.[2]

Austin Colony and Texas independence[edit]

In 1823, Stephen F. Austin first hired Williams as a translator and clerk at San Felipe de Austin.[1] In the fall of 1824, Austin appointed Williams as a recording secretary for the Austin Colony. Though Mexico had not yet established an ayuntamiento (local government) in the colony, Austin had told Jose Antonio Saucedo about his intention to establish the recording secretary position with all of the responsibilities of a secretary for an ayuntamiento.[5]

Williams married Sarah Patterson Scott on March 4, 1828, at San Felipe de Austin. A native of Kentucky, she emigrated to Texas with her parents William and Mary Scott in 1824. Sarah Williams gave birth to nine children, five of whom survived to adulthood.[2]

Williams continued to accept additional responsibilities at the Austin Colony. He managed the Public Land Office, and he served as its postmaster from 1826. He served as secretary of the ayuntamiento from 1828 to 1832,[2] a post requiring him to record official documents in Spanish and send them to the state government.[6] Austin later claimed that Williams had been underpaid for his service and later compensated him with 49,000 acres (200 km2) of land in Texas.[1] With his existing land grant of 9,387 acres (37.99 km2), Williams had accumulated more than 58,000 acres (230 km2) of land in Texas.[6]

Early in 1834, he co-founded the partnership of McKinney and Williams, setting up a warehouse at Brazoria, then relocated to Quintana, at the mouth of the Brazos River. The firm operated small steamboats on the Brazos and used its warehouse to manage transfer of freight to and from the larger ships operating on the Gulf of Mexico.[2]

An internal political battle in Mexico caused the state of Coahuila and Texas to split into two capitals. Those loyal to Santa Anna controlled the previous capital, Saltillo, while the rival Federalistas established their capital at Monclova. During meetings at the state capital, Williams bought 100 leagues of land in northeast Texas from the Monclova government at an eighty percent discount. During the trip he also secured a bank charter, while selling $85,000 worth of its stock.[7] However, in November 1835, the Consultation nullified the land deal when it declared all large land grants voided.[8]

In 1835, he represented the Brazos district in the Coahuila and Texas Legislature. Later in the year, he was branded a revolutionary for raising funds to oppose Santa Anna, at which point he moved back to the United States.[2] Williams was selling bank stock in New York when he read about a possible war in Texas. He borrowed against his brother's credit to obtain the 125-ton schooner Invincible on behalf of the Texian rebels.[9] In May of 1836, Williams returned with ammunition and supplies loaded on his schooner, as well as many as 700 volunteers on three other boats.[2] Mostly as a result of procurements Williams made in the United States in 1835, the McKinney and Williams partnership had contracted $99,000 in short-term debt on behalf of the Republic of Texas. The new government was not able to repay the debt.[10][3]


Michel B. Menard had persuaded McKinney and Williams to buy a fifty-percent share in the Galveston City Company before the War for Texas Independence. Menard held a Mexican title to bayside land at the east end of Galveston Island conveyed from Juan Seguin in the name of the Galveston City Company.[2] In December 1836, the Republic of Texas announced it would validate this title in exchange for $50,000 in cash or merchandise. While there is no evidence of any payment to the Texas government, this action transferred land on the east end of the island to the Galveston City Company.[11]

In 1839, the firm received goods from Liverpool, England, and loaded the same ship with Texas cotton, establishing direct trade between England and the Republic of Texas.[2]

In 1839, Williams represented Galveston County in the lower house of the Congress of the Republic of Texas.

Williams was president of the first incorporated bank to operate in Texas. The Commercial and Agricultural Bank opened in Galveston on December 30, 1847, and later established a branch in Brownsville, as well as agencies in New Orleans, New York City, and Akron, Ohio. Williams continued as the bank's president until his death.[2]


Williams died on September 13, 1858.[1] He was survived by his wife and four children. He and his wife are buried at the Trinity Episcopal Cemetery in Galveston.[12] Since he had not recorded a will, he left a contested estate which included large tracts of undeveloped land in addition the other assets valued at $95,000.[13]

His Galveston home, the Samuel May Williams House, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Margaret Swett Henson, "WILLIAMS, SAMUEL MAY," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed November 07, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Nichols, Ruth G. (October 1952). "Samuel May Williams". The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. 56 (2). JSTOR. p. 189-210. 
  3. ^ a b Franz, Joe B. (March 1952). "The Mercantile House of McKinney & Williams, Underwriters of the Texas Revolution". Bulletin of the Business Historical Society. JSTOR. p. 1-18. 
  4. ^ Cartwright, Gary (1998). Galveston: A History of the Island. Fort Worth: TCU Press, p.58.
  5. ^ Barker, Eugene C. (1926, 1969 reprint). The Life of Stephen F. Austin: Founder of Texas, 1793-1836. Austin: University of Texas, p.117.
  6. ^ a b Henson, Margaret Swett (1992). The Samuel May Williams Home. Austin, Texas: Texas Historical Association. p. 4. 
  7. ^ Cartwright, p.60.
  8. ^ Henson (1992), p.5.
  9. ^ Cartwright, p.65.
  10. ^ Henson (1992), p.8-9.
  11. ^ Cartwright, p.71-72.
  12. ^, accessed November 10, 2014.
  13. ^ Henson (1992), p.23.