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Williams, James H. 1848-1928


Posted By: Judy Moyna (email)
Date: 4/17/2011 at 03:48:26

Death Claims James H. Williams

James H. Williams died at McGregor Jan. 21, 1928 he was nearing his eightieth
birthday. He had been ill since September and under the care of a doctor and
a trained nurse at the home of his sister-in-law Mrs. Thomas Williams.
Shortly before death I. D. Williams of Los Angeles and Mrs. Amy Williams
Hogue, Beverly Hills, Cal., came to join their mother and be with their
uncle at the last.

Funeral services were held in the home at 11:00 a. m. January 23rd. Burial
was at Elkader, Rev. Prescott, Greeley, Iowa, conducting the service.

To most McGregor people who had seen James Williams going about so quietly
and unobtrusively in the many years he has made his home here, it will be a
real surprise doubtless to learn, now he is gone, that all these years,
under the quiet exterior of the man, have been flowing swiftly the restless
life currents of a real adventurer. James Williams was not one who merely
dreamed glamorous experiences as many do. He had the daring to far forth
dangerously and live them.

Reserved almost to the point of taciturnity with people in general, to his
family, and a few friends he admitted to intimacy, “Uncle Jim” personified
thrilling romance. He had a thousand tales to tell of rollicking experiences
and of hair breadth escapes, of strange places and queer peoples he had
visited when for years he roved the seas of the world.

Nor did he lose his adventurous bent. Up to the last he followed the sailing
news. A few days before death, when an account of an accident to a steamer
in a remote part of earth was read, he commented, “I don’t know how it could
have happened. There isn’t a rock in that harbor.”

James Williams was born at Rhyl, Wales, January 27, 1848. His parents had
nine children, but James turned out to be their great anxiety. He developed
a passion for the sea as soon as he was old enough to play on the beach and
watch the white-winged boats sail by. Three times he ran away, once buying
passage on a vessel with pennies he had saved. After the third attempt, his
parents, despairing of conquering his passion, fitted him out and let him
ship as a cabin boy on a sailing vessel bound for Australia. He was only
eleven years old. They never saw him again. When years afterward he returned
to Rhyl for a visit, he found his father and mother both dead.

Early in his sailing experience he dropped Williams from his name and was
known by his given name “James Huston.” He did this, he used to say, so that
if he were on a ship lost at sea, his parents would not know of his death.

Those were the days when nearly all merchantmen were sailing vessels, and it
was on this type of freight boats that James Huston roamed the seas for
thirteen years. Cape Horn, Madagascar, New Zealand, The Suez Canal, Bombay,
all were home to him. There was almost no port in the world that he did not
visit at one time or another.

When the Civil War broke out his best friend was an American. The Yankee
sailor lad decided to go home and fight, and persuaded the young Welshman to
accompany him. After volunteering and seeing some fight on land, he enlisted
in the U. S. Navy and was assigned to the S. S. Oneida, a blockade vessel in
Admiral Farragut’s fleet. After taking part in the battle of Mobile Bay and
the siege of Vicksburg, the Oneida was attached at the close of the war to
the Asiatic squadron. So the young Welshman now a fighting sailor of Uncle
Sam’s soon was on the high seas again.

The Oneida was in eastern waters three years. At one time small pox broke
out on board. As fast as a member of the crew came down with the disease, he
was put on shore and a casket with him, to insure decent burial in case of
death. James Huston was one of the number. He had the disease in light form
and before long was back on board and his casket with him.

In 1870 the Oneida was ordered home and set sail from Yokohama January 28.
When only fourteen miles out she was struck by a British mail steamer, the
Bombay. A hole was torn clear through her hull, and 15 minutes after the
accident she had sunk beneath the waves. Only 52 of the crew and officers
were saved. James Huston,, who captained one of the life boats, was one of
the fortunates.

The sinking of the Oneida aroused intense feeling in the United States and
England because of the testimony of the survivors that the Bombay continued
on its journey after the accident ignoring the distress calls of the Oneida.
The captain of the Bombay was brought to trial and punished.

The survivals of the Oneida were sent to San Francisco. There James Huston
received honorable discharge from the U. S. Navy. It was the close of his
life as a sailor and with it he changed back to the name James Williams. He
came to McGregor and went to work for his brother Thomas. McGregor always
afterward he spoke of as home. He never married, residing with his brother’s
family here. He loved music, had a good voice, and sang for years in the
Methodist church choir.

In business in McGregor and by investments in rice plantations in Louisiana
Mr. Williams accumulated considerable wealth. During the last twenty years
he was away from McGregor a great deal, spending much time in Louisiana and
several winters in California.

In a story of the U. S. S. Oneida which appeared in print some time ago, Mr.
Williams was cited as the last survivor of the tragedy. He was the last of
his family also. None of his eight brothers and sisters is living.

The rover of the family—the one who had chosen to live life dangerously—by a
strange decree of Fate, outlived all the others who had followed life in
conventional ways.

Note—The above article, furnished us by Florence L. Clark of McGregor is
also of interest locally and is printed here because of that feature.

--The Clayton County Register, Elkader, Iowa, Thursday, February 2, 1928, p.


Clayton Obituaries maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen


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