submitted by Neal Carter, Sept. 28, 2007


Death of Record of Robert Williams

The flag hanging at half-mast from the city hall this morning gave sad confirmation of last evening’s JOURNAL respecting the approaching demise of Judge Williams. The venerable City Recorder is no more.

The long sickness with only transient flashes of hope from the dark sick chamber, had prepared the city for the fatal tidings, but it could in little measure soften the grief which will be universally felt. In the death of Judge Williams the community has lost more than an efficient public officer; it bids farewell to one who had become in many respects the most striking representative in our midst of the old school of American life, possessing at once an individuality and a history which invested his social and official relations with a peculiar charm and interest.

Deceased was born in Greensberg, the county seat of Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, January 26, 1809. On leaving school he learned the hatter’s trade, but gave it up for the law, which he studied with his brother, Joseph Williams, the first territorial Judge of Iowa and afterwards Chief Justice of the State, having also for his tutor, the celebrated Jere Black. Afterwards we hear of him as clerk in the Pittsburg postoffice and subsequently as head of the firm of Williams, Bingham & Co., at Huntington, Pa., numbering among his clerks the Hon. Hiram Price, so long the Representative from this District and now Indian Commissioner. He subsequently carried on business in Hollidaysburg, Pa., removing to Iowa and Muscatine in April, 1855.

His career in our city is well known. His introduction here was made as editor of the Democratic Enquirer, which he conducted with fearless independence, often arraying his paper against the assumed leadership of his party in this city. Leaving the paper after several years of faithful labor, he accepted an appointment as Deputy Recorder under John W. Lucas, and in 1860 he was appointed postmaster by President Buchanan, whom he numbered among his personal friends. At the close of that administration he removed to a farm in Lake township, where he spent four years, and then reassumed work with his pencil as city editor of the Courier. In 1871 the office of Police Judge was created and he was elected to its administration and in the following year he was elected City Recorder and he has been re-elected to both of these offices at every subsequent term, filling them with rare ability up to the beginning of his last sickness.

Deceased was a Mason and Odd Fellow, but he seemed to take most pleasure in his membership of the Washington Sons of Temperance, a society which flourished nearly a half century ago. He was a Democrat of the Jackson stamp, and never permitted his allegiance to party to falsify his position in regard to temperance. So pronounced were his views upon this subject that he encountered the ill will of the saloon interest of Muscatine who would have defeated his nomination and election to the Judgeship but for the weight of public sentiment sustaining him, the Republican refusing of late years to nominate any candidate in opposition. He was an earnest worker in the temperance reform movement of four years ago and in all his conduct illustrated the Democracy of the day when the party passed prohibitory laws against the saloon and declared from the bench of Iowa that the dram shop is the greatest source of man’s woe and the enemy of the State.

It was as good as opening the cleverest diary of the century, to sit in conversation with Robert Williams. Those changes of vocation and pursuits in his early career were quickly explained in the story of a Bohemian life which filled up many an interval and brought him experiences which lost none of their interest in his recital. We have mentioned his acquaintance with President Buchanan and Jere Black. There was not a politician of eminence in Pennsylvania who was not upon his list, and anecdotes of these men flowed from him without end. Forest, the actor, Poe, the poet, David Paul Brown, the lawyer, Forney, the journalist, and a score of other equally celebrated men in letters, the drama and the professions were his personal acquaintances. Like his brother, the Chief Justice, the Judge was very fond of music and his family thoroughly shared in this taste; but his passion was the drama, and the friend of Forrest was conspicuously seen at every dramatic entertainment of merit visiting our city.

Deceased was married to Miss Julia Lincol, of Philadelphia, who survives him. Of this issue there were five children, Elinor M., Robert B., Sarah B., William L. and Richard C., of whom the first three are living. We think the Judge’s mortal illness really dated from the death of his son Richard, March 1879, when his home was enshrouded in a darkness which few rays have since penetrated, and when his heart was weighted with a sorrow, for himself and others which seemed destined at the time to carry him to the grave. The immediate ill news preceding his death was of about eleven week’s duration and seemed caused by no particular complaint; he was simply called to lay down his burden.

Of Judge Williams’ brothers and sisters, but two sisters survive, Miss Nancy, the beloved member of the Judge’s household, and Mrs. Murphy, of Indiantown, Peru. Of other surviving relatives of deceased, are his niece, Mrs. W. C. Brewster, of New York, and her brothers, Rev. W. Williams, of Missouri, and Joseph Williams, of Memphis, Tenn., children of Judge Williams, and Mrs. John F. Duncombe, of Fort Dodge, daughter of his deceased brother, Major Williams.

Deceased has been a member of the Presbyterian church from youth and was an earnest defender of the old faith.

The funeral services have been appointed at 3 o’clock to-morrow afternoon, at the Presbyterian church.

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