Charles Williams by O. C. Moore

It has long seemed to the writer that the successful organizer of modern industry deserved a high place in public estimation. The qualities usually found in such a person constitute as rare a combination as can be found in any department of human activity. Those qualities are industry, probity, intelligence, judgment, and executive ability. These virtues will always be found to lie at the foundation of a well ordered and prosperous state. When to these are added enterprise and energy, there is little wanting either to the successful individual or to the growing community. It is to this class of men that New England owes much of its pre-eminence to-day. What the pioneer settlers did to smooth the path for their successors; what the forefathers of the Revolution contributed to establish a new government and place it upon a self-supporting basis,—the men who established the industrial enterprises of New England have done for their posterity and the perpetuity of republican institutions. If New England should be stripped to-morrow of her mills, shops, and foundries, and the wealth and institutions that they in turn have created, New England would be but little more than an obscure and unenterprising hill country, with a diminishing population and lessening influence. She would have a noble and inspiring history, but her glory would be departed.

Hon. Charles Williams, the subject of this sketch, belongs to the untitled American nobility of organizers of industry. He comes of an old industrial stock, and can trace his lineage back, through six generations of workers, to a stalwart ancestor in old Wales. The Williamses formed a large part of the population of Wales, "somewhat like the O's of Ireland and the Mac's of Scotland." It is an interesting fact that the ancestor of Oliver Cromwell, in the fourth remove, was a Williams, known as Morgan ap Williams, of Glamorganshire, Wales, a gentleman of property, who married a sister of Lord Thomas Cromwell, afterwards Earl of Essex. Carlyle speaks of the Protector as "Cromwell alias Williams." The "Encyclopedia Americana" states positively that the genealogy of Cromwell is traced to Richard Williams, who assumed the name of Cromwell from his maternal uncle, Thomas Cromwell, secretary of state to Henry VIII.

However this may be, Richard Williams, the sixth remove in a direct line from the subject of this sketch, came to America from Glamorganshire, Wales, in 1632, and settled in Taunton, Mass. Among his descendants were Hon. John Mason Williams, a distinguished jurist of Massachusetts; Gen. Seth Williams, of Augusta, Me., a graduate of West Point, and a distinguished officer in the Mexican war; Hon. Ruel Williams, of Augusta, Me.; and Hon. Lemuel Williams, a member of congress from Massachusetts. It is a coincidence of note that the occupation of the subject of this sketch, as well as that of his lineal descendants, follows the distinctive characteristic of the Welch ancestry. Glamorganshire is famous for its iron and coal mines, and its iron-works are on the most extensive scale, it having sixty blast furnaces, some of which give employment to six thousand men.

The direct descent from Richard Williams of Taunton is as follows: Benjamin Williams, settled in Easton, Mass.; Josiah Williams, settled at Bridgewater, Mass. Seth Williams, the great-grandfather of Mr. Williams, was born at Bridgewater, May 21, 1722. At the age of eighteen he went to Easton, Mass., and took up one thousand acres of government land. He married Susannah Forbes, of Bridgewater, and built the homestead now standing in Easton. Edward Williams, his son, married Sarah Lothrop, of Bridgewater, in 1772, still retaining the "homestead," where Lieut. Seth Williams, the father of the subject of this sketch, was born January 29, 1776. He was a tanner by trade, and took part in the war of 1812. He married Sarah Mitchael, daughter of Colonel Mitchael, of Bridgewater, Mass., an active man in the Revolutionary war, and for many years a member of the legislature from Easton. They were married in 1800, and lived near the "homestead." They had eight children, Charles, the present subject, being the third son, born at Easton, August 1, 1816.

The first seventeen years of his life were spent on the farm, receiving such rudimentary education as could be obtained at a district school. At the age of eighteen he apprenticed himself to Gen. Shepherd Leach, proprietor of the "Easton Iron-Works," for the term of four years, to learn the foundry business, with a compensation of twenty-five dollars for the first year, fifty dollars for the second, seventy-five dollars for the third, and one hundred and twenty-five dollars for the fourth. By the death of Gen. Leach the contract was surrendered; but young Williams still continued in the employ of his successor, Mr. Lincoln Drake, until the panic of 1837. In this stagnation of business at the East, he determined to go West, and purchased several hundred acres of land near Springfield, Ill. The now flourishing capital of the state was then represented by a few dwelling-houses, one church, and a small hotel. This "New West" could then boast of no railroads, and the difficulty of getting produce to market, which was mainly by flat-boats down the Mississippi, offered but little attraction to farming, and he returned East. For two years he was employed in the foundry at North Chelmsford, Mass., and the subsequent three years in the Amoskeag foundry at Manchester, N. H.

Mr. Williams came to Nashua in 1845, at the age of twenty-nine, endowed with good health, correct habits, and an honorable ambition. In company with his elder brother, Seth, they established the foundry business, under the firm name of S. & C. Williams, erecting a building eighty by one hundred feet, and the business commenced. It was in the same year that two other important and still flourishing industries were begun in Nashua,—the manufacture of shuttles and bobbins by J. & E. Baldwin, and the manufacture of mortise-locks and doorknobs by L. W. Noyes and David Baldwin. This was the day of small beginnings, and only twenty-five hands were employed in the foundry for several years. The business grew steadily, however, and everything seemed propitious. On the second of July, 1849, a fire broke out in the works, and, in spite of all exertions, the entire property was consumed, including all the patterns. The total loss was estimated at forty thousand dollars. It was a staggering blow, as these young men had no insurance. Men of less courage and energy would have succumbed to such a misfortune; but on the very day of the fire the work of rebuilding was begun, and pushed with rapidity, a brick structure taking the place of the wood one destroyed. The partnership of S. & C. Williams was dissolved in 1859, and the business has since been continued by Charles. His brother Seth has been extensively employed in similar business. The business of the Williams foundry in Nashua has steadily increased, and was never more extensive than to-day. The pay-roll shows one hundred and twenty-five hands employed.

Strict attention to business, unyielding integrity, and thorough mastery of his calling have been Mr. Williams's secret of success. He was one of five who organized the Second National Bank, and has since held the position of vice-president of the bank. Mr. Williams was elected a member of the common council soon after the organization of the city, in 1853, but from that time until 1876 he neither sought nor held any political office. In this centennial year, however, his party turned instinctively towards him as its most available candidate for mayor, and at the nominating caucus he received an almost unanimous nomination. The nomination was ratified, and Mr. Williams became the centennial mayor of Nashua. His administration was characterized by the same prudence, fidelity, and success that have crowned his business career. He was nominated for re-election, and the nomination was ratified at the polls by an increased vote and a largely increased majority. One of the social events of Mr. Williams's term of service was the visit of President Hayes and his cabinet to the city, and at the mayor's residence, which was elaborately decorated for the occasion, Mrs. Hayes held a public reception, which was attended by a great throng of people from the city and the surrounding towns.

In his domestic relations Mr. Williams has been one of the most fortunate and happiest of men. In 1846 he married Eliza A. Weston, a cultivated christian woman, and a devoted wife and mother, daughter of Capt. Sutheric Weston, of Antrim, N. H.; both are members of the First Congregational church, Nashua, Rev. Frederick Alvord, pastor. Three children have blessed the union. Seth Weston Williams, born April 15, 1849, a graduate of Yale College, class of 1873, and of Bellevue Medical College, New York. After travel and study in Europe he returned to his native land, and had just entered on the practice of his profession, with the brightest prospects of usefulness and eminence, holding a responsible appointment in Bellevue Hospital, when, on a visit to Portland, he was attacked with congestion of the brain, which terminated his promising career at the age of thirty. The other children are Charles Alden Williams, born August 18, 1851, married October 26, 1881, Kate N. Piper; he was graduated from the scientific department at Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., under Dr. William Taylor, in 1870, and further pursued the same course of study at the school of Technology in Boston, Mass., and will succeed his father in business; and Mrs. Marian Williams-Viets, born March 4, 1854, married, November 8, 1878, Herbert Allen Viets, of Troy, New York.

Feeling in himself the want of an early education, Mr. Williams spared no pains in bestowing superior advantages upon his children, all of whom received a liberal education. In 1873 he planned a year's travel abroad with his family, but the critical condition of business in the country at that time prevented his leaving home. The plan was carried out, however, under the care of Dr. Seth Williams, the trip covering the tour of the Continent, and of the Orient as far east as Damascus.