Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Williams, Jonathan mss., 1738-1869, consist of letters and papers of Jonathan Williams, 1750-1815, merchant and soldier, grand-nephew of Benjamin Franklin and first superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Career: born, May 26, 1750 in Boston; son of Jonathan Williams, merchant, and Grace (Harris) Williams, daughter of Benjamin Franklin's sister, Anne; educated in Boston schools; in 1770 went to London to complete training and to make contacts under Franklin's tutelage; in 1776 joined Franklin in France and was immediately appointed by the commissioners of the Continental Congress to France as their agent at Nantes; became involved in a controversy between Silas Deane and Arthur Lee and resigned as agent, but remained in Europe engaged in various business ventures until Franklin returned home in 1785; married Marianne Alexander of Edinburgh, Scotland, on September 12, 1779; in 1796 became associate judge in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia; served at different times as secretary, councillor, and vice-president of the American Philosophical Society; scientific interests brought him into contact with Thomas Jefferson, who appointed him Inspector of fortifications and superintendent at West Point with the rank of major in 1801; resigned, 1803; reappointed in 1805 with the rank of lieutenant colonel of engineers; planned and supervised the construction of defenses of New York Harbor; resigned from army, July 31, 1812; in War of 1812 served as brevet brigadier general of New York Militia and on a committee in Philadelphia for preparing defenses for the Delaware River; elected to Congress in 1814 but died on May 16, 1815 before taking office.

The bulk of the manuscripts in this collection fall in the period after 1800 and concern themselves with Williams' military service, particularly as Superintendent of West Point and as Inspector of Fortifications. There are many letters and papers relating to the affairs of West Point and numerous letters, documents, plans and drawings of fortifications, coast defenses and harbors of the Eastern United States. There are also a good many family letters, especially correspondence between Jonathan Williams and his wife. Included among these is his so-called "Niagara Journal" in the form of letters from Williams to his wife in the spring and summer of 1801 while he was on a journey to Niagara Falls with General James Wilkinson for the purpose of laying out a road from Buffalo to Niagara and on a trip down the Ohio River.

For the period of Williams' sojourns in England and France there are some accounts, business letters, memoranda, etc., relating to his commercial activities and scientific papers along the line of Benjamin Franklin's interests, particularly those concerned with thermometrical navigation.

Included also are law papers relating to cases before the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia of which Williams was an associate judge, notes relating to the court martial of General James Wilkinson, which began on September 2, 1811, at Fredericktown, Maryland, and letters to and from Wilkinson.

Some of Williams' financial records are contained in the collection. Among these are account books, 1790-1791, 1797- 1800, 1797-1807, 1803-1809, 1805-1807; bank books, 1796-1803, 1804-1807, 1812-1813; a cash book, 1799-1801; and bills, receipts, checks, notes, etc., 1782-1862.

Material connected with Benjamin Franklin includes a journal of a tour made by Benjamin Franklin, Jan Ingenhousz and Williams in 1771 to observe manufacturing and the marble industry in England; letters of Benjamin Franklin to Jonathan Williams, Senior, September 28, 1774, Jonathan Williams, Junior, November 19, 1781, and Jean Louis Girard Soulavie, September 22, 1782, a draft of a "Memoir on Trade" for Dr. Franklin, by Jonathan Williams, Junior, September 15, 1782; a plan for a kitchen fireplace and chimney, 1784, from an idea given to Williams by Franklin; and an undated defense of Franklin's hypothesis for solving the phenomena of light against that of James Bowdoin in a paper presented by Williams to the American Philosophical Society.

For Jonathan Williams, Senior, -1796, father of Jonathan Williams, 1750-1815, and merchant trading to the West Indies, the collection contains records of his transactions as agent for Massachusetts Bay for the Continental lottery of 1776.

Also included in the collection is Benjamin Rush's journal, August 31, 1766-June 23, 1768, as a student at the University of Edinburgh.

Correspondents represented in the collection include John James Abert, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Robert Alexander, Ethan Augustus Allen, John Allen, John Anderson, George Armistead, Walker Keith Armistead, John Armstrong, Richard H. Ashley; John Jacob Astor, Mrs. Sarah (Franklin) Bache, William Bainbridge, Edward Bancroft, Sir Joseph Banks, Samuel Babcock, George Baron, William Amherst Barron, Lloyd Beall, Ebenezer Beebe, Thomas Bennett, George Cranfield Berkeley, Charles Biddle, Clement Biddle, Clement Cornell Biddle, James Biddle, John G. Biddle, Nicholas Biddle, Thomas Biddle, Horace Binney, George Bird, Russell Bissell, John Bliss, Joseph Bloomfield, Nathaniel B. Boileau, Marie V. Boisaubin, George Bomford, Phineas Bond, A.D. Bostwick, Pascal Vincent Bouis, Samuel Bradford, Robert Brent, Peter Arell Browne, Daniel Buck, Daniel Azro Ashley Buck, John H. Buell, Henry Burbeck, William W. Burrows, Anthony Butler, Thomas Butler, F. Cadwalader, Thomas Cadwalader, Dr. Carmichael, John Carter, Samuel Champlin, Martin Chittenden, Auguste Chouteau, Satterlee Clark, William Clark, Henry Clay, DeWitt Clinton, James D. Cobb, Augustus Conant, Joseph Constant, Tench Coxe, James Craig, John Craig, George Wahington Cullum, Thomas Humphrey Cushing, William Cutbush, Mrs. Anne Emily (Rush) Cuthbert, Alexander James Dallas, L.A. d'Allemand, Ekaterina Romanovna (Vorontsova) Dashkova, Henry Dearborn, Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn, Rene Edward DeRussy, Thomas DeRussy, Gabriel Duval, Theodore Dwight, Grace Williams Eaton, William Eustis, Manuel Eyre, John Roger Fenwick, Benjamin Field, Nicholas Fish, Jonathan Fisk, George Fleming, Mahlon Ford, George Fox, Benjamin Franklin, William Franklin, Constant Freeman, Nehemiah Freeman, Benjamin Franklin French, Robert Fulton, Edmund Pendleton Gaines, Albert Gallatin, Peter Gansevoort, William Gates, Thomas Gist, John Goodman, Charles Gratiot, Hyman Gratz, John Faucheraud Grimke, Paul Hamilton, George Harrison, Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, Thomas T. Hewson, George Washington Hight, ---- Houqua, James House, Daniel Hughes, Minor Huntington, J.C. Imbert, Jan Ingenhousz, Charles Jared Ingersoll, Jared Ingersoll, William Irvine, George Izard, Daniel Jackson, Henry Burbeck Jackson, Joseph de Jaudenes y Nebot, William Jones, Peter P.J. Kean, Thomas Ketcham, Lawson Kingsbury, Henry Knox, George Latimer, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, John Lawrence, N. Lawrence, Sampson Lawrence, William C. Leffingwell, Thomas Leiper, Luther Leonard, Simon M. Levy, John Leybourn, John Lillie, William Linnard, Henry Brockholst Livingston, John Livingston, Robert Le Roy Livingston, Louis Lorimier, Pierre Louis Lorimier, William Lorman, Robert Lucas, William MacRea, William McRee, Alexander Macomb, 1748-1833, Alexander Macomb, 1782-1844, Robert Hector Macpherson, Mrs. Mary (Rush) Manners, Jared Mansfield, Ormond Marsh, John Marshall, Milo Masson, Forimond Masson, Francis Desere Masson, Richard Worsam Meade, James Mease, Samuel Meeker, Jonathan Mifflin, Thomas Mifflin, Samuel Latham Mitchill, James Monroe, Thomas Morris, Carlos Martinez de Yrujo y Tacon, James Markham Marshall, marques de Casa Yrujo, John Morton, Gurdon Saltonstall Mumford, Francis B. Murdock, Jean Guillaume Neuville, Juljan Ursyn Niemciewicz, Abimael Youngs Nicoll, John Norris, Robert Weir Osborn, Nathaniel W. Osgood, Samuel Allyne Otis, Alden Partridge, William Partridge, Robert Patterson, William Petty, Timothy Pickering, Zebulon Pike, Zebulon Montgomery Pike, Charles Cotesworth Pickney, Ninian Pickney, John Pintard, Peter Buell Porter, Justus Post, John Hare Powel, August J. Prevost, Joseph Proveaux, John Purdon, James Ramage, Theodore Randell, Edmund Randolph, Thomas Beverly Randolph, William Randolph, Samuel B. Rathbone, Jacob Read, Joseph Reed, John Jacob Ulrich Rivardi, Erastus Roberts, Jonathan Roberts, Hezekiah Rogers, Erastus Root, Benjamin Rush, Mrs. Julia (Stockton) Rush, Julia Williams Rush, Mrs. Nancy Rush, Richard Rush, Samuel Rush, Gilbert Christian Russell, Louis Vincent Joseph Le Blond, comte de Saint- Hilaire; Abraham L. Sands, Adam Seybert, William Simmons, Lewis S. Simond, Benjamin Smith, James Smith, Simon Snyder, W. Spering, Sir Philip Stephens, John Stevens, Amos Stoddard, William Strickland, James Strode Sweringen, Joseph Gardner Swift, George Talcott, William Tatham, George Templeman, Sylvanus Thayer, Alexander Thompson, William Thornton, Thomas Tingey, Daniel D. Tompkins, Joseph Gilbert Totten, Anne Louis de Tousard, Uriah Tracey, Thomas Truxtun, Thomas Tudor Tucker, Edward D. Turner, Antonio Valdes, Louis Valle, Christopher Van De Vinter, A.J. Villard, Hyppolite Henry Villard, Decius Wadsworth, John Baptiste de Barth Walbach, Samuel Ward, Franklin Wharton, Joseph Wharton, John Wheelock, Richard Whiley, Samuel White, John Wickham, Charles Wilkes, John Wilkes, Mrs. Celestine Laveau (Trudeau) Wilkinson, James Wilkinson, Prentiss Willard, Joseph M. Willcox, Alexander John Williams Josiah Williams, Mrs. Julia (Rush) Williams, Mrs. Mariamne (Alexander) Williams, James Wilson, Charles Wollstonecraft, Eleazer Derby Wood, James Wood, John Duncan Wyndham, Christine E. Zoeller.

The manuscripts in the collection have been divided into two chronological arrangements, the first comprising the main body of the manuscripts, 1738-1869, the second being the bills, receipts, checks, notes, etc. The bulk of the latter are for the years, 1790-1814, but there are scattered ones for 1782-1862.

Over-size letters and papers and some manufacturer's samples of cloth are in a folio case.

See the reference to the Jonathan Williams mss. in Dorothy Zuersher, Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Williams and the United States Military Academy. A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the Graduate School at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in partial fulfillment for the degree of Doctor of Education. 1974

Collection size: 7,203 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.