Williams, John [Cherokee] (ca. 1788–1835)

By: Jack Bryan Carter

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1996

Updated: March 19, 2019

John (Cherokee) Williams, pioneer and trader, was born around 1788, possibly in Tennessee, to Maria Priscilla and Thomas Williams. He first entered Texas from Missouri Territory (now Arkansas) with his family near the Pecan Point area around 1819. Although he was not a Cherokee, Williams spoke the Cherokee language and was closely involved with that tribe. After passing through Nacogdoches in late 1821, he visited the Brazos River at the crossing of the Old San Antonio Road with William B. DeWees and several other families. Apparently he did not settle there, but returned to live near his family in East Texas. He was a resident of the Neches District as early as May 1825 and was living on the west bank of the Neches River in June 1828, when he entertained José María Sánchez. As he never received title to this land, it is likely he was one of the many "squatters" living without consent of the Mexican authorities. While living in the Nacogdoches area Williams twice became embroiled in controversy with the Cherokees. In August 1826 he was accused by Richard Fields, then chief of the Texas Cherokees, of instigating trouble among members of that tribe living on the Red River. In May 1827 Williams told Chief Bowl and Big Mush that all Indian immigrants to East Texas would be forced to leave. He later denied this under examination by the military commander in Nacogdoches.

In late 1829 Williams returned to the Brazos and purchased 1½ leagues of land on both banks of the river at the crossing of the Old San Antonio Road. On October 14, 1829, he took the prescribed oath of allegiance to Mexico and registered his wife Rebecca, aged 28, two sons, four daughters, and twelve slaves. Five years later he was listed as a widower with seven children. Williams's desire to establish a plantation in Stephen F. Austin's colony was frustrated by several conflicts. In 1829 he was warned in strong terms by Austin after reports surfaced that he had been trading arms for stolen horses with the Tawakoni and Waco Indians. A year later the ayuntamiento at San Felipe adopted a resolution that John Williams was a man of bad character who harbored infamous persons; however, since he had made improvements on his land, he was merely placed on probation, but would be removed immediately if there were further reports of his wrongdoing. On August 18, 1832, Williams was arrested by colonists after he rode into the Mexican garrison at Tenoxtitlan and attempted to shoot a peaceful Choctaw Indian. Apparently he was expelled as a result, because later that year Samuel M. Williams reported that John and his brother, Leonard G. Williams, were seeking asylum somewhere above the Old San Antonio Road. This exile was not permanent, however, as John Williams was allowed to make formal application for admission to Austin and S. M. Williams' Upper Colony on June 6, 1834. John Williams was killed on July 11, 1835, at Techuacana Springs while serving in Robert M. Coleman's company of rangers that attacked the Tawakoni Indians in retaliation for alleged depredations against settlements on the Colorado River.

Robert Bruce Blake Research Collection, Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University; Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin; Texas State Archives, Austin; Houston Public Library, Houston. Malcolm D. McLean, comp. and ed., Papers Concerning Robertson's Colony in Texas (19 vols., Arlington: University of Texas at Arlington Press, 1974–93). Nacogdoches Archives, Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University; Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin; Texas State Archives, Austin.

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Exploration
  • Traders

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jack Bryan Carter, “Williams, John [Cherokee],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/williams-john-cherokee.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996
March 19, 2019