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Jesse Lynch Williams

Jesse Lynch Williams

Male 1807 - 1886

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  • Name  Jesse Lynch Williams 
    Born  6 May 1807  Stokes, North Carolina, USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender  Male 
    Died  9 Oct 1886  Fort Wayne, Allen, Indiana, United States Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID  I13988  My Genealogy
    Last Modified  26 Nov 2012 

    Father  Jesse Williams,   b. 13 Jan 1753, New Garden MM, Guilford, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 21 Dec 1833, White Water Mm, Wayne, Indiana Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Mother  Sarah Terrell,   b. 3 Nov 1763, Bedford, Virginia, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 20 Aug 1833, Richmond, Wayne, Indiana, USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married  9 Jul 1788  New Garden MM, Guilford, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID  F117  Group Sheet

    Family  Susan P. Creighton,   b. 1808, Chillicothe, Ross, Ohio, United States Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 27 Feb 1891, Fort Wayne, Allen, Indiana, United States Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married  15 Nov 1831  Chillicothe, Ross, Ohio, United States Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Children 
     1. William Creighton Williams
     2. Edward Peet Williams,   b. 29 Mar 1838, Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 24 Feb 1910
     3. Meade Creighton Williams,   b. 18 Dec 1840, Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 22 Aug 1906, Mackinac Island, Mackinac, Michigan, United States Find all individuals with events at this location
     4. Henry Martyn Williams,   b. 24 Jan 1843, Fort Wayne, Allen, Indiana, United States Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 11 Aug 1917, Fort Wayne, Allen, Indiana, United States Find all individuals with events at this location
    Last Modified  19 Mar 2007 
    Family ID  F5334  Group Sheet

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 6 May 1807 - Stokes, North Carolina, USA Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - 15 Nov 1831 - Chillicothe, Ross, Ohio, United States Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 9 Oct 1886 - Fort Wayne, Allen, Indiana, United States Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Maps 
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Headstones
    Jesse Lynch Williams
    Jesse Lynch Williams
    Jesse Lynch Williams 1807-1886

  • Notes 
    • «b»Time ran out on canal era
      «/b»
      «b»By MICHAEL HAWFIELD«/b»
      «i»from the archives of The News-Sentinel «/i»
      It is an undistinguished spot at the intersection of Rumsey and Wheeler streets just west of the Norfolk & Western and the Penn Central crossing on Fort Wayne's west side.
      But this intersection marks the place where, 152 years ago, the great Wabash & Erie Canal was begun. This was the summit of the canal, which gave rise to the nickname "Summit City" for Fort Wayne. Here, the feeder canal that began seven miles away on the upper St. Joseph River met the main canal channel just before it crossed the St. Marys River to enter the city. The Wabash & Erie Canal that cut through the city was the longest man-made waterway in America.
      George Washington's idea

      A canal connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River Valley via the old portage area of the Maumee and Wabash rivers first was suggested by George Washington in the 1790s.
      In 1823, Fort Wayne's Samuel Hanna began to push the Indiana General Assembly for a canal.
      In 1824, the state authorized the first surveys to be made, and by 1827, the federal government had granted Indiana every alternate section of land along the proposed route, or about 3,200 acres.
      The groundbreaking for the canal project was Feb. 22, 1832. A celebration was set for the community of about 300 inhabitants.
      The first part of the project was the construction of the feeder canal, which was laid out to run from near present-day Shoaff Park to the summit.
      This auxiliary canal was necessary to bring sufficient water to the main channel at its highest point. The feeder was begun in 1832 with the construction of a large dam on the St. Joseph River. Made up of trees, sand, boulders and gravel, the dam was 17 feet high and 230 feet across the river.
      The feeder canal itself was dug along the length of the western bank of the St. Joseph River (the trench can be seen clearly today in Johnny Appleseed Park), and was taken west across the Bloomingdale neighborhood to the southern end of Rumsey Street. When the feeder canal was finished in 1834, "the indefatigable F.P. Tinkham" built a special flatboat for the first canal ride. According to the accounts, the "entire population" boarded Tinkham's raft and poled themselves the seven miles up the feeder to the dam and "spent the day (Fourth of July) eating, drinking and making merry."
      Continental Divide here

      The summit of the canal, 198 feet above the level of Lake Erie (790 feet above sea level), was the high point of the great geological depression or trough formed in the last ice age. It marks the Continental Divide between the rivers that eventually run to the Atlantic (the Maumee) and those (the Wabash) that empty at last into the Gulf of Mexico.
      In 1832, Jesse Lynch Williams was named chief engineer of the canal. Born in 1807 near Danbury, N.C., Williams was the grandson of Judge John Lynch, the founder of Lynchburg, Va., and "Lynch Law" (which arose out of the judge's summary treatment of Tories during the Revolution). Of Quaker parentage, Jesse moved to the frontier town of Cincinnati in 1819, and there became involved in the canal that his brother Micajah laid out between the Maumee River and Cincinnati.
      Jesse Williams came to Fort Wayne in 1832 with his wife, Susan Creighton, after whom Creighton Avenue was named. She was the daughter of William Creighton, a congressman from Virginia during the War of 1812 (and later first secretary of state for Ohio) and the granddaughter of David Meade, the subject of English novelist William Thackeray's tale, "The Virginians ."
      Rise of Jesse Williams

      Jesse Williams' successes with the Wabash & Erie Canal led to his appointment in 1834 as chief engineer of the entire Indiana canal system, and in 1837, as engineer of all of Indiana's transportation byways. After the canal's heyday, Williams was one of those instrumental in bringing the railroad to Fort Wayne, and he was named by President Lincoln (who became a friend) a director of the Union Pacific Railroad. Williams engineered the eastern link-up of the first transcontinental railroad at Ogden, Utah.
      Work on the main canal was a huge undertaking. A ditch averaging 50 feet in width and 6 feet deep, with several feeder canals and well-constructed locks for raising and lowering the boats on the canal path, required extraordinary labor. Disease and accidents in some sections claimed an estimated one life for every six feet of canal dug in the 452 miles from Toledo, Ohio, to Evansville. The "Jigger Boss" worked the lines of laborers, who were mostly Irish and German immigrants who were paid $10 to $13 per month. Barrels of whiskey were provided "to ward off fever and protect from snakebite."
      The Fort Wayne-to-Flint Springs (Huntington) leg opened and began earning money in 1835.
      Land sales boomed

      By 1838, the way to Logansport was opened, and the land sales boom came into full swing. Despite the financial panic of 1837 and the gross overextension of state credit to finance the canal, optimism for its success ran high. In 1843, on the Fourth of July, another celebration was held to commemorate the opening of the entire canal from Lake Erie to Lafayette. Presidential candidate and War of 1812 hero General Lewis Cass was the guest of honor. At sunrise, a cannon from the War of 1812 - the same one that today stands before the visitor center of Historic Fort Wayne - was fired.
      These were the great days of the canal. The rates were reasonable ($3.35 from Toledo to Fort Wayne) and the travel was safe. Real excitement came with the appearance of the showboats that could seat as many as 100 for the minstrel shows.
      These could be sad boats, too. In 1846, hundreds of Miamis were herded onto canal boats in Fort Wayne to be removed to the Ohio River and from there to new homes in Oklahoma.
      Over so soon

      The heyday of the canal lasted only about a decade.
      Financially, the canal had failed before it was completed. Revenues earned by canal use were greatly overestimated and never paid for more than a small fraction of the cost of the enterprise.
      The coming of the railroads in the 1850s hastened the fate of the canal as it was used less and less. By 1874, the canal was abandoned.
      «i»--Sept. 12, 1994


      «/i»Jesse Lynch Williams was the chief engineer in the building of both the canal system and the railroad system in Northern Indiana. He was a business partner of Allen Hamilton. His wife was Susan Creighton from Ohio.
      From Allen Hamilton: The evolution of a Frontier Capitalist by Allyn Wetmore, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana dissertation August 1974 , pgs, 263-269 :
      "Early in 1842 Allen initiated a partnership with Jesse Williams which would engage in retailing and the building and operating of a flour mill. Williams, who was thirty-four years old, had been the chief engineer for the Wabash and Erie Canal in 1832 and was chosen in 1836 to occupy the same position in regard to the entire internal improvements system in Indiana. Although he was quite young, he was a responsible individual with much of the aggressiveness of Cyrus Taber (Allen's other business partner).
      "Williams had received other offers to enter into partnerships, but he chose the one with Hamilton, probably because of Hamilton's capital resources, his earlier success in the retail business, his excellent business connections, and because the increasing production of wheat in northern Indiana promised profits to those who could build a good mill. The mill would demand business skill and connections much along the lines of the Indian trade (that Allen engaged in) for not only would the supply of wheat need to be tapped efficiently (because of competition with other mills) but it also demanded good connections in New York, since a knowledge of market conditions, freight rates and marketing facilities was vital to the success of such an enterprise. Hamilton could offer most of this to the partnership, while Williams, an engineer, could be sure the mill was located and built properly. Williams also could tend to the day-to-day operations of the mill and the store. It is interesting to note that the two considered setting up a store at Logansport or Fort Wayne, which indicates that Hamilton was not entirely prepared to abandon the active running of this business. Certainly the fact that he considered and finally did set up the store at Fort Wayne indicates that his other activities demanded a large amount of his time.
      "Williams had a great many ideas to offer concerning the location and construction of the mill, which was necessary in view of Hamilton's lack of knowledge in this area. By June, Williams was preparing to move his family to Fort Wayne, Shortly thereafter he let the contracts for the mill which was built on the canal at Clinton Street in Fort Wayne to take advantage of the water power it offered. The mill was constructed by the end of 1842.
      "Hamilton agreed to invest ten thousand dollars in the firm (which he would receive at its dissolution) while Williams was to "give all his time to the business of the firm" , which included the erection and running of the mill and superintending the store. Hamilton charged the firm no interest on the ten thousand dollars in return for which Williams was to provide additional services to the firm, presumably traveling to New York to purchase merchandise for the store and similar tasks. Profits were to be divided equally between the partners and they could purchase goods for the use of their families from the store at twenty-five percent over their total costs. Since this was, undoubtedly, a better price than at other stores, this gives one an idea of the size of the mark-up on their goods. The partnership was to last for five years, until May 1948 but it could be dissolved on six month's notice by either of the partners.
      "The size of the store can be imagined not only by its capitalization but also by its need for one or more clerks The expanding immigrant population of Fort Wayne demanded a slight adjustment if the store was to compete with others. Williams, acknowledging the valuable New York connections of Hamilton, noted that the firm could "buy as well as others" but that the store would only succeed if it could compete with other stores. Therefore, he suggested that the "right kind" of young man be employed in it, especially those who spoke German.
      "By September 1842 the firm had ordered goods worth over one-fourth of its capitalization from wholesalers in New York. The following month they placed several advertisements in the Fort Wayne Sentinel offering for sale such items as shoes, "gentlemen's fine boots", slippers, batting, wicking, cotton yarn, trace chains and log chains. They had also ordered china, wool, flannel, shirting and chintz from New York.
      "In order to construct a flour mill Hamilton and Williams first needed a suitable water power site. In April, 1842 Williams wrote to Hamilton concerning the urgency of purchasing a certain site near Fort in Wayne in order to be in a position to supply the city with flour in the winter. When all of the bids were in for the Fort Wayne water power site, Hamilton and Williams had submitted the successful bid of two hundred and ten dollars. A year latter the firm signed a contract to have the flour transported from Fort Wayne to New York for one dollar and twenty-five cents per barrel. In May and June of 1844 the net profits of this venture were $11,625.50. "
      Main Author: Williams, J. L. (Jesse Lynch), 1807-1886. Title: Fort Wayne, the summit city / Publisher: [Fort Wayne : Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County], 1953.
      Main Author: Williams J. L. (Jesse Lynch), 1807-1886. Title: Historical sketch of the First Presbyterian Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana : with early reminiscences of the place : a lecture before the congregation, Oct. 16, 1881, the semi-centennial of its organization. Publisher: Fort Wayne, [Ind.] : Daily News, [1881]
      Main Author: Williams, J. L. (Jesse Lynch), 1807-1886. Title: Experimental survey and report of Crooked Creek and Clifty routes to Madison, Ind. / Publisher: Indianapolis : [s.n.], 1848
    • (Research):«b»A1751«/b»
      «b»Williams-Creighton Family.«/b»
      «b»Papers, 1831-1891. «/b»11 boxes.
      Jesse Lynch Williams was born on 6 May 1807, in Stokes County, North Carolina. In 1820, he moved with his family to Richmond, Indiana. On 15 November 1830, Williams married Susan Creighton, daughter of United States Congressman William Creighton, of Chillicothe, Ohio. They had three sons: Edward, Meade, and Henry. Jesse Williams worked as an engineer on canals and railroads mainly in Ohio and Indiana, serving as chief engineer on the Wabash and Erie Canal, and the Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln appointed Williams as a government director for the Union Pacific Railroad, a position he held until 1869. Williams also worked closely with the Presbyterian Church, and helped found the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Williams died in Fort Wayne on 9 October 1886.
      Collection consists primarily of correspondence between various members of the Williams and Creighton families and their friends which document the activities of the family.
      Finding aid available.
      Cite as: Williams-Creighton Family Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.