1715 Ephraim Williams, Jr. is born in Newton, Massachusetts, the son of Ephraim Sr. (1691-1754) and Elizabeth Jackson Williams (d. 1718). As the great-grandson of Robert Williams (1607-1693), who emigrated from England to Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1638, he is a member of a powerful gentry family holding key positions in the military, church, and judiciary of the Bay Colony.
1718 Ephraim Jr.’s mother dies in April soon after the birth of her second child, Thomas (1718-1775). The two boys are sent to live with their maternal grandparents. In 1719 Ephraim Sr. marries Abigail Jones (b. 1694); six children will be born to the couple.
1733 At about this time, Ephraim Jr., having completed his education (presumably in the village school), is thought to have journeyed to England, Spain, and Holland. His brother, Thomas, studies medicine and in 1739 settles in Deerfield as a doctor.
1737 Ephraim Sr. and his wife and children are selected as one of four white families to settle at the Indian mission in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to which they move in June 1738. These colonists are to serve as neighbors and “exemplars” for the families of Housatonic Indians who had gathered together in 1734 under the missionary John Sergeant (1710-1749).
1739 Ephraim Sr. surveys three townships on the Hoosic River, one of which will later be called Williamstown.
1742 Ephraim Jr.moves to Stockbridge, but his only recorded activity before 1745 is a survey of a parcel of his father’s land late in 1742.
1745 On June 10th Ephraim Jr. receives a commission as captain in the Massachusetts provincial forces and takes over command of a line of forts along the colony’s northern border. The forts are being built in response to the outbreak of war between England and France. Ephraim Jr. resides at Fort Shirley, in the present-day town of Heath, while supervising the completion of Fort Massachusetts, which is critically situated by the Hoosic River, between the future towns of North Adams and Williamstown. Today a plaque in the (former) Price Chopper supermarket parking lot in North Adams marks the site.
1746 Ephraim Jr. moves his headquarters to Fort Massachusetts,but is absent on August 19th, when 950 French and Indians attack the 22-man garrison. The fort eventually surrenders and is put to the torch. The soldiers and their families are forcibly marched to Quebec.
1748 In March, following the reconstruction of Fort Massachusetts, Ephraim Jr. again takes command of the garrison. On May 5th he makes his first will, which includes £ 3 annually for the instruction of the Stockbridge Indians in “Christian knowledge”. In August the fort is attacked once more by French forces, and Ephraim Jr., leading a small party, is nearly caught in an ambush as he makes a foray to rescue several of his men. The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, ending King George’s War, is signed in October.
1749 For the next several years, Ephraim Jr. is often in Stockbridge and Boston seeing to military, family, and personal business. Following a re-survey of the townships on the Hoosic River, the General Court appoints a Committee to lay out house lots in the west township, later Williamstown. The lots are placed on sale in 1750.
1751 Ephraim Jr. purchases two lots in the west township but never builds on them. In Stockbridge, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is called to become leader of the church and mission, succeeding the Reverend John Sergeant, who died in 1749. After Edwards’ arrival in August, hostilities between him and the Williams family flare over theological issues and the management of the Indian mission and schools.
1752 Confidence in Ephraim Sr.’s leadership in the Stockbridge community wanes and his health worsens. Ephraim Jr. takes over management of his father’s considerable estate in Stockbridge, and Ephraim Sr. removes to Deerfield, where he will remain until his death in 1754.
1753 The first settlers arrive in the west township (later Williamstown).
1754 The French and Indian War erupts in May when George Washington is attacked by the French at Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania. Indians destroy a good portion of Hoosick Falls in May, and raid Stockbridge in early September. Ephraim Jr. is reinstated as commander of Fort Massachusetts. The settlers in the west township petition the colonial government for help in defending themselves against the French and Indians. Consistent with the advice of Ephraim Jr.’s cousin, Israel Williams (1709-1789), the military commander of the western district of Massachusetts, the government of the colony fails to respond to the petition. The task of informing the settlers of the government’s position falls to Ephraim Jr.
1755 The year begins with a sharp disappointment for Ephraim Jr. Governor Shirley is planning a campaign to capture the French outpost at Crown Point on Lake Champlain and offers Ephraim a commission in his regiment a full, royal commission, not simply one in the provincial forces. However, Shirley learns that his officers are to be sent from England and thus must withdraw his offer. Subsequently, General William Johnson (1715-1774) is given command of the Crown Point expedition, and Ephraim Jr. accepts a provincial commission in it. Also during the spring, he supposedly courts nineteen-year-old Sarah Williams (1736-1817), daughter of his cousin Israel, but without success.
Shortly after arriving at the military rendezvous in Albany, Ephraim Jr. learns of the defeat of General Edward Braddock on the Monongahela River. Comprehending the seriousness of the campaign ahead of him, he completes a new will on July 22nd and mails it to Israel Williams. In it, he leaves the remainder of his estate, following bequests to family members, to establish and maintain a free school in the township west of Fort Massachusetts, the future Williamstown. He probably had in mind a village school offering instruction at the most elementary level.
By August, Ephraim Jr.’s regiment has marched north to the “Great Carrying Place” on the upper Hudson, later called Fort Edward, and thence to a camp on the shores of Lake George. On September 8th, Ephraim Jr. in command of 1,000 soldiers, and Mohawk sachem “King Hendrick” Theyanoguin leading 150 Indians, are sent back to Fort Edward to assist the troops there in protecting the supply base from the French who have been sighted in the area. On the road, the company is ambushed by 2000 French and Indians; Ephraim Jr. and Theyanoguin are both killed.
By Sylvia Kennick Brown, College Archivist