by Kathy B. Lauder.
Daniel Williams Jr., first sheriff of Davidson County, was born December 11, 1755, the fourth of thirteen children of Daniel and Hannah Echols Williams. Many sources fail to distinguish between the two Daniels, father and son: fellow settler Robert Weakley wrote, “Daniel Williams was originally from Virginia but went to South Carolina before the Revolution. There the Tories shot down two of his sons, in cold blood, at their father’s house.”1 This is a clear reference to Daniel Sr., since Daniel Jr. was 20 years old and unmarried when the American Revolution began, but their identities are not always so obligingly unambiguous. Both Daniels are documented as residing in Middle Tennessee, serving on juries, supervising road construction, and participating in civic activities.
Daniel Williams Jr., along with his brother Sampson, John Buchanan and his brother Alexander, James and John Mulherrin, and others, arrived in the Cumberland region in 1779.2 They had left their families at Clark’s Station, near Danville, Kentucky, “in comparative safety”3 and traveled ahead to establish a settlement. They faced frequent Indian attacks, and several members of the party were injured or killed.
Although Daniel Williams Jr. was the first sheriff of Davidson County, he was not the first sheriff of the district. The colonists had established the Cumberland Court on January 7, 1783, as a regional government to oversee the new settlement. The Court elected John Montgomery district sheriff in January4 and swore him in on February 5, 1783,5 but he was soon replaced by Thomas Fletcher as “Sworn Sheriff of ye Destrict of Cumberland.”6 The hapless Montgomery (almost certainly not the same man as Clarksville’s founder, Col. John Montgomery) appeared in court in January 1784, accused of “Treasonable proceedings on the Mississippi Against the Spaniards.”7 While acquitted of these charges, when Montgomery failed to appear to face subsequent civil allegations, the court seized his property.8
Davidson County, the oldest county in Middle Tennessee, was established by an act of the North Carolina legislature in April 1783 and named for General William Lee Davidson, who had died fighting Cornwallis in the Revolutionary War. At the first session of the Davidson County court, which met October 6, 1783, the justices elected Daniel Williams to a two-year term as sheriff and ordered construction of the first county courthouse and jail.9 The sheriff, paid on a fee basis, made a comfortable living: he received 8 shillings for each arrest and slightly smaller amounts for placing someone in the stocks, collecting bad debts, carrying out whippings and brandings, and so forth.10
According to Col. T. H. Williams, writing to Lyman Draper about 1843, four Williams brothers served as Davidson County Sheriff: Daniel (1755-1823), Sampson (1763-1841), Oliver (1768-1831), and Wright Williams (1776-1815). 11 A list on the website of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department does not include Oliver Williams, but it does name Daniel Williams (elected 1783), Sampson Williams, who served two terms (1789 and 1791-1794), and Wright Williams (1799).12
Daniel Williams Jr. died in Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Sources vary as to his date of death. (2014)
[Note: Many of the period sources quoted in this paper may be found in Paul Clements’ invaluable book, Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements, 1779-1796. (Nashville: Self-published, 2012) References to all such quotes include not only the original published source (Draper, Haywood, Weakley, etc.), but also the page number where that and additional source material may be found in Clements’ book.]
1 Letter from Robert Weakley to Lyman Draper: Draper Papers, 32S, 519-520 (Clements 150).
2 Haywood, John. Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee from its earliest settlement up to the Year 1796. New York: Arno Press, 1971 [ca. 1823].
3 Arnow, Harriette Simpson. Seedtime on the Cumberland. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1960, 218.
4 “Minutes of Cumberland Court,” January 7, 1783. Three Pioneer Tennessee Documents. Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission, 1964, 23.
5 “Minutes of Cumberland Court,” February 5, 1783, 25.
6 “Minutes of Cumberland Court,” March 15, 1783, 29.
7 Wells, Carol. Davidson County, Tennessee, Court Minutes, 1783-1792. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc., 1990, 1-2.8 Wells, 6.
9 Ewing, Andrew, clerk (1783). Davidson County Court Daily Minutes, Vol. A:3. Mf. No 1597. Register’s Office, Davidson County Court House, Nashville, Tennessee. (Clements 199-200)
10 Arnow, 316, note.
11 Williams, Colonel T. H. Williams Family Notes, ca. 1843. Draper Papers, 5XX: 14 (Clements 510).
12 Davidson County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Department. “Our History: List of Davidson County Sheriffs.” http://www.nashville.gov/Sheriffs-Office/About-Us/Our-History/Davidson-County-Sheriffs.aspx (accessed March 26, 2015)
Arnow, Harriette Simpson. Seedtime on the Cumberland. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1960.
Clements, Paul. Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements, 1779-1796. Nashville: Clements, self-published, 2012.
Haywood, John. Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee from its earliest settlement up to the year 1796. New York: Arno Press, 1971 [ca. 1823].