Rev Benajah Williams
Rev Benajah Williams (1789-1864)
The following sketch of Rev. Benajah Williams was written by his grandson, Octavius Lorenzo, who knew him well.
When Thirteen years of age, Benajah removed with his parents from the old home at Pownal, Vt., to Cazenovia, N. Y. At fifteen he was admitted to the Methodist Church---Presumably the first Methodist in the Williams line---* and when a little over 19 he married, his wife being just past 17. In 1816 he was licensed to preach, and was admitted to the Genessee Conference in 1818 and assigned to the old Bloomfield District. In September of the same year he removed to West Mendon, now Honeoye Falls, to be centrally located in his circuit. At Lundy's Lane, Ont. meeting of the Conference he was granted full clerical orders, and in July 1822, at the Vienna, N.Y. meeting was ordained Elder. In 1838 he moved to Naples, Ontario County, N.Y. prior to 1840 he was assigned to the following stations and circuits: Old Bloomfield, Caladonia, Sweeden, Batavia, Danaville, Plattsburg, Naples, Scottsville, Elba, Richmond, and East Liberty.
Having had occasion to visit Honeoye Falls in 1903, I was surprised at the number of people still living who remembered the Methodist preacher of those early days, who visited their humble homes, conducted family prayers, talked of their soul's welfare, distributed tracts and antislavery literature, loaned books, and labored incessantly in the cause of public education. He wore plain but distinctive clothing, a blue Quaker coat, a white stock or neckerchief, and a white plug hat, such as the Harrison campaign has made us familiar with. His religious views were narrow but sincere and most intense. He refused to eat pork or any byproduct thereof; no morsel howsoever savory into which went lard or meat fryings could pass his lips---knowingly. Many were the jobs put up on him by housewives who were unable to link their soul's salvation with abstinence from pork.
Grandfather was a survivor. He carried over into a later day the Spartan self-denial of early Puritanism, intensified, perhaps, by the evidences observable on all hands of falling away from the ancient standards. His family government was severe in the extreme, and woe betide the unlucky child who transgressed the least of the many rules for their religious guidance! A smile exchanged during prayers, or an apple picked up under a tree on the Sabbath, brought the rod. In church matters he followed the teachings of that leader who emphasized the strictest view, and his enforcement of the Methodist Discipline went a degree beyond the letter. Extravagance or display in dress he opposed most bitterly, refusing the communion to women who wore any sort of jewelry, artificial flowers, or ruffles. He did not hesitate to single out members of the congregation, to castigate them openly from the pulpit for any indiscretion of dress or deportment, or even to order them from the house, and to see to the prompt execution of orders. Instrumental music was anathema, and steeples on churches a device of the Devil.
During all of this time he supported his family, or the family supported itself, by farming. Imagine if you can the pioneer life of that period, living in log houses, fighting the wilderness, and upholding such ideals upon a ministerial salary which probably never exceeded $300, entirely paid in country produce.
Even he, himself, seemed to tire of the struggle, for in June, 1840, he sold out in New York State, loaded his family and household chattels into an ox cart, and joined the migration into the Northwestern Reserve (q.v.). He located at Chagrin Falls, near Cleveland, and invested his savings in an iron foundry which he, himself, built and operated. Where in all the earth could you look for less promising material for an Iron Master than an old Circuit Rider? He became no Carnegie, but he made no failure. He built and operated the tiny plant, doubtless with the aid of some of his sons, and made a living turning out plows, sled runners, and stoves. He was never successful, and he pined for his old life; so in 1848 he sold out to his son, John Wesley, and was assigned to the Coudersport, Pa. circuit; in 1850 he was sent to Tarport, in 1851 to the Bradford circuit, and in 1852 to New Hudson. After the New Hudson service he took 'supernumerary relations' and was thereafter engaged in selling Methodist publications, still riding horseback through the territories he once had served.
Despite his eccentricities and extremist views, there was in that grim old veteran much that would reward study, and not a little that would reward imitation. Could one distinguish his accomplishments, his biography would be a rather splendid affair. How much he did to foster the antislavery spirit can never be known, but he was a 'Black Abolitionist' in a time when only stout hearts cared to be so known. He did much for the rural schools of his Circuits, and was one of those chiefly instrumental in establishing the seminary at Cazinovia and the Gennesee Wesleyan at Lima. His heart's desire was realized, for he lived a little more then a year after President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation.
The measure of a man is registered upon two scales, what he would do physically, and what he wouldn't do morally to achieve success. Grandfather scored high on both scales. Consider the fortitude to lay away savings under such conditions to any extent whatsoever ! Yet he not only had the character to endure unlimited privations himself, but---and this test is infinitely more severe---to see and to compel them he loved to do likewise.
Well did I know and dearly did I love my grandma, Jerusha. She was small of stature and most amiable and lovable of disposition. All who remember her recall her quiet, gentle, and refined character, and her loving, motherly kindness. One could not imagine a greater contrast than that between her and her relentless, sanctimonious husband. His word was law, and she never gainsaid it, but like a velvet lining of an iron box, she smoothed every contact. It is strange how so gentle a character could preserve her own personality and liberty of action in the presence of so irresistible a force; but she did it. She bent but she never broke.
I well recall how the children, of whom I was one, would gather around her knee, and coax her to tell stories, which often were fairy tales with their "Fee-fi-fo-fum." Grandfather too, told stories, but they were all biblical, and were calculated to warn the wicked and admonish the transgressor.