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Works Project Administration – Articles from Rockingham County

BIOGRAPHIES

SUBJECT: Samuel McWilliams (1766-1817)

Samuel McWilliams came to Harrisonburg likely as a schoolmaster. He testified as a witness for the defendant in the
case of Cravens vs Lanahan: I taught school in Harrisonburg in the year 1787, at the time Dennis Lanahan
subscribed for two scholars…remembers James Cravens as a pupil, does not remember Peggy Cravens as a pupil,
but supposes she might have been there. Says he rode sheriff with Robert Cravens about 1792, under Andrew
Shanklin, etc. (Houston Harrison in his Long Grey Trail, page 394)

In 1792 he married Edith Harrison, daughter of Col. Benjamin Harrison, surety Joseph Cravens (Strickler’s
Rockingham County Marriages, page 83)

A short time after his marriage, he was appointed Clerk of the Rockingham County Court. He was the third
to so qualify, and served twenty-five years. In a brief notice regarding him, Johnson, in his “Memorials of Old
Virginia Clerks,” states Samuel McWilliams was appointed to succeed Mr. Henry Ewing in July, 1792 and
continued to hold the office until his death, in February 1817. Mr. McWilliams married Edith Harrison, a daughter
of Col. Benjamin Harrison, January 16, 1792, and resided on what is now known as Watemamo Farm, northeast of
Harrisonburg. His death was caused by a fall from a wagon. Mr. McWilliams’ family has disappeared from the
county, and nothing can now be gathered of his history. (Johnson, “Memorials of Old Virginia Clerks”, page 346.

In the Act of Assembly, December 1797, authorizing the addition of 23 ½ acres of land to the town of
Harrisonburg, the first trustees of the town were appointed among whom were Samuel McWilliams and Asher
Waterman, gentlemen.

Samuel McWilliams is presumed to have been a brother of Gordon McWilliams, who came to
Harrisonburg in May 1797. In 1790, Samuel signed as juror of Rockingham, along with William Cravens and others,
in declaring a tract of land on Linville Creek escheatable, formerly belonging to the Rev. Thomas Jackson. An Act
of Assembly concerning Escheators at the Court House of Rockingham County” was later passed July 26, 1796, as a
result, to terminate the proceedings. (Chalkley, vol. 1, page 481).
Resided the farm known as Watemamo, Samuel McWilliams owned pieces of Real Estate in the town of
Harrisonburg. These properties, and also the farm, were sold by the Executors. One of these town lots is located at
the corner of what is now North High and Elizabeth Streets on the Northwest corner. At that time High Street was
knows as West Street.

In April 1819, the farm place was sold to William Sites, in two conveyances, one of 50 acres, a part of a
larger tract of 104 acres, the second tract of 246 acres less 17 acres sold previously. From what I can gather from the
records, I am inclined to think that all of this farm is now included in the corporate limits of Harrisonburg, tho I am
not positively certain that it is. It may be that the old home is still standing, tho none now living seem to know
anything about the place and can, therefore, give me no information in regard to it. I should like to have traced it
down, and to that end searched very carefully the records. Mr. McWilliams was prominent in the affairs of the town
and the community, highly respected; a good Clerk of the Court, holding that office for twenty-five years, and no
doubt would have continued in that office for years longer but for his death in 1817. Following his death, his family
removed to Christian County, Kentucky, likely in company with some of his wife’s brothers and their families.

The children of Samuel McWilliams and wife Edith were: Peachy, Ashbury, Agatha, who married
Alexander Logan, Nancy, who married Resin Hammond, and Mary.

Sources of Information:
Houston Harrison in his Settlers by the Long Grey Trail; Court House Records.

February 13, 1937 Geo. W. Fetzer

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