Calvin Williams

Biography

The Rev. Calvin Williams was a well-known basket maker, religious exhorter and political leader of the Eastern Pequot Tribe.  Born the youngest child of Ammon and Mercy Williams circa 1831, Calvin married Amanda Nedson Douglas, widow of Charles Douglas, on February 25, 1869 in North Stonington, CT.  The couple lived on the Eastern Pequot reservation and Calvin very quickly rose to prominence in community, religious, and political affairs.  Williams was recognized both within and without the Pequot community “as an earnest religious worker”.  In addition to providing for the pastoral care of the Eastern Pequots and others, as early as the summer of 1873 Calvin Williams assumed a leadership role and began writing petitions on behalf of the tribe.  In June of that year, he drafted a remonstrance against a proposed land sale and successfully argued for the replacement of the state appointed overseer.  Williams remained active in the political affairs for the remainder of his life corresponding with state officials about tribal matters as late as 1905.

Calvin and Amanda Nedson Williams, maintained a small farm half-way up the rocky slopes of the Eastern Pequot Reservation in North Stonington, Connecticut.  The 1870 federal census indicates the couple had a fellow Pequot, George Hill, living in the household with them. A decade later, In a June 1,1880 agricultural census, the Williams farm was enumerated, described as consisting of 10 acres of tillage with the land, buildings and fencing valued at $800.00.   While relatively small when compared to other Connecticut farms at the time, it was the largest and most prosperous on the reservation and served as gathering place throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Calvin’s wife Amanda died April 25, 1889.  Less than two years later, on December 23, 1890, Calvin would marry another Eastern Pequot woman, Tamar Emeline Sebastian Swan, thirty years his junior.  Calvin, Liney, as she was known, and her daughter, Sarah, from a previous marriage, lived and worked the farmstead on the reservation. 

In addition to managing the farm, Calvin Williams would work for other local farmers and occasionally at the nearby silica mine. Williams also would make baskets for sale, working primarily with white oak, making market and clothes baskets. Both his wives were also skillful basket makers.  Several examples of Calvin and Amanda’s craft exist in museum collections to this day.

Calvin Williams died at his home on the reservation on July 8, 1913 and was buried two days later at White Hall Cemetery in Stonington, along the banks of the Mystic River.  He had been blind and in poor health for several years. 

Brown and Rose, Black Roots, p.441; Being an Indian in Connecticut, The Eastern Pequot Tribe of Connecticut’s Comments on the Proposed Findings of the Bureau of Acknowledgement and Recognition of March, 2000, pp.133-163; 1870 Federal Census for the Town of North Stonington, CT, Ancestry; 1880 Federal Census for the Town of North Stonington, CT, Ancestry;Agricultural Census. Town of North Stonington, CT 1850-1880, CSL;MacCurdy, Field Notes; Butler, Basket Makers, 41; Norwich Bulletin, July 12, 1913.

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