James Horatio Williams, Sr.

Capt. James Horatio Williams, Sr.

October 8, 1827 - November 17, 1908

James Horatio Williams, Sr. was the son of James Nelson Williams (c.1790's-by 1840) and Elizabeth Barzilla "Zillie" O'Neal (1800-c.1850's). He married Martha O'Neal (1833-1920). They were parents of eight children: Ann Mariah (1850-1930), James Nelson (1855-1892), Euphemia Fair (1859-1924), Brittie Anna (1862-1884), Ephriam (1864- ? ), Tilmon L. (1866-1940), Martha Helen (1869-1954) and James Horatio, Jr. (1873-1958). Horatio and Zillie are both buried in Ocracoke in the Horatio Williams, Sr. Cemetery.

An interesting story tells of how Horatio Williams, captain of the two masted schooner Paragon of Ocracoke, unloaded his cargo in Charleston, South Carolina at the beginning of the Civil War. He was unable to find a return cargo, for the Charlestonians had other things on their minds. When Captain Williams applied on April 12, 1861 to the harbor authorities for clearance, he was told he could not leave Charleston. "The Yankees will get you outside the harbor if you sail now, and besides, we may need your vessel ourselves." The firing on Fort Sumter began that same day and settled the matter in the captain's mind. He was determined that the Charlestonians were not going to get the Paragon and neither were the Yankees. He waited for the right weather and it came that night: moon dark, gusty wind, drizzling rain and even some fog, he pulled his crew out of their favorite tavern, hoisted anchor and sails and silently left the harbor. The boom and flash of the guns helped guide them out to sea. The gray dawn revealed no land and no ships. Williams sailed north and completed his plans as he steered for Ocracoke Inlet. Not needing a pilot, he sailed the Paragon through the inlet, past the anchorage at the island, and across Pamlico Sound. When the crew asked questions, he told them he was keeping the Paragon safe from the war.

Captain Horatio Williams had not been captain of the Paragon long, just since Jobey Wahab had decided to take a job ashore and sold Williams a half-interest in the ship. Wahab had built the Paragon in 1838 at Ocracoke. He had framed her with live oak and red cedar cut on the island, and planked her with good white oak cut up the Roanoke River. And there, Williams told his crew, was where they were going.

Captain Williams sailed up the Roanoke River to where the water was dark, deep, and fresh. He, Tom and Jeb removed the sails and spars and hid them ashore. Then they sank the Paragon. Live oak, red cedar, and good white oak last longer than the life of man when they are submerged in fresh water. Neither Yankees nor Confederates would have the Paragon. She would be neutral. After the sinking they traveled overland to Washington and boarded a fishing sloop bound for Ocracoke.

With his schooner at the bottom of the Roanoke River, Captain Horatio Williams became a farmer, and cultivated truck crops, raised hogs and ran cattle on the island's range. He supplied the local demand and occasionally shipped pork and beef across the sound for sale on the mainland. However, he was not neutral during the war, he was still a Southerner, so he did not deal with the occuping Union forces. He avoided these soldiers as much as possible and had not been taken to Hatteras [drafted into the army] by no damn Buffalo [local born Yankees].

Haratio Williams' contact with these soldiers on Ocracoke came when a lieutenant was sent to buy cattle, and brought with him a sergeant and a squad of men. The lieutenant's purpose was buying, not recruiting, so he informed Williams that the army needed some of his cattle. Williams replied that he didn't sell to Yankees. The lieutenant said that if the owner wouldn't sell, he had the authority to take the cattle. Williams repeated that he wouldn't sell to Yankees, and if they got them, they'd have to take them. Saying that, he stalked off. The lieutenant kept his temper and instructed his sergeant to have the men take a half a dozen of Williams' best cattle. Williams' wife, Martha, had witnessed the confrontation. She told the lieutenant that he had heard her husband and that he wouldn't sell to them, but that if he could pay, to leave the money under a ballast rock by the porch, pointing it out to him. The lieutenant left the greenbacks under the rock as instructed. Mrs. Williams, her patriotism tempered with pragmatism, waited til the Yankees had left and picked up the money, then went into the house. Oral history doesn't reveal when or whether she told the captain.

Eighteen months after the war was over, Captain Williams noted the increase in trade and the demand for vessels, and he was probably tired of farming. He contacted his co-owner of the sunken Paragon, for approval and help in raising her. His former partner, Jobey Wahab had died and his son and heir, Henry Wahab, was running a cotton gin at Germantown in Hyde County. Williams and Wahab, with a few well chosen helpers, sailed up the Roanoke River to the Paragon's underwater location. The captain's son Horatio Williams, Jr. told of the raising in a later account:

Around 1867, Williams and Wahab sold the Paragon to Tilmon Farrow of Ocracoke. No information has been found as to who was in command or the details of the sinking of the Paragon on Frying Pan Shoal in 1885. Captain Williams was then master of the two masted schooner, Annie Wahab. In 1887 he transported his daughter, Martha Helen, and her sister, Euphemia Fair, to New York City and Philadelphia to buy Martha Helen's trousseau for her approching marriage to Isaac Willis O'Neal.

The Civil War on the Outer Banks by Fred M. Mallison
Hyde County History by the Hyde County Historical Society
Williams' of Ocracoke Island by Earl William O'Neal, Jr.

(Permission from Fred M. Mallison to use excerpts and also the photo from the front cover of his book, The Civil War on the Outer Banks) [Photo taken in 1887 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]

� 1999

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