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Williams Family Papers

Identifier: mss-861

Scope and Contents

Norman's records are mainly legal, relating to the Windsor County Court, and financial, relating to banking in Woodstock, Vermont. A small amount of household records are present.

Edward's records mainly consist of received correspondence during the Civil War. Captain Herbert M. Blake from the 89th Illinois regiment is a common correspondent. Of particular note are signed letters to Edward from General William Tecumseh Sherman and General Ulysses S. Grant. Several card-size images document persons involved in the Civil War, including national figures and members of the Williams family.


  • 1813-1869

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical / Historical

Norman Williams (1791-1868) was a prominent Vermonter descended from an early settler of Woodstock, Vermont, named Phineas Williams. Norman graduated from the University of Vermont in 1810. He served in the War of 1812 and remained part of the state militia. He studied law under Nicholas Baylies of Montpelier, Vermont and Charles Marsh of Woodstock, Vermont. Williams was admitted to the bar in 1814, and opened his own practice in Woodstock.

He next began holding public offices as a National Republican and later a Whig. He worked as State Auditor (1819-1823), Register of Probate, Vermont's Secretary of State (1823-1831), Secretary of the State Senate (1835-1839), clerk of the Windsor County Court (1839-1867), and Windsor County State Senator (1854-1855). He was involved with the founding of the Vermont Medical College and also served as its Dean of Faculty. Further, Williams was a member of the University of Vermont Board of Trustees (1849-1853).

In December 1817, Norman Williams married Mary Ann Wentworth (1795-1879) of New Hampshire and New Brunswick. She is cited as a gifted artist and credited with designing the Vermont State Seal. They had seven children: Henry Brown (1820-1890), Mary Ann Wentworth (1822-1907, later Campbell), Edward Higginson (1824-1899), Charles Storrow (1827-1890, UVM class of 1847), Louisa Jane (1830-1841), Norman (1835-1899), and Susan (1838-1842).

Their son Edward Higginson Williams (1824-1899) attended the Vermont Medical College, graduating in 1846. He was also trained at Bellevue Hospital in New York and worked as a doctor in southern Vermont. He was the first person to tend to brain-injury survivor Phineas Gage after Gage was injured in an explosion in 1848.

In 1848, he married Cornelia Bailey Pratt (1827-1889). They had three children: Edward Higginson Jr. (1849-1933), William (1854-1872), and Anna (1858-1943, later Dreer). Their son Edward Higginson founded the National Engineering Honor Society, Tau Beta Pi.

By 1851, Edward Williams (Sr.) was working solely in the railroad industry. He helped to construct a line in Canada and later rose to the role of superintendent on the western division of the Michigan Southern Railroad, assistant superintendent of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad in 1858, and Assistant Superintendent of the Galena and Chicago Union, a pioneer road west of Chicago in 1859. In 1865, Edward became the Assistant Superintendent of the famed Pennsylvania (or Pennsylvania Central) Railroad. He is credited with advances in air brakes, the use of anthracite coal, and the creation of the modern train time table. In 1870, he joined the firm owning and operating the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. International sales led Williams to travel extensively. Edward was a U.S. Commissioner to the International Exhibition (precursor to the World's Fair) in Sydney Australia (1879) and Melbourne (1880).

His successes in business brought a measure of wealth. Edward was known for his philanthropy to educational institutions. He funded the construction of Williams Science Hall (1896) at the University of Vermont to honor his wife; the Norman Williams Public Library (1883) in Woodstock, Vermont to honor his father; and scientific classrooms (1880) and equipment at Carleton College in Minnesota to honor his son William; as well as other gifts to the University of Pennsylvania.


0.4 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



This collection contains legal papers, financial records, correspondence, photographs and a War of 1812 muster roll, documenting some of the activites of Williams Family members Norman and his son Edward.

Physical Location

Library Research Annex; contact for access.


  • Pierce, Frederick Clifton. Field Genealogy: Being the Record of All the Field Family in America, Whose Ancestors Were in this Country... Chicago, Illinois, 1901.
  • Williams IV, Rev. Edward H. (1981) "Dr. Edward H. Williams" Retrieved from
Guide to the Williams Family Papers
2018 September
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)