Williams Family Roots Leave Footprints

Erath's First Mayor and his Family Ties

Spirit of Erath Centennial Series

      As true pioneers. the Williams family left historical footprints in the Vermilion Parish Educational System. James Newton Williams served as an early Vermilion Parish School Superintendent. His son Frank was Erath's first Mayor, while another son James Hugh, was the Vermilion Parish School Superintendent for over thirty five years. With a high regard for education, the Williams family, were true leaders who left their mark in this southern Louisiana parish.

 

      James Newton Williams was born in Yazoo County Mississippi in 1846, to Benajah and Anne (Newton) Williams. As a boy he received an education in Mississippi and Louisiana. In 1858 at the age of twelve, his family moved to the Prairie Greg area. He later married Sara Alice Burt. Born on November 11. 1846, she was the daughter of Henry and Minerva (Brooks) Burt originally of Massachusetts and Mississippi. On March 5, 1874, J. N. Williams married Sara Alice Burt. The union produced six children. Their children were Francis "Frank" Burt, James Hugh, Thomas H., Newton Purvis, H. Owen and Henrietta. Education was a priority in the Williams family, so their children were destined to receive the privilege of an education.

 

       From 1881-1892 James Newton Williams served as Secretary/Treasurer of the Vermilion Parish School Board. In 1890, he was the first to sign the minutes of the school board as Superintendent. Periodically he visited schools on a black stallion  to observe the teachers. children, equipment and buildings. As a committed leader, Williams was constantly looking for teachers to assist in educating the children in the area. With the community of Henry having one of the first parish high schools, he was known to offer his home to students, who would have otherwise missed the opportunity of receiving an education.

 

      In 1905 James Newton Williams was appointed by Governor Blanchard as a member of the Board of School Directors for Vermilion Parish. In 1908, three years after that appointment James Newton Williams died at the age of sixty two. Vermilion Parish mourned the loss of this School Superintendent, however his legacy remained steadfast in those who appreciated his leadership and values in education. Just before his death J. N. Williams  was able to see one son become the first Mayor in the Village of Erath and another son graduate as Henry High School's first graduate.

 

     Williams' son Francis Burt "Frank" Williams was born in Prairie Gregg on August 11, 1875. His son was educated at a time when many youngsters were not able attain an education. With that education under his belt, Frank Williams made tremendous strides in the Erath community. He and Dr. Joe Kibbe opened a pharmacy at the turn of the century. Williams, Dr. Kibbe and a group of area residents were also instrumental the establishment of Erath's first school.

 

     In 1899, just three months shy of his twenty fourth birthday, Frank Williams was named Erath's first Mayor. He served with aldermen Dr. Joe Kibbe, Arthur Derouen. R. M. Broussard and Lodias J. Broussard. Frank Williams also served as alderman from 1903 until 1911. On April 14, 1904, he married Aurelian "Cap" Theriot's sister Bertha. who was born on April 14, 1883. "Cap" Theriot and his wife owned "Cap's Confectionery. Bertha and "Cap" were children Mr. and Mrs. Octa Theriot. Together Frank and Bertha Williams had three children Frances Alice, James Purvis and Thelma Emelie.

     As a businessman Pharmacist Frank Williams, not only owned a drug store during the latter part of the century, he also served on the Board of Directors for the newly established Bank of Erath. Frank Williams was the first cashier when it opened in 1910. He had nineteen shares of stock in the Bank of Erath. Williams remained at the bank until his death.

    As a member of the Masonic Order, Frank Williams sought legal permission to be buried in the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church Cemetery. Frank Williams died suddenly on November 5. 1922 at the young age of 47 years old.
 

  The Abbeville Meridional obituary column on November 11, 1922, closed with this paragraph on Frank Williams.

    
"His private life was as clean as his public one. Loving, kind and indulgent as husband and father, the sorrow of his loved ones is behind their own appraisement in this first shock of their grief But, their sorrow may be softened, with the grateful pride of knowing that he so lived as to bring honor to his name and left them a memory of years well spent, duty well done and rest well earned."  


     Erath's first mayor Frank B. Williams is buried in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Cemetery in Erath. His wife Bertha died on September 7, 1969. At the time of her death, Mrs. Frank Williams was buried with her husband.  She was eighty six years old.

     As an educated man and pioneer. Erath's first Mayor Frank Williams was a successful businessman who paved a smoother path for future generations of Erath residents. Although he lived a mere forty seven years. he made great strides in that short life span.

 

      Born on June 7, 1883  another son James Hugh, was born to James Newton and Sara Alice Williams. With a seemingly predestined path he too,  would be a leader dedicated to education. In 1887, Vermilion Parish's first High School was established in Henry. J. N. Williams' son James Hugh Williams was Henry's first and only graduate of Henry High School in 1900. Upon completion of high school he attended Louisiana Polytechnic Institute (Louisiana Tech) in Ruston then enrolled at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He graduated with honors in electrical engineering in 1907. Following graduation from L.S.U. he was approached by educators to become principal at Henry High School. Williams accepted that challenge and served as principal for four years at his alma mater.

 

     On July 28, 1909,  James Hugh Williams married a young teacher, Estella Morganthe daughter of William and Katherine (Bartels) Morgan. Together the couple raised their three children: Preston Morgan, Hugh Bartel and Donald Burt Williams. When her children graduated. Estella "Stella" Williams, returned to S. L. I. (University of Louisiana) for teacher certification. She taught in Abbeville for twenty six years. She died on June 19, 1978 at the age of ninety one years old.

     In 1913, James Hugh Williams was unanimously selected the Vermilion Parish School Superintendent. J. H. Williams like his father was committed to the importance of a good education. He too visited the schools to assess needs at individual facilities, first by horse and buggy,  then later in a Model T Ford. Under the leadership of Williams, the Vermilion Parish School System took progressive steps during his years of service.

 

      As Vermilion Parish School Superintendent James Hugh Williams. began his tenure in 1913 and remained in that capacity until ill health brought forth his retirement in 1949. Seven years after his retirement,  Gueydan High School and faculty dedicated their 1956 yearbook to him. The dedication reads as follows:

     
"Able administrator, progressive educator. sympathetic friend of teacher and pupil. who
as Superintendent of Schools for more than three decades guided the destiny of our parish schools. and who. more than any other person. is responsible for our splendid school system today. We salute the grand old gentleman of Vermtlion Parish schools."

   
      
J. H. Williams died on March 23, 1956, at the age of seventy two. When Abbeville High School was built the old school facility became Abbeville Jr. High. Later it was renamed "J. H. Williams Middle School" in memory of the dedicated Superintendent who served Vermilion Parish for almost forty years. Since his death his legacy was able cross the threshold of the twenty first century through his namesake, "J. H. Williams Middle School." A truly fitting tribute to a man so committed to education.

 

      Three men named Williams. Three individuals who were pioneers in their own right. Three educators who chose a path to make a difference. A worthy difference that left historical footprints in this southern Louisiana parish.

Spirit of Erath Articles (Keys to the Past Series)

Written by Stacy Bodin, Erath's 100th Anniversary Erath Centennial Historian (1999)

A Special Thank You goes out to Attorney Warren Perrin;
 the Acadian Museum in Erath;
Kermit Bouillion;
Curney Dronet, (Erath Author);
the Abbeville Meridional (Local Newspaper);
(The late) Clement Bourgeois Jr., (Erath Historian);
John LeBlanc (Town Official);
The 1999 Centennial President Jackie Vincent;
Robert Vincent (Acadiana Museum Director);
and my parents Larson "Cap" and Gertie Hebert Bodin
who assisted me in my research in this project.

The articles presented in memory of
Relie LeBlanc III
whose enthusiasm and love of Erath
inspires me still today in my quest of
researching and writing about our community. 
His "Unity in the Community" motto
will forever remain in my heart.

Photo of LeBlanc is
Courtesy of Dickie Durr's Thrifty Way of Abbeville

Questions or comments?
Email Stacy Bodin

Erath Map (MapQuest)

Erath July 4th Celebration
The Acadian Museum in Erath, Louisiana

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