While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Merline Pitre

WILLIAMS, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1819–?). Benjamin Franklin Williams, legislator and clergyman, was born a slave in Brunswick County, Virginia, in 1819. He was taken to South Carolina, then to Tennessee in 1830, before being brought to Colorado County, Texas, in 1859. Exactly when Williams married Caroline Williams is not certain, but they had one son, Thomas. After emancipation Williams became a traveling Methodist minister. He was the officiating minister at the Wesley Methodist Chapel in Austin when it was established in 1865; this church, according to the Galveston Daily News, forbade blacks from attending if they were not members of the Republican party. Combining religion with politics, Williams became a militant spokesman for his race. As early as 1868 he was vice president of the Loyal Union League (see UNION LEAGUE), and as such kept white Unionists abreast of what was happening in the black-belt area. Williams's involvement in politics won him a seat at the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69 during Reconstruction. As a delegate, Williams played an important role in this convention. He served on the Executive Committee and introduced a resolution that would require prospective doctors to be certified by a medical board. He also proposed that the constitution contain a provision banning racial segregation in all public places, and that this provision be enforced by the licensing powers of the state, the counties, and the municipalities. Despite the important role that Williams played at this convention, however, he refused to sign the constitution. He actually withdrew from the convention before it adjourned because of its failure to place a more rigid suffrage clause in the constitution. Williams was subsequently elected by Lavaca and Colorado counties to the Twelfth Legislature (1871), where he was nominated for Speaker and came in third; by Waller, Fort Bend, and Wharton counties to the Sixteenth Legislature (1879); and by Waller and Fort Bend counties to the Nineteenth Legislature (1885). Williams was one of the few black legislators who expressed an open concern for laborers, both agricultural and skilled. In the Twelfth Legislature he introduced a bill for the protection of agricultural labor, but it was tabled. After leaving public office, Williams continued in his role as an evangelist but also became a land speculator. Williams, along with other blacks, was instrumental in the settlement and development of Kendleton, Texas. The date and place of his death are not known.

Austin Statesman, January 20, 1883. J. Mason Brewer, Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants (Dallas: Mathis, 1935; 2d ed., Austin: Jenkins, 1970). Daily State Journal, August 17, October 13, 1870. Journal of the Reconstruction Convention (Austin: Tracy, Siemering, 1870). James P. Newcomb Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Clarence Wharton, Wharton's History of Fort Bend County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1939).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Merline Pitre, "WILLIAMS, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN," accessed July 15, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwi74.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...