George Washington Williams was born on October 16, 1849 in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania to Thomas and Ellen Rouse Williams. He was the oldest of four children and as a rebellious teenager; his parents placed him in a “House of Refuge” for undisciplined and unruly children.
Williams lived there until 1864, when at the age of 14 he joined the Union Army under an assumed name because he was to young to meet the age requirement to enlist.
He went to Mexico and joined the Republican Army under the command of General Espinosa, fighting to overthrow Emperor Maximilian. Williams received a commission as lieutenant, learned some Spanish, and gained a reputation as a good gunner.
In the spring of 1867, he returned to the United States and enlisted in the army for a 5 year stint. But in 1868, Williams was wounded while in the Indian Territory. He remained hospitalized until his discharge.
After his military career and with a deep desire for education, Williams enrolled in the Newton Theological Institution in Massachusetts. On June 10th 1874, he became the first African American to graduate from this prestigious institution.
Williams was examined by the council called by the Church of Watertown and was ordained June 11th. By the time he was 25 years old, Williams had graduated, married Sarah A. Skerrett from Chicago, and became Pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church (TBC). The initial invitation from TBC was to fill the pulpit for 8 months from September 1873 – May 1874, but during those months the church membership and prayer meeting attendance increased so substantially that Reverend Williams received the “Call” from TBC to take pastoral charge.
He became the leader of the flock on April 4, 1874 and was installed as the Second Ordained Pastor on June 24th. While Pastor at TBC, Williams researched and wrote The History of the Twelfth Baptist Church. Boston, Mass. 1840 1874; A History of Negro Troops in the War of Rebellion and The History of the Negro Race in America, 1619> 1880, the first history of African Americans
Boston, Mass. 1840 1874; A History of Negro Troops in the War of Rebellion and The History of the Negro Race in America, 1619> 1880, the first history of African Americans.
Williams served as the Pastor of TBC for two years from 1874 1876. He relocated to Washington, DC where with the support of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, he founded and published 8 issues of a monthly journal, The Commoner.
He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to study law and became the first African American elected to the Ohio State Legislature, serving one term from 1880 1881.
In 1889, Williams was granted an informal audience with King Leopold II of Belgium to express opposition to the brutal and inhumane treatment the Congolese suffered at the hands of the colonizers. Despite the king’s objections, Williams went to Central Africa to see the conditions for himself.
In “An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo”, Williams decried the conditions and appealed to the international community to conduct an investigation in the name of Humanity.
Traveling back from Africa, Williams died in Blackpool, England on August 2, 1891 from tuberculosis and pleurisy.