Abraham Jude Williams was born Feb. 26, 1781, in Hardy County, Virginia (now Grant County, West Virginia), to Vincent and Elizabeth Williams. Not much is known about his early years except that he had a limited education, mostly through independent study.
One history says Williams only had one leg, but another says he was handicapped because one leg was severely atrophied.
Williams came to Missouri and settled in Franklin between 1816-20. He moved to Nashville in Boone County in late 1820 where he and a business partner, James Harris, ran a tobacco warehouse. In 1821, he moved to Columbia and built the first store in town near the current site of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad depot. He opened one of the first dry goods stores in town along with a boot and shoemaker. Williams also bought a large amount of land and began farming.
In 1822, Williams was elected to the Missouri Senate. Re-elected in 1824, he was elected president pro-tem. He served on the accounts committee, the education committee and the committee appointed to plan the new capitol building.
Also elected in 1824 were Gov. Frederick Bates and Lt. Gov. Benjamin Harrison Reeves. They took office in November 1824. Reeves resigned in July 1825 to accept the position of commissioner to survey the Santa Fe Trail for the U.S. government. Then Bates died Aug. 4. According to the Missouri Constitution, the lieutenant governor is to assume the office of governor under such circumstances. As president pro-tem of the Missouri Senate, Williams was next in line and became Missouri's third governor and the state's only unelected interim governor.
A special election was called Dec. 8, 1825, to elect Bates' successor. John Miller, a Democrat from Howard County, ran against William Carr, David Todd and Rufus Easton. Miller won by more than 1,150 votes and took office Jan. 20, 1826.
Nothing much happened while Williams was governor, as the General Assembly was out of session most of the time and Williams made no appointments or signed any important legislation. The most important document he signed was a $200 reward for the capture of convicted murderer John Patterson, who had been sentenced to death.
Williams returned to the Senate and wasn't re-elected in 1826. From there he returned to farming. He was asked to run for the U.S. Senate in 1832, but he lost to Thomas Hart Benton.
Williams never married and had no children. He died Dec. 30, 1839, in Boone County and was buried in Columbia Cemetery.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written Historically Yours for the Boonville Daily News for over 10 years. In celebration of Missouri's upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to [email protected]