Tax records and census records show that Isaac's family was living in Exeter, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania as early as 1796 through 1810. The 1800 U.S. census that was taken at Exeter, Luzerne County, PA on March 7 lists Ebenezer (age 31) with a family of eight. The August 6, 1810 U. S. Census lists Ebenezer Williams (age 41) as still residing in Exeter, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania and his family had increased to 14 people. However, when the 1830 U. S. census was taken, Ebenezer Williams and his family of nine were now listed in Johnstown, Monroe Township, Licking County, Ohio. This was probably the last census that Isaac was listed as a member of his parents' family.
Isaac and his family in Ohio
During the fall of 1810 when Isaac was 11 years of age, his family moved further west of Pennsylvania to a new home in the Ohio wilderness. It is assumed that they followed the typical migration patterns in what was then the "Old Northwest" of the United States in which immigrants moved from Pennsylvania into Ohio, usually with a covered wagon in tow. Census records reflect the names of many families from the Wyoming Valley region of Pennsylvania moving west to this same new land.
Bigelow laid out and incorporated his village in 1813 and named it Johnstown. He generously donated part of his 4,000 acre tract for streets, the town square and a "proper resting place" for citizens that is today called Bigelow Cemetery. However, Dr. Oliver didn't get to enjoy the fruits of his labor since he died in 1817. He does reside at a "proper resting place" in Bigelow Cemetery.
On March 14, 1826 Isaac became a Masonic Lodge member in Johnstown, Licking County, Ohio. Although he was present for this March meeting, he later became a member by card (meaning not in person). Another article from the local Johnstown Independent newspaper provided brief bios of the original members of Johnstown's earliest Masonic organization. It states the following:
BRO. ISAAC WILLIAMS
Born in Pennsylvania in 1800, came to Ohio with his father, Ebenezer Williams, in 1810. He died in California, 1856.
Isaac's early membership as a Johnstown, Ohio Mason in 1826 must have always been an important aspect of is life. One of his last requests at Rancho Chino was to be interred with Masonic honors. Thus, on September 15, 1856 the Los Angeles Lodge No. 42 of F. & A. Masons convened a special meeting to offer their condolences for their Masonic brother, Isaac Williams.
Isaac Goes West
At age 27, Isaac got the "Go West, young man" bug and made a decision to leave his family and try his luck further west. He most likely left his home and traveled south to the Ohio River and onto the MIssouri River to Franklin in Howard County, Missouri. Franklin was often considered as the starting point for the Santa Fe Trail. Isaac probably followed this trail to New Mexico because documentation shows that he received a license to trap beaver from the New Mexico governor on August 31, 1826. Thus, his first job could be listed as an American fur trapper. No doubt, trapping was a skill he learned while growing up in primitive Licking County, Ohio.
Isaac's American Trapper Days
In May 1830, Powell "Pauline" Weaver (famous trapper and explorer) left Fort Smith, Arkansas for the west with a party of 42-43 men. Isaac Williams was part of this group. They arrived at Taos, New Mexico late in the year of 1830. Trader William Becknell had noted that the newly independent republic of Mexico was open to trade and settlement by Americans and others in its remote northern departments (territories) and thus, a trail was developed from Franklin, Boone Township, Howard County, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A handwritten document reports that on June 23, 1831 Isaac Williams was baptized in Taos, New Mexico.
Williams appears to have remained as a trapper until the fall of 1831 when he joined a party of some thirty-seven men, headed by Ewing Young (1796-1841), which traveled to California. They reached Los Angeles, California in April, 1832.
Isaac Settles in California
After reaching Los Angeles, California in 1832, Williams did not return to his trapping days. Instead he settled in Los Angeles and worked as a laborer while living in an adobe house he built on the east side of Main Street near Temple Street. About 1834, he entered a trading partnership with Jacob P. Leese, another Pennsylvanian, that lasted about two years.
As a successful merchant, Isaac built the single story adobe Bella Union in 1835 and operated it as a store. He hired three of his fellow Americans to build the one-story adobe structure. Williams lived inside the Bella Union and sold goods shipped in from New England. In 1851 a second story was added and a third story was added in 1869.
Williams settled in Los Angeles and became known as Julian by the locals. He became a Roman Catholic by baptism shortly before his marriage to Maria de Jesus Lugo on November 24, 1836 at the Plaza Church in Los Angeles. The image at the left is a hand-tinted 1869 photograph of the Los Angeles Plaza and Plaza church. It is part of the Los Angeles Public Library Photograph Collection.
After bearing three children, Maria de Jesus died in childbirth in 1842. Below are the names of Isaac's children and their mothers.
Maria de Jesus Lugo (1820-1842) had the following children with Isaac:
Jose Antonio Maria Williams 1838 - 1846
Maria Merced Williams 1839 - 1907
Francisca Williams 1841 - 1926
Maria de Jesus 1842 - 1842
Maria Jesus Villanueva (1830-1892) had the following daughter with Isaac:
Manuela Williams 1852 - 1936
Maria Antonia de Jesus (1830-1866) was the mother of Isaac's next born children:
Victoria Regina Williams 1846 - 1921
Conception E. "Chonita" Williams 1849 - 1907
Feliciano Williams 1850 - 1864
Refugia E. Williams 1854 - 1945
Maria de Jesus Apis (1831-?) had the following daughter with Isaac:
Maria Francisca Williams 1846 - 1931
Originally this rancho was a 22,193-acre Mexican land grant in the Chino Hills and southwestern Pomona Valley, in present-day San Bernardino County, California. It was granted to Antonio Maria Lugo in 1841 by Mexican Alta California Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado. It had been part of the San Gabriel Mission lands used for grazing mission horses and cattle until the California missions were secularized by the Mexican government in the mid-1830s and their lands made available for private settlement. By 1842, Antonio Lugo had given his son-in-law Isaac Williams 4,000 head of cattle and the 22,000 acre ranch in Chino.
In 1843, Williams petitioned for an "Addition to Rancho Santa Ana del Chino," consisting of some 13,000 acres on the north and west of the original grant. Eventually, Williams secured full ownership of the entire Chino Rancho, comprising some 36,000 acres. While at the Chino ranch, Williams successfully grazed thousands of cattle for the hide and tallow trade, taking these products to the crude harbor at San Pedro Bay.
This skirmish known as the Battle of Chino of the Mexican–American War occurred on September 26–27, 1846, during which 24 Americans led by Benjamin D. Wilson, who were hiding in Isaac Williams' adobe house of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, were captured by a group of about 50 Californios who had surrounded the ranch house. At one point the leader of the Californios, Jose del Carmen Lugo (brother to Isaac's 1st wife), ordered that the adobe house be set afire. Shortly after the flames rose, Lugo saw his nephew and nieces, the children of his deceased sister, crying out to him and he secured their removal from the house. Soon after the Americans, including Isaac, surrendered and were imprisoned. However, their release was secured a few months later.
Transcribed Letter from Isaac Williams to his brother Thaddeus (no corrections were added)
Death of Isaac Williams
Isaac died on September 13, 1856 at Rancho Santa Ana del Chino. He was a few days short of his 57th birthday. Williams' ranch was famed far and wide for its spaciousness and hospitality. Williams was liberal in assisting the needy, even dispatching messengers to Los Angeles to secure clothing and other supplies for the ragged immigrants and weary gold rush visitors; and it is related that, on other occasions, he was known to have advanced to young men capital amounting in the aggregate to thousands of dollars, with which they established themselves in business. Williams would send help to travelers on the desert road who were starving or had lost their animals, giving the travelers or their rescue parties food and sometimes horses or mules, or sent his own men out into the desert to do so. Located on the Southern Emigrant Trail, the adobe became a stop and later an inn famous for its hospitality to parties of Forty-niners and later travelers.
Isaac left the majority of his estate to his oldest two daughters, Francisca and Merced. The daughters had been pampered by their indulgent father, and they knew little about business matters or how to run a ranch. So when their father died in 1856, the teenage daughters both married soon after their father’s death to the first eligible suitor who came along.
Rancho Santa Ana del Chino passed through various hands after Williams’ death until it was finally purchased by an English syndicate and broken into small tracts.
This webpage that chronicles the life of Isaac Williams was created by the Johnstown Historical Society's webmaster. She is a direct descendent to the Williams family and felt it was important to share Isaac's story of his time living in Johnstown between 1810 and 1826. That part of his story was always missing from all the publicity his life received in the California history books.
The Johnstown Historical Society is located in Johnstown, Monroe Township, Licking County, Ohio. It is a nonprofit, 501(c) (3) organization committed to researching the history of Johnstown, and collecting, preserving, and exhibiting objects and documents from the past.
Credits go to Paul Spitzzeri and his Carbon Canyon Chronicle blog for the many Isaac Williams' resources that are posted by him. Paul's blog has been most helpful in discovering much about Isaac Williams and his life in California. Paul also serves as the director of the Workman & Temple Family Homestead Museum in California.
Also a special thanks to Linda Bridger for the information she provides on Ancestry.com about Isaac and his California life.