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Family holds title to fort history

July 22, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Family holds title to fort history



For 54 years beginning just before the Civil War and lasting into the early 1900s the Nathan Williams family owned an important piece of Washington County history: Fort Frederick.

Saturday about 80 of Williams' descendants gathered in Washington County Regional Park for a reunion picnic.

Carolyn Brooks, a picnic organizer and Nathan's great-granddaughter, said she wanted to bring the family together in part so the older generation could pass on stories about the family and the fort they once farmed.

"How many families can say someone in their family owned a fort?" asked Brooks.

"I'm really proud. I still feel like (the fort) is part of our heritage," she said.

Brooks said Nathan Williams bought the fort and some surrounding land in 1857 for $7,000. The family farmed the land and provided food to the Union army during the Civil War.

She said the family lost the property in 1911 because they were unable to afford the taxes.

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Brooks' daughter, Whytne, 14, said she first learned about her family's connection to the fort in when she did a report on the subject in the third-grade.

"It's really neat to have something local to relate to; that my ancestors had something to do with," she said.

Pat Williams, who at 81 is one of the oldest family members, said the part of the story he's most proud of is that his grandfather was able to save enough money to buy his way out of slavery, and later buy the freedom of his wife.

Another Williams descendant, Queen Ester Jones, 76, said: "It's very special because my uncles and aunts would come and tell us about Big Pool and the families there. ... It's very exciting to be able to go out there and see the fort.

"I've heard the stories, but it's different when you can come and actually see the circumstances," Jones said.

The Williams family's role in the history of the fort is not very well known, Brooks said.

She said a video shown to visitors to the fort mentions only that a black family once farmed the land. That is expected to change once a new video is produced.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, was contacted by Brooks several years ago about the perceived slight to the Williams family.

Munson, who attended Saturday's picnic, said that when a new video is made the Williams family will be included in the story about the history of the fort.

"I though it was egregious. The Williams family was there for 54 years and there was no recognition. ... They deserve to have their place in that history known," Munson said.

Fort Frederick was built in the 1756 to protect the western frontier during the French and Indian War.

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