Merchant and soldier. Franklin’s grand- nephew.
Moved to London (1770). Studied business and became Franklin’s financial clerk.
Became agent at Nantes for the American Commissioners in France as a replacement for the ineffectual Thomas Morris (1776).
The following year, Congress appointed William Lee commercial agent at Nantes. The enmity that had developed between Franklin and Lee’s brother, Arthur, carried over into the relations of the agents at Nantes, and the Lees leveled charges of impropriety against Williams.
An investigation eventually cleared Williams on all charges, and he continued to work, albeit in an unofficial capacity, at procuring supplies for the American war effort.
Returned with Franklin to America (1785). Became a judge (1796). Published treatises on navigation. Translated works on military science. Became a member of the American Philosophical Society. First superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point (1801-03, 1805-12).
Throughout his life, Williams was on intimate terms with Franklin.
Born in Boston. Married in 1779 to Mariamne Alexander (daughter of William Alexander).