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 William Joseph Williams

William Joseph Williams

New York, New York, USA
Death 30 Nov 1823 (aged 64)
New Bern, North Carolina, USA
Burial New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina, USA
Plot In the old section of the cemetery
Memorial ID 23383 · View Source
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American Portraitist. He was the son of noted the painter and author, William Williams and his wife Mary Mare Williams, sister of the painter John Mare. He was their oldest and only child to survive to adulthood. His father was born in England and returned there to die. Today, Williams is widely regarded as the first American portraitist. After living in Philadelphia, Georgetown, and Charleston, he made his home in New Bern, North Carolina. He painted portraits of the United States Presidents: George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, as well as other important figures of this time. At the time of their portraits, Adams and Jefferson were in Philadelphia and were Vice-President and Secretary of State respectively. In the past, President Washington had refused William’s offer to sit for a portrait reasoning that it took too much of his time. Williams then offered to paint Washington's portrait for the Alexandria (Virginia) Masonic Lodge No. 22. The Lodge officers wrote Washington in 1793 that it would be “a source of the most refined gratification the tracing out and contemplating the various ornaments of his character in the resemblance of his person." The finished and detailed portrait shows Washington as a Virginia past master, with Masonic regalia and jewels. The artist careful depiction includes a scar on Washington's left cheek, smallpox scars on his nose and cheeks, and a mole under his right ear. While in New York as a young man, he served as a Lieutenant in the British Army occupying New York City and during that time taught Art. Later, he served as a Quartermaster Officer in the United States Sea-Fensibles during the War of 1812. Two years before his death he convert from being an Episcopal clergy to the Roman Catholic faith and as a layman, helped form a congregation which is now St. Paul's Church in Newbern. It is assumed that he took the middle name, Joseph, about this same time. His painting of the "Crucifixion" hangs over this church’s altar. His wife Isabella Moore was born in Ireland. The couple was married in Charleston, South Carolina on May 14, 1804 by Rev. Isaac Stockton Keith and had five children. His tombstone was erected by his descendants, and there is a family Bible documenting dates of births and deaths. He painted his own self-portrait. His paintings are partially listed in SIRIS at the Smithsonian and are found in private collections and in museums including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, The Adams National Historic Site, The Rockefeller Museum at Williamsburg, The DuPont Museum at Winterthur and The Museum of Southern Decorative Arts at Old Salem.

Bio by: Linda Davis

Family Members



In the memory of William Joseph Williams, artist who painted in Philadelphia 1794, the celebrated Pastel Portrait, known as The Masonic Portrait of
George Washington, President of the United States.

Born in New York City Nov 12, 1759
Died in New Bern N.C. Nov. 30, 1823




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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 25 Jul 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 23383
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for William Joseph Williams (17 Nov 1759–30 Nov 1823), Find A Grave Memorial no. 23383, citing Cedar Grove Cemetery, New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .