Detroit’s first mayor elected 190 years ago today

On April 4, 1825 – 190 years ago today, Detroiters elected their first mayor John R Williams. He served four more one-year terms as mayor in 1830, 44, 45 and 46. The street John R bears his name.

Some things you may not know about John R. Williams:

French was his native language.

Williams had owned slaves.

Before he was a prominent Detroit merchant, Williams was jailed in Montreal after a duel where he shot a descendant of explorer Robert LaSalle.

john r
John R Williams home once stood at the NW corner of Woodward and Grand River. Photo courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

During the War of 1812, Captain Williams was taken prisoner when General William Hull surrendered Detroit.
In vying for a seat in Congress representing the Michigan Territory, he called his opponent’s citizenship into question. His opponent, Father Gabriel Richard, became a citizen and beat Williams in the election.

His son, Thomas R Williams, died during the Civil War after being shot in the chest during the Battle of Baton Rouge. Many references are made about Thomas in “A Confederate Girl’s Diary,” a popular memoir written by Sarah Morgan Dawson.

Read more on John R Williams here:

From Belle Isle to Eight Mile, down Woodward Avenue – an original American byway and site of the nation’s first mile of concrete highway, to Gate 4 of Ford’s infamous Rouge Plant bridge to the Gateway to Freedom at the river’s edge, Hometown History Tours reveals the stories of Detroit that beg to be told. Check out our tours here! 

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