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Child’s grave a reminder of family’s Civil War presence

A small tombstone among the oaks and pines at Hannibal’s Mount Olivet Cemetery carves out the details of a life cut too short, on the morning of Jan. 29, 1861, some 161 years ago.


It was on the cusp of the Civil War that little Anna E. Williams closed her eyes in eternal slumber. Just 4 years old, she was taken from the arms of her loving mother, Sarah Stark Williams, and proud father, Newton H. Williams, Methodists by faith, to rest forever beneath native Missouri soil.

Anna’s father, at the time a jewelry merchant and manager of the Eagle Hotel on Main Street, South Hannibal, hosted the funeral at the hotel where the family lived. After the services, a funeral procession followed along the trail of what is now Fulton Avenue, to the old Methodist Cemetery, known today as Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Hannibal arrival

Little Anna’s parents moved to Hannibal in 1856, early occupying a house on the corner Fifth and Jefferson streets in South Hannibal. The 1859 Hannibal city directory noted two boarders at the Williams’ house at that time, R.M. Whitney, a carpenter with the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and John Purdy, pattern maker for the H&St. Jo shop.

In late May, 1860, Mr. Williams moved his watchmaker and jewelry business (previous location unknown) to the west side of Main Street, two doors north of Center Street. Across the street was the Leggett House.

Four months later, in mid-September 1860, Mr. Williams advertised in the Hannibal Daily Messenger that he had moved his stock to Main Street, South Hannibal, also the location of the Eagle Hotel, which he now managed. His stock included clocks, watches, jewelry, toys, pocket cutlery and perfumery.

Boarders at the hotel, as of the census reported in September 1860:

George Allen, 28, railroad fireman

Thomas Davis, 28, railroad fireman

Robert Driver, 32, railroad engineer

Mary Honan, 20, domestic

John Kingsley, 35, railroad conductor

William Leach, 23, railroad brakeman

Wm. McEntire, 35, railroad

Daniel Young, 30, railroad

Union flag

Hannibal was deeply divided during the early years of the Civil War, with secessionists rallying for the state to leave the Union. Mr. and Mrs. Williams remained staunch in their support of the Union. Mrs. Williams’ Jan. 31, 1907 obituary, published in The New Era, newspaper at Formoso, Kansas, carried these details:

“At the time of the breaking out of the war of the rebellion, Mr. and Mrs. Williams were living at Hannibal, Mo., which was a veritable battle ground of conflicting ideas about the attitude to be taken, with the rebel sentiment, much stronger than the union sentiment. Many of the relatives of the family joined the rebel cause. Mr. Williams asked her, ‘What shall it be, Sarah, sects or union?’ and she turned and got an American flag, the product of her own hands and hung it out the window on the street where the many secessionists could see it, saying in answer to the question of her husband, ‘Union, you old goose!’

“Mrs. Newton Williams, whose father was a soldier in the Revolutionary war, … had immediate relatives in the war of 1812. She made a Union flag and hung it in the streets of Hannibal, Mo., while a resident of that town at the beginning of the Civil war, to defy her secessionist neighbors.”

Williams a veteran

Young Anna Williams’ father answered the call of President Lincoln, enlisting with Co. A, Marion Co., Mo., under General Lyons, at St. Louis.

In March 1861 he turned the operation of his jewelry business and hotel (named the Eagle Hotel), located on Main Street, South Hannibal, over to H.N. Crain, who would tend to business while Williams played a role in protecting his home turf.

The year following little Anna’s death, Mr. and Mrs. Williams, and their daughter, Flora, born in 1858, left Hannibal, moving to Leavenworth, Kan. Mr. Williams joined Col. McKen’s third regiment, of the Kansas Red Legs. He participated at the Price Raid battle and the Sacking of Lawrence.

Following the war

An adventuresome duo, Mr. and Mrs. Williams criss-crossed the country during the ensuing years. He served as mayor of Goesback, Texas, until he resigned in 1868 to become a U.S. commissioner of the western and northern district of Texas. He returned to Leavenworth, where he served as an auction and commission merchant until 1871. Subsequently, he conducted auction sales in large U.S. cities, including Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Buffalo, Chicago, Atlanta, and Mobile.

Ultimately, they adopted Holton, Kan. as their home.

Sarah Williams and their son, Lawrence Harvey Williams, died in 1907. In 1909, Mr. Williams entered the Soldier’s Home, where he died 1912. Burial records indicate his body was shipped to Holton, Jackson County, Kansas, where his wife and daughter are also buried.

Much of the information for this story came from the published obituaries of Mr. and Mrs. Williams, as posted on

Note: In August 1899, while a resident of Holden, Kansas, Mr. Williams was granted a $2 pension increase for his service during the war, from $8 to $10.

Note: The 200 block of Main Street was discussed in this column on Aug. 2, 2022, regarding a fire that claimed the buildings on the east side of the street. That fire was on July 4, 1860. The Leggett House was one of those buildings destroyed in that fire.

Wikepedia: On April 15, 1861, at the start of the American Civil War, the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, called for a 75,000-man militia to serve for three months following the bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter.

Note: It is unclear if Mrs. Williams’ flag was flown on Main Street, or on Main Street, South Hannibal. For more information on patriotic gestures during the early war years, see “Citizens showed loyalty during light up the night,” among this author’s blog posts. The following event took place in March 1862.

N.H. Williams advertised his relocated business in the Hannibal Daily Messenger on Aug. 10, 1860.

A notice in the Jan. 30, 1861 edition of the Hannibal Daily Messenger announces the death of Anna E. Williams, daughter of N.H. and Sarah Williams.

H.N. Crain took over operation of N.H. Williams’ hotel and clock shop, as advertised in the Nov. 15, 1860, edition of the Hannibal Messenger newspaper.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” and “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’” 47 stories of the Market Street Wedge and on west to Lindell Avenue. Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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