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Calvin Spurlin, a part of the  family tree of J.K. Williams, who had 22 children, at the Valhermoso Springs Cemetery where his extended relatives are buried.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Calvin Spurlin, a part of the family tree of J.K. Williams, who had 22 children, at the Valhermoso Springs Cemetery where his extended relatives are buried.

A pioneer’s
rich legacy

Descendant recalls life, odd divorce of father of 22

By Deangelo McDaniel · 340-2469

VALHERMOSO SPRINGS — Near the middle of one of Morgan County’s oldest cemeteries, an unassuming marker honors a man who was not unassuming.

It honors Civil War veteran James Kindred Williams, a father of 22, who arguably has one of the strangest divorce cases in the county’s history.

“He divorced his first wife because she wouldn’t sleep with him anymore,” family historian Calvin Spurlin said. “After 16 children, I don’t blame her. I wouldn’t sleep with him anymore.”

Spurlin is Williams’ great-great-grandson.

The divorce is only one strange story in the life of a man whose genes probably run through more people in East Morgan County than the genes of any other person.

“There are a lot of us out here,” said Spurlin, who resides in Somerville, and can tell you almost to the acre where Williams’ descendants reside or have lived.

Take a ride with him through the winding roads of East Morgan County, and you’ll hear stories and see land some of the county’s earliest pioneers farmed.

But, the ultimate stop is on Cemetery Road in Valhermoso Springs where Williams is buried between his first wife and some of his bachelor sons.

“What a man,” said Spurlin, as he circled about his tombstone.

Williams was born Sept. 4, 1845, the eldest of three children to John D. and Narcissia Williams. His parents were Virginians who came to Morgan County with plans of going farther west, Spurlin said.

Like most of the early settlers in the area, the Williams family did not own slaves and eked out a pioneer living on a small farm until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Williams joined the Confederate Army, serving in Company J of the 4th Alabama Infantry under Gen. Joseph Wheeler.

Family members have passed down a number of Civil War stories about Williams. But, the one that most fascinates Spurlin is the story he heard recently.

Legend has it that when Williams’ unit was in a Southern town, Wheeler told them not to take livestock from the locals because the Confederates were trying to win their support.

Hunger apparently overtook the troops and they killed a hog. Williams saw Wheeler looking out the window of a cabin and carried him some of the meat, the story goes.

The general took the meat, but allegedly told Williams he didn’t want to hear his voice and did not want to know his name.

“Wheeler didn’t want to know because the troops had done what he told them not to do,” Spurlin said. “But, he ate the meat.”

Williams surrendered in North Carolina, took an oath of allegiance to the U.S. government and “walked home about naked with no shoes,” Spurlin said.

He settled back into farm life and on Jan. 9, 1868, married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ann Overstreet, a child in a prosperous and prominent family.

Their first child, Lula, who is Spurlin’s great-grandmother, was born in 1869. The couple had 15 more children, but after 27 years, the marriage had apparently soured.

In 1896, Williams filed for divorce, alleging that his wife “refused to give to him what God and nation said he deserved.”

Lizzie Williams, who moved in with one of her children, did not respond to her husband’s allegations.

The courts did not resolve the divorce until March 15, 1898, when a judge “dissolved” the marriage “on account of voluntary abandonment.”

Williams married his second wife, Ella Lee Burnett Bowers, in January 1899 and six children were born to this union.

Spurlin said there were 45 years between the births of Williams’ first and last children. Williams, who lived on Lower River Road, fathered his last child when he was 69. He died Jan. 29, 1933. His last surviving child, Cruicie Williams Sharp, died last year. Spurlin believes she may have been the last living daughter of a Confederate veteran in Alabama.

Stories about Williams survived because the family continued to gather after his death. Spurlin, 53, inherited many of the family records, including a collection of photographs through Lula Williams Dean. He has pictures showing the family celebrating Williams’ birthday and a copy of his Civil War pension papers.

Those papers say Williams “fought bravely and never deserted” the Confederate Army. They also reveal that he had little money and owned a blind mule.

No matter what was occurring or how much the family had, they were loyal to one other, Spurlin said.

“I guess that’s a trait in this family,” he said.

“They have always claimed and taken care of each other. We still do.”

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