Shortly before the beginning of the American Revolution, permission to preach to the soldiers was granted by an act of the Legislature to dissenting clergymen, and Rev. John Williams promptly offered his services and enthusiastically took up the work.
He preached such eloquent and patriotic sermons and inspired so many to enlist in the fight for liberty that he was imprisoned by the English Governmental authorities and he preached out of the prison windows to the crowds who gathered. When he came to trial, he was defended by the great orator Patrick Henry, who succeeded in having the zealous minister released from prison. “In the behalf of liberty, education and preservation of history, he was a prominent and efficient speaker.”
The Meherrin Baptist Church owes a great debt to Rev. John Williams as he traveled around and helped start many of these churches. In Sketches of Virginia William Foote wrote “John Williams, a Baptist, preached extensively and possessed genuine talents, ready utterance and great fluency of speech, and was in fact a very pleasing, impressive and popular preacher. Gentlemanly in his manners and deportment. His preaching in Lunenburg and Charlotte bordered upon the congregation of Briery, and several young persons became impressed under Mr. Williams, preaching.” Robert Semple wrote in History of the Baptists in Virginia, “Many of our historical relations of the churches on the south side of the James River are extracted from manuscripts written by Mr. Williams. Rev. John Williams was in the habit of associating with the Presbyterians but especially in his own denomination was he solicitous to have the unity of the spirit increased and perpetuated.” In the drive against the established church, the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians to all appearances united in a solid front. Many young persons received instruction from Rev. Williams while living in his household. They carried on the missions of the Baptists church in America from their personal instruction.
Rev. John Williams was an able businessman, and at an early age accumulated a good amount of property. From the beginning of his ministry, he continued to farm and engage in various business ventures. Semple wrote that Rev. John Williams suffered an unfortunate accident that left him crippled in 1793, which hindered him in completing his historical work of gathering and publishing a history or Virginia Baptists and their early work. During the last years of his life, he was afflicted with a very painful disease and about 10 days before his death, he was attacked by pleurisy. Rev. John Williams died April 30, 1795, Lunenburg County, Virginia. In his will, which was dated March 11, 1790, he manifested some anxiety about the education of his children who were living at the time. He was the father of 14 children, all of whom except for two, are mentioned in his will or that his of his wife. In October 1790, he “reserves to himself one fourth of an acre including a grave-yard in which one of his sons is buried.” His manuscripts and documents were left to his widow and this material was made available to Semple in compiling the Baptist History. Unfortunately, these papers were lost. They doubtless contained material which Semple did not use nor include in his work and would be of great value in research today.