1825 : John R. Williams Becomes Detroit’s First Mayor

April 4, 2023 all-day


ohn R. Williams became Detroit’s first mayor on April 4, 1825.

The Detroit native and slave owner won with 102 votes, compared with the 11 votes cast for all his opponents together.

Williams, a onetime trade agent whose native language was French, had an impressive resume — War of 1812 officer, justice of the county court, University of Michigan and Detroit Board of Education trustee and delegate to Michigan’s first constitutional convention, according to the Detroit Almanac.

He used his middle initial to distinguish himself from another political figure at the time named John Williams.

In 1823, John R. Williams had hoped to represent the Michigan Territory in Congress and, as a well-connected Catholic in a Catholic stronghold, he thought he had the election sewn up — until Father Gabriel Richard pulled off a win. He knew he couldn’t out-Catholic a priest, so he argued that the French-born father wasn’t an American citizen, which made him ineligible to run. Richard successfully applied for citizenship and went on to win the election.

Williams left the church as a result, and when he died in 1854, he was buried in the Protestant Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.

Sources :

John R. Williams wikipedia entry

Zlati Meyer, “This Week in Michigan History, Detroit Free Press, March 31, 2013.

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