Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Ben Ames Williams


Ben Ames Williams Photo courtesy of Dick Tracy of Union Historical Society

Major Works

  • The Sea Bride (1919)
  • All the Brothers Were Valiant (1919)
  • The Great Accident (1920)
  • Evered (1921)
  • Black Pawl (1922)
  • Thrifty Shock and Other Stories (1923)
  • Audacity (1924)
  • The Rational Hind (1925)
  • The Silver Forest (1926)
  • Immortal Longings (1927)
  • Splendor (1927)
  • The Dreadful Night (1928)
  • Great Oaks (1930)
  • An End to Mirth (1931)
  • Letters from Fraternity (1931)
  • Pirate's Purchase (1931)
  • Honeyflow (1932)
  • Money Musk (1932)
  • Mischief (1933)
  • Pascal's Mill (1933)
  • Hostile Valley (1934)
  • Small Town Girl (1935)
  • Crucible (1937)
  • It's A Free Country (1937) All the Brothers were Valiant by Ben Ames Williams
  • The Strumpet Sea (1938)
  • Thread of Sea (1939)
  • Come Spring (1940)
  • The Strange Woman (1940)
  • Time of Peace:  September 26, 1930 - December 7, 1941 (1942)
  • Amateurs at War:  The American Soldier in Action (1943)
  • Leave Her To Heaven (1944; his most well known novel)
  • House Divided (1947)
  • Fraternity Village (1949; short stories set in the Searsmont area)
  • The Diary From Dixie (1949; written by Mary Boykin Chesnut, but edited by Ben Ames Williams)
  • Owen Glen (1950)
  • The Unconquered (1953)
  • The Happy End (1991)
  • The Kenneth Roberts Reader (1945; Williams wrote the introduction)

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Ben Ames Williams: A Biography

Ben Ames Williams is an American novelist and short story writer who was born in Macon, Mississippi.  He was born  to Daniel Webster Williams and Sara Marshall (Ames) Williams (a niece of General James Longstreet of the Confederate army) on March 7, 1889.  His parents originally lived in the South, but they moved while he was still a baby to Jackson, Ohio, where he spent his boyhood, and his father served thirty years as editor of the Standard Journal, a weekly newspaper.  Williams took an early interest in literature partly because  his mother read books aloud.

In 1904, Williams left Ohio and went to West Newton, Massachusetts, to attend the Allen School.  The next year he spent in cardiff, Wales, where his father was an American Consul.  In Cardiff, he learned Latin from a tutor.  Returning to America in 1906, Williams entered Dartmouth College.  He received a B. A. in 1910.  In an autobiographical statement for Wilson's Biographies, he stated:  "I went to work as a reporter on the Boston American in September, 1910, and continued until December, 1916.  By that time I had sold a few short stories and short serials, principally to the All-Story Magazine...Since then I have been a professional writer of fiction, and stories of mine have been published in a long list of magazines....Most of these have appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's."

After Williams settled down in 1912, he married Florence Trafton Talpey of York, Maine, (her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all sea captains) and together they had two sons and a daughter.  They all left Boston and moved to a little commuter town called Newtonville, Massachusetts, where his new  writing career could expand. They later moved to Chestnut Hill, a suburb of Boston, and vacationed at a summer home, a farm called Hardscrable, near Searmont, Maine, which Williams used as the model for his town called Fraternity in his writings.  The summer home was willed to him by Bert McCorrison, a person who shared Williams love of the outdoors and who appeared in Williams's works as Chet McAusland, a resident of Fraternity.

His first book, All the Brothers Were Valiant, appeared in 1919 and more than thirty were published during his lifetime. Some, such as Leave Her to Heaven and All the Brothers Were Valiant,  were also made into films.  In all he wrote more than 432 short stories as well.  His subjects included hunting and fishing stories, historical fiction (many about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War),  mysteries, and sea stories.  Many of his stories were set in Maine. He wrote the edited  A Diary from Dixie by Mary Boykin Chesnut.

Ben Ames Williams died on February 4, 1953, at the age of sixty-three from a heart attack.  He was playing one of his favorite outdoor games, curling,  when he collapsed.  To show their appreciation to his life long commitment to the skill of writing, Dartmouth College and Colby College awarded him honorary degrees in American literature for writing over thirty-five novels and over four hundred short stories.   Ben Ames Williams was a prolific and  remarkable writer.   The Miller Library of Colby College has Williams's papers, and the Dartmouth College Archives contains a large collection of his novels and stories and articles written about him.

His The Strumpet Sea is going to be reissued in July, 2000.

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Timeline

1889--Born in Macon, MississippiGabrielle Thomas, SHS
1906--Went to Allen High School, Maine?
1910--Graduated from Dartmouth University
1919--First novels The Sea Bride and All the Brothers Were Valiant published
1938--The Strumpet Sea first published
1944-- Leave Her to Heaven (best known novel) published
1953-- All the Brothers Were Valiant made into award-winning film
1953-- Died on February 4 of a heart attack.
2000--The Strumpet Sea reissued

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Related Websites

The movie, All the Brothers Were Valiant, made in 1953, is about two brothers who are sailors and both love the same woman.  It was an Academy Award Nomination for best color.

A native Mississippian, Williams graduated from Dartmouth, worked as a reporter for the Boston American, and went on to live in North Searsmont and Blue Hill and to write over 35 novels and 400 short stories, many set in the mythical village of Fraternity, Maine (similar to his home in the Searsmont area), as well as some histories and other non-fiction works.

You can scroll through some of these listings of the Mississippi Quarterly web site and find the Southern author of your choice.

Dartmouth College Library has papers of Ben Ames Williams. The collection is the repository of choice for a number of authors who have presented or deposited their papers in their entirety. These include Erskine Caldwell, Philip Booth, Kenneth Roberts, Corey Ford, Richard Eberhart, Winston Churchill, Budd Schulberg, Ben Ames Williams, Percy Mackaye, Cornelia Meigs, Stephen Geller, and Burton Bernstein.

A synopsis of a short story Williams wrote called "The Nurse" is found  in American Nurses in Fiction: An Anthology of Short Stories

The story of Richard Cumming's coming to Maine is contained in Ben Ames Williams' historical novel Come Spring.

The town of Searsmont, Maine,  has won state and national recognition several times for its beautification program and quotes Williams' description of it from Fraternity Village, which was published in1919. If this site is gone, try searching Google.com and click on the "cached" site when you find Searmont, Maine's site.

Williams is on this list of Mississippi writers.

In 1953 The Unconquered by Ben Ames Williams was a best seller.

Summary of film Leave Her to Heaven here.

Author Ben Ames Williams based his work on the material and anecdotes in Sibley's History of Union, and on his own research. He claimed to have walked all the paths covered in Come Spring. A prolific writer of fiction, Williams published this work in 1940. In 1990 Union Historical Society celebrated the anniversary of publication with a symposium which was attended by Williams' family members. A young maple tree was planted on the Common with a memorial plaque and commemorative mugs with the Come Spring logo of flying geese were made by Union Stoneware.

Quotation from words of Williams.

The short story titled Coconuts, by Ben Ames Williams, appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on October 9, 1926.

In 1931, editor Carolyn Wells put out Best American Mystery Stories, the first of an annual anthology series (it only lasted one more year, unfortunately). This anthology shows the deep interest American magazines, and their numerous readers, had in tales of gangsters. From the Saturday Evening Post, she reprinted such stories (all from 1930 or 1929) as Ben Ames Williams "Man Afraid", which deals a drug store clerk who is kidnapped by bank robbers.

Second prize winner of O Henry award Ben Ames Williams for  "They Grind Exceedingly Small,"  Saturday Evening Post, September 13, 1918.

The St. George River in midcoast Maine is setting for a best-selling novel from 1940. Ben Ames Williams, one of the most popular novelists of the 1930s and   '40s, spent summers in Maine and considered it his  adopted state. He based Come Spring on a well-researched 1841 history of Union, written by John Langdon Sibley, a Union native who became librarian at Harvard University.  Williams' fictionalized account of Union's start during  the Revolutionary War was promoted as "a novel of  tremendous power and passion." Even though it was written half a century ago, the 866-page book still generates enough fans  to warrant an annual "Come Spring" tour  during Union's Founder's Day celebration.

Admiral William Byrd had a novel by Williams with him.

Famous Mississippi pilot had Williams's name on list painted on his plane.  Many were motion picture stars, but there are other non-motion picture names as well such as boxer Jack Dempsey and the novelist and fellow Mississippian Ben Ames Williams, who was a native of Macon.

Reviewers write to Amazon.com with compliments for Come Spring.

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Bibliography

Lloyd, James B. Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967.  Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1981. 467-469.

Williams, Ben Ames.  The Waterboro Public Library. Online at http://www.waterboro.lib.me.us/maineaut/sz.htm#authorw, May, 2000,

Williams, Ben Ames. Wilson Biographies on the Web.  The H. W. Wilson Company.  1996 Biography from World Authors 1900-1950.

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Last updated in 2001
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