Distant relatives of Pvt. Jewett Williams, a Civil War soldier whose ashes were carried cross-county by a motorcycle relay from Oregon to Maine this month, will bury their ancestor in a family plot rather than have him buried in a national military cemetery as previously announced.
The burial, with full military honors, is scheduled for Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. in the small town of Hodgdon, in the far northeast part of Maine. The public is welcome to attend the service.
While Williams’s ashes were on a three-week meandering journey across the country, officials at the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services in Augusta searched for any direct descendants to take charge of his burial but did not find anyone. Therefore, a proper burial fell to the bureau, and a funeral at a national military cemetery was planned. But just a few days before the last relay team reached Augusta, the bureau’s director got a surprise call.
“We just heard there were no descendants of Jewett Williams found,” a man said to Adria O. Horn. “We’d like to correct that.”
Horn said the descendants asked that their names not be publicized.
Horn said his office looked at the documentation that was offered and determined that Williams did have living relatives, although very distant ones. Williams will be buried near his parents, Jared and Rosaline Williams, in a family plot.
Although the three-week journey of the Patriot Guard Riders to bring Williams’s ashes home had received a lot of news coverage, his relatives knew nothing about it because they did not have a computer and relied on a local paper for news, Horn said. It was a neighbor who first made the connection between the local family and Williams and that led to the call Horn received.
Williams appears to have been lost to his family well before he died in 1922 at age 78 at the Oregon State Hospital. Records indicate that he volunteered for the Union Army in 1864, fought with the well-known 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment and witnessed the surrender at Appomattox Court House. From there, he went back home, married and then divorced five years later. He remarried and left the state, never to return until now.
He and his family lived in Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington and finally Oregon. By 1899, he had gotten divorced a second time. In 1920, census records show that he was listed as a widower and was still working as a laborer at age 75. Three years later, he was admitted to the state hospital, where he was determined to have dementia. When he died three months after being admitted, no one claimed his body so he was cremated.
Several years ago, researchers found more than 3,000 cremated remains stored in a basement room of the hospital and a long search began to identify whose ashes were in the copper boxes and if there were any relatives to be notified. That was how Williams’s remains were discovered, and Maine officials then decided he should return east for burial.
Initially, the ashes were going to be mailed to Maine, but the Patriot Guard Riders decided Williams deserved more than that. Over several thousand miles and through a number of states, he traveled with an escort who handled the container with great reverence as each new relay took over. Augusta was supposed to be the last stop, but the Maine division of the PGR has one more assignment. Next month, it will escort Williams to Hodgdon.