James Williams was born in Hanover County, Virginia in 1740. At some point in his youth or early adulthood he moved to North Carolina. In 1762 he apparently married a woman named Mary Wallace. In or around 1773 he migrated to South Carolina’s Ninety Six District, in present-day Laurens County. Williams gained prominence in his new home, where he was elected as an officer in the militia and as a delegate to South Carolina’s First and Second Provincial Congresses. When war with Great Britain broke out, the Ninety Six militia split between Patriots and Loyalists. Williams became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Patriot faction of the militia. He was promoted to full Colonel in 1779. In 1780, after the fall of Charleston, his planation was occupied by British forces, but not before Williams was able to remove his slaves to the home of a family member in North Carolina. In August of that year he was one of the Patriot commanders at the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill. In part for his role in that victory, he was promoted to Brigadier General in the South Carolina militia. Williams led a detachment at King's Mountain and was killed leading his men in a charge on the British line. According to some reports his death came before he could be informed of his promotion to Brigadier General. Williams’s brother John was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Articles of Confederation.