Brief Biographical Sketches on my Willis line
and our Willis Family Origins
(beginning with me)
1) Randall Lee Willis (b. Dec. 19, 1949 in Oakdale,Allen Parish, La.). My parents were Julian Everette Willis and Ruth Lawson Willis. My mother married her first husband, John Alex Duke, on Dec. 23, 1933. He died Sept. 26, 1946. They had four children and thus my half-brothers and half-sisters are: Johnnie Ruth Duke Guillory (b. Jan. 7, 1935), Gerald "Jerry" Duke (b. Sept. 30, 1940), John Alex "Buddy" Duke (b. Jun. 30, 1943; d. May 8, 1995), and Marjorie Elaine Duke Eernisse (b. Mar. 14, 1945).
My mother then married my father, Julian Willis, on June 26, 1948. I was their only offspring. We lived in Longleaf, La. until I was four. We then moved to Clute, Tx. in 1954 and then Angleton, Tx. in 1960. I married Rebecca Lynn Day on Dec. 21, 1971, and then divorced in 1986. We have three sons: Aaron Joseph Willis (b. Oct. 24, 1977) , Joshua Randall Willis (b. Oct. 16, 1980), and Adam Lee Willis (b. May 23, 1982). All three sons were born in Austin, Tx. I'm single. I was graduated from Angleton High School in 1968, and Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Tx., in 1972 (BBA, MBA). I currently live in Austin, Texas. I own Riata Talent. My education is in accounting. I love history and especially family history. I loved sports, especially football. I never had much confidence in baseball. I could never hit against the kid from Alvin, a few miles up the road. His name was Nolan Ryan.
2) Julian Everette Willis (b. Oct. 5, 1919; d. Jun. 13, 1995) was my father. He was a son of Randall Lee Willis and Lillie Gertrude Hanks Willis. He married my mother, Ruth Lawson Willis (b. Apr. 25, 1913; d. Oct. 13, 1994) on June 26, 1948, in Longleaf, La. He died of heart failure and she died of cancer. Both are buried at Butter Cemetery near Forest Hill, La. My mother, Ruth Lawson Willis, was the daughter of Robert S. Lawson (b. Mar. 25, 1868; d. 1941) and Nina Ruth Hanks Lawson (b. Oct. 27, 1891; d. July 16, 1962). My father, Julian Willis, fought in W.W.II., in the Army Aircore, and was on Iwo Jima at he end of the war. We moved to Clute, Texas in 1954, so daddy could work for Dow Chemical. He also raised horses, mules, and cows.
We then moved to Angleton, Texas in 1960. We lived in the middle of several rice fields between Angleton and Danbury. Daddy had a very strong work ethic. He wasn't much on going to church, but had strong values and beliefs. He was extremely opinionated in politics. I only saw him cry once, at his mother's funeral. Mother loved Jesus and was an active member of Temple Baptist Church in Clute. As a young man I was faced with the choice of getting up at five in the morning, on Sundays, and working cows with daddy or going to church with mother. I chose church.
3) Randall Lee Willis (b. Mar. 20, 1886; d. May 14, 1940) was my grandfather. He was a farmer and logger. He was the youngest child of Daniel Hubbard Willis, Jr. and Julia Ann Graham Willis. He married Lillie Gertrude Hanks (b. Dec. 29, 1897; d. July 2, 1973) on Jan. 11, 1914 in La. He was born in Forest Hill. She moved to Forest Hill from Branch, La. at age 11. He died of stomach cancer and she died of a heart attack. He is buried in the Graham Cemetery and she at the Butter Cemetery. He was named after his father's commanding general in the Civil War, Gen. Randall Lee Gibson. I was, in turn, named after my grandfather, Randall Lee Willis. She was a strong believer in Christ and was a staunch Baptist. I remember her deep reverence for the Lord. I remember walking into the church sanctuary with her one day, where the pastor was teaching a Sunday school class. He looked up from his notes and asked, Mrs. Willis "what does Christ do with our sins," and without hesitation she said "He throws them as far as the east is from the west."
4) Daniel Hubbard Willis, Jr. (b. Apr. 2, 1839; d. May 22, 1900) was my great-grandfather. After his return from the Civil War, in 1865, he was made Constable of Spring Hill. His wife, Julia Ann, spoke often of the time he captured an outlaw from Texas who was hid out in the piney woods of Louisiana. She said it was to late to make the horseback trip to the jail in Alexandria, therefore Daniel handcuffed the outlaw to the foot of their bed for an overnight stay. Daniel told him he better not make a sound. She said Daniel slept soundly, but she did not sleep a wink all night. He later was a successful rancher. He and his sons would buy cattle in East Texas and then drive them to the railroad at Lecompte, La. to be shipped north. Once the cattle stampeded in the woods. My grandfather, who was only 12 and riding drag, thought his dad, Daniel, had been killed; but then he could see Daniel's huge white hat waving high in the air in front of the cattle.
Daniel Hubbard Willis, Jr. was the eldest son of Rev. Daniel Hubbard Willis, Sr. and Anna Slaughter. He was raised near Sugartown, La. and then settled on Barber Creek near Longleaf, La. He married Julia Ann Graham (b. Feb. 22, 1845; d. Sept. 28, 1936) on January 5, 1867. (Daniel called her Julieann). Julia Ann's grandchildren recalled that she would often read her red-lettered New Testament on the front porch of the Old Willis Place. She would then open her trunk and pull out Daniel's photo, who had preceded her in death, and a tear would be seen in her eye. She also loved oranges. She would eat them, lay the peals on the window seal and later eat the peals. When asked what she was doing she replied "I don't know for sure, but I think these orange peals are good for you." He died from kidney trouble at his son, Dr. Daniel Oscar Willis' home near Leesville, La. She swam in Barber Creek until age 90. Both Daniel and Julia Ann are buried at the Graham Cemetery.
Daniel Hubbard Willis, Jr. was the first of four WillisÂ’ brothers to marry four GrahamÂ’ sisters. When Daniel asked Julia Ann's father, Robert Graham, for her hand in marriage; Robert asked him if he could feed her. Daniel replied "that he had a horse, a milk cow, a barrel of corn and a barrel of molasses." Robert responded "my goodness son you have enough to marry several of my daughters." Later, three of Daniel's brothers would marry three of Julia Ann's sisters. When Daniel died in 1900, he left Julia Ann, $35,000.00 in gold, a home, land, and the woods full of cows, on Barber Creek, near Long Leaf, La.
He fought under General Randall Lee Gibson in the Civil War. The headlines from Daniel's obituary in the "Alexandria Town Talk" stated "Another Gallant Confederate Soldier and Prominent Citizen Passes Away." The writer of his obituary wrote "During an intimate acquaintance, covering a period of twenty-five years, the writer never heard a vulgar or profane word pass his lips."
5) Rev. Daniel Hubbard Willis, Sr. (b. Dec. 28,1817; d. Mar. 27, 1887) was my great-great-grandfather. He was born on Bayou Boeuf in La. He married Anna Slaughter (b. May 29, 1820 d. Mar. 24, 1876) on Mar. 15, 1838 in La. Both are buried at the Amiable Baptist Church Cemetery near Glenmora, La. He was the first of Rev. Joseph Willis' many descendants to follow him into the ministry. Daniel was called by W.E. Paxton's in "A History of the Baptist of Louisiana, from the Earliest Times to the Present" (1888) "Â…one of the most respected ministers in the Louisiana Association." He established many churches himself and was blind the last 22 years of his life. His daughter would read the scriptures and he would preach. He was pastor of Amiable and Spring Hill Baptist Churches for many years. The Louisiana Association minutes record, in 1856, that "Elder D.H. Willis was a missionary in the Western part of the Association at the rate of $400 per year. Although in ill health he 'traveled 1840 miles, preached 84 sermons, delivered 44 exhortations, visited 115 families, baptized 19, restored 2, settled one difficulty, started 3 prayer meetings, and one Sabbath School, preached at 21 different places...'"
He settled on Spring Creek near Glenmora at a community called BabbÂ’s Bridge. His daughter-in-law, Julia Ann Graham Willis said he was the best man she every knew.
6) Agerton Willis (b. 1785 in North Carolina) was my great-great-great-grandfather. He married Sophie Story on April 18, 1811, in La. He was the eldest of approximately 19 children of Rev. Joseph Willis. His mother was Rachel Bradford from Bladen County, NC. His wife, Sophie Story, was an Irish orphan brought from Tennessee by a Mr. Park, who then lived near Holmesville below Bunkie, La. I do not know ether's place of birth or where they are buried.
7) Rev. Joseph Willis (b. circa 1758; d. Sept. 14, 1854) was my great-great-great-great-grandfather. He was born in Bladen County, NC. in 1758. The Louisiana Baptist Association met at Evergreen, La. on October 1, 1852. Joseph Willis' friend, John O'Quin, was clerk of the association that year and recorded in the Louisiana minutes "Joseph Willis, Sr., a feeble old man of ninety-four years old." This would have made Joseph 96 when he died in September of 1854; thus his year of birth, 1758. The committee on his on his obituary, in 1854, said that he died "at the advanced age of ninety two." This explains the date of birth, on his marker, of 1762. I believe this later estimate was wrong, since family tradition and numerous historians state he was 96 years old when he died.
He was the first non-Catholic minister, to preach the Gospel, West of the Mississippi, River. He fought under Francis Marion "The Swamp Fox" in the Revolutionary War (South Carolina) and then migrated to La. before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. He established the first non-Catholic church West of the Mississippi River, Calvary Baptist, Nov. 13, 1812, at Bayou Chicot, La.
His mother was half-Cherokee Indian and his father was English. His first wife was Rachel Bradford from Bladen County, North Carolina. His second wife, Sarah, was a Irish women from South Carolina. He settled with his third wife (a Johnson women) on Bayou Chicot. She died and is buried there. The location of her grave is unknown. He then moved, with his children, and settled on Spring Creek east of the Calcasieu River. His fourth wife was Elvy Sweat from Ten Mile Creek; they lived on the west side of the Calcasieu River, in Willis Hollow. He had four wives and 19 children. He is buried at the Occupy Baptist Church Cemetery near Pitkin, La.
His first cousin, General John Willis, was one of the signers ratifying The Constitution of the United States, from North Carolina, in 1788. Rev. Joseph Willis' influence is still felt today.
8) Agerton Willis (b. circa 1727; d. 1777) was my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. He was one of four brothers to migrate from England or Wales to Virginia and eventually to Bladen and Robeson Counties, North Carolina. The four Willis' brothers were Agerton Willis (b. circa 1727; d. 1777), Daniel Willis (b. circa 1716; d. 1785), Benjamin Willis III (b. circa 1725; d. 1785), and George Willis (b. circa 1730).
After arriving in America, these four brothers are found in Southeast Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay area, the same area that the pilgrims first settled. There in the 1740Â’s, in Isle of Wight County and Nansemond County (now the city of Suffolk) was the place that Joseph WillisÂ’ father, three uncles and one aunt called home.
The one known sister of these four brothers was Joanna Willis (b. circa 1730; d. 1791). Joanna married James Council (b. circa 1716) of Isle of Wight County, Virginia in about 1751. It is also said, that James was the son of John Council and Benjamin Willis Jr.Â’s sister Josie Willis (b. circa 1681), and grandson of Hodges Council. I have not confirmed this statement. Hodges, supposedly immigrated from Devonshire, England to America. I have been unable to confirm this with any evidence in Devon, England, but it may well be true.
In the early 1750Â’s, the family, including James and Joanna, moved from Virginia to North Carolina. Between 1740 and 1770, hundreds of Virginians moved to North Carolina as a result of the Virginia legislature passing a law requiring all non-residents to acquire ten acres of land for each head of stock ranging in the colony or to become citizens.
Agerton Willis settled on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. The four brothers were all large plantation owners in North Carolina. Many of the Willises in America descend from these four brothers.
The Origins of These Four Brothers
After extensive research in Devon, England, I'm beginning to believe that the story that I heard, 20 years ago, of these four Willis' brothers coming from Wales to America may be true.
I've have found only three, 1600-1700 Devonshire, Willis Families: James Willis of Totnes, Timothy Harding Willis of Barnstaple, and William Willis of Torrington. I have not found the names of Agerton Willis, Daniel Willis, Benjamin Willis, nor George Willis in all of 1600-1700 Devonshire, England.
Wales is a hotbed of Willis families. It has been written that the surname "Willis" is of Welsh origin. Supposedly the Willises came to England with William the Conqueror in the 11th century.
Additional research needs to be expended on our Willis overseas origin.
As mentioned above, after arriving in America, our Willis family is found in Southeast Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Other northeastern references with similar names can be found in the Boston Marriages from 1700-1809. Joseph Willis and Mary Goodwill - September 15, 1730 (page 158), Benjamin Willis and Ann Letty - November 20, 1742 (page 273) and Joseph Brown and Johanna Willis - September 22, 1719 (page 80). I've not been able to connect these Willises to ours, but the similarity of names is uncanny.
Randy Willis firstname.lastname@example.org