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Williams, Joseph J. (Joseph John), 1875-1940



  • Existence: 1875-12-01 - 1940-10-28

Biographical Note

Joseph J. Williams was born in 1875, in Boston, Massachusetts. Williams attended Boston College High School, the College of St. Francis Xavier, Woodstock College, and Loyola School, New York and became a member of the Society of Jesus in 1895. In 1907 he was ordained. In 1912 Williams traveled to Jamaica as a missionary. This appointment proved influential to him, as he became fascinated by anthropology and Jamaican and African folklore and cultural beliefs. Williams returned to the United States in 1918, working at Woodstock College and College of the Holy Cross. In the 1920s and 1930s, he published a number of scholarly works concerning African and Caribbean history and belief systems, including Whisperings of the Caribbean (1925), Whence the Black Irish of Jamaica (1930), Hebrewisms of West Africa (1930), and Voodoo and Obeah in Jamaica (1932). In 1930, he launched a contest encouraging Jamaican school children to submit stories about the trickster character Anansi. In the early 1930s he became a lecturer in anthropology at Boston College. Williams died on October 28, 1940 in the Shadowbrook novitiate in Massachusetts.

Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Identifier

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason collection


The Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason collection documents Masonic practice in late-1800s Jamaica. It includes correspondence, membership papers, and other material relating to Herman John Bürger, a Master Freemason in Kingston and Port Royal, as well as notes describing Freemason ceremonies and organizational structure. Also includes a Catholic anti-Masonic pamphlet on secret societies.

Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research; also available digitally. One fragile item is closed.

Dates: 1868-1882

Joseph J. Williams, SJ ethnological collection


The Joseph J. Williams, SJ ethnological collection documents the research interests of Williams, a Jesuit priest who studied the history and culture of the Caribbean and Africa. It includes over four thousand handwritten stories about the African folk character Anansi, as well as anthropological manuscripts; correspondence; engravings; financial, legal, and shipping documents; newspapers; and government reports, all dating from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Restrictions on Access

Collection open for research except for Series I, which is closed due to fragility. However, portions of the collection--including Series I-- are available digitally.

Dates: 1654-1937, undated; Majority of material found within 1770-1860 and 1931-1932