The first people to settle in Williamston were the Chippewa Indians. Their leader, Chief Okemos, was the town’s first pioneer. The Chippewa’s main tribe location was in present day Okemos, but as they were exploring along the Red Cedar and Grand River, they came across the land that is known today as Williamston.
Williamston’s next settlers came in 1834. There names were Hiram and Joseph Putnam, and they came across Williamston while carving a path from Jackson County to the Red Cedar River. This path is still a modern day road and is named after the brothers. While in Williamston, the Putnam brothers fenced, plowed, and sowed the previous Indian clearings to oats. However, the brothers realized this was a hard lifestyle, and soon returned to Jackson.
Five years later, in 1839, the Williams family arrived from the New York state. The three brothers, James-Miles, Horace and Oswald Williams, bought the Putnam’s land. The brothers dammed the river, made a saw and gristmill and farmed the land. Eventually, more people came to the town. Although all three of the brothers were the founders of the town, James-Miles is credited with the town name of Williamston because he lived in it the longest. The town was officially named Williamstown in 1857. Early on, there was confusion on the spelling of the town, however the present day spelling is “Williamston” with the township still spell Williamstown.
Information on this page was originally published in History of Williamston 1838-1963 by Blanche Matthews Merrifield and Lula Granger Howarth