Sam W. Williams (November 30, 1853 – May 6, 1926) adopted the Watch Tower message through a circuitous rout. His story helps us understand how congregations developed in the decade of the 1880s. The Williams family lived in Leon County Texas, a sparsely populated rural county of about thirteen thousand people. He was raised a Methodist but in the late 1870s was increasingly dissatisfied with his religion. Five families started a study group. He recalled it this way:
In 1878, five of us brethren and our wives, all members of the Methodist Protestant church becoming dissatisfied with our living and with the low standard of the Church, decided we wanted to get nearer to the Lord. We saw that neither we, nor the Methodists, understood the Bible, especially the Prophecies, and we desired to, so we organized ourselves into a class for Bible study. … Soon another brother and sister joined and then another and another, soon, making our little band, when we could all attend, fourteen. We studied the Prophecies a great deal, and how they were quoted by the New Testament Writers, and I tell you we did have some of the grandest little meetings. The Lord blessed us. We held to the church and continued our studies. We met with the Methodists still, but enjoyed our little meetings the most.
His memories bring us to issues that drew people into the Watch Tower fold. He and his small group felt the lack of significant Bible study within their church. And they were dissatisfied with “the low standard of the Church.” In this period, the Methodist Church was troubled, the clergy were notoriously immoral, and, outside the larger urban areas, they were under-educated. On a broader scale, some prominent Methodists gave the church a bad name, but were retained as members despite their immoralities. “Boss” Tweed was a Methodist. Though from decades earlier, the seduction and murder of Rebecca Cornell by Ephraim K. Avery, a Methodist minister, still hung in the air. Though acquitted, most believed him guilty. The scandal was brought to memory in this era by his death in October 1869. Fraud uncovered at the Western Methodist Book Concern was fresh. We think, however, that Williams and his small group were distressed by the behavior of some in the church they attended.
Williams began to preach in the summer of 1879 without seeking a Methodist Conference license. He was confronted by concerned church authorities, but told them, “I do not think it would help me to preach.” His father, a long-term class leader suggested he apply for the license to avoid “confusion,” which he did. He was licensed in November and ordained in December 1879, elevating him from farmer to clergy. He became a circuit rider, largely or entirely within Leon County. On May 14, 1882, another Methodist clergyman handed him a copy of Zion’s Day Star, thousands of which had been sent out as sample copies. His life changed as a result:
We were busy and I put it in my pocket. The next day I was plowing and at noon I looked at the little paper; the first thing I noticed was “Man is Not Immortal.” I threw the paper away and went to my plowing. That afternoon I plowed and studied. “How foolish that man is to deny the immortality of the soul. Well,” I reasoned, “I am before the people; they call me a pubic man and I may have to meet this; I will collect the many Scriptures teaching the immortality and be ready to meet it.” I began to study that night. … After two hours study I gathered my many Scriptures together and was very much surprised and dissatisfied. I said, “Wife, do you know about the little paper I threw away today?” Yes, so she presented it. I looked at it outside an in. … I turned to the article and read it once, twice; put the paper up, prayed and went to bed thinking, “Can it be man is not immortal?”
He returned to his plowing the next morning, cogitated. He wrote letters to “three of the principal men of the conference,” asking for help. They answered immediately, but he was disappointed. They couldn’t present proof of inherent immortality either. “This was an awful time for me,” he wrote. “I cried unto the Lord earnestly.” He considered resigning his ministry, but fell back on sola scriptura doctrine:
My early teaching came to my help. I was raised … a Methodist but my parents taught me, “Bible first.” This saved me. I said, “I will take the Bible,” and I laid the old Book on my breast. “What it teaches, I will believe and teach to the best of my ability; what it does not teach I will not believe or teach.” O! what comfort came to my poor heart right then and there. Man mortal or immortal, can go to the winds, the Lord is my God, Jesus is my Savior, the Bible is my book; I am all right. I am happy and could and did say, “Glory to God,” as fervently as I ever did in a revival meeting.
Williams introduced the topic to the Wednesday Bible Class. They agreed entire that the Bible does not teach inherent immortality. He continued to keep his preaching appointments. And he sent for Paton’s Day Dawn, finding it helpful. Later that summer (1882) a retired Methodist minister living locally returned from a trip with three of the sample copies of Zion’s Watch Tower. They studied them together until they were tattered. Despite his changed doctrine, the Methodist Conference continued him in the ministry, but warned him, “Be very careful, you should not ask such questions; secret things belong to God.”
The retired minister whom we know only as Uncle Henry subscribed to The Watch Tower. They studied each issue as it came. In the Spring of 1883, at Uncle Henry’s urging, their Bible Study Group met at his house and celebrated communion as an annual event. Williams recalled:
This was April 1883 and praise the Lord, we have not missed this blessed opportunity since. My Tower subscription began in April 1883 and we have them all to Jan. 1916 1883 was a good year. We preached the Truth as we saw it and circulated “Food for Thinking Christians,” Tabernacle and Tower, taking subscriptions, etc., and began to get acquainted with C. T. Russell.
It appears that his first contact with Russell was through a letter written in January 1885. Unsigned as most published letters were, a letter found in the April 1885, Zion’s Watch Tower fits Williams’ circumstances perfectly:
Texas, January, 1885.
DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL: I write this for information. We (a few brothers and sisters) have come out of the Church (so called), and are standing for, and searching for the truth. I have been preaching four years, and from the first was called peculiar in my opinions. About two years past I received a copy of ZION'S WATCH TOWER of a dear friend and brother, which I read and compared with the Bible, and have been at it since. I soon began to preach in harmony with the TOWER, because I believed it to be in harmony with the Bible. Therefore my preaching got worse instead of better, my church said, and the consequence was I soon left them, shook off the shackles, pulled out of the yoke, and bless God I am standing in the liberty. During this time I have circulated the TOWER and preached in harmony with its teachings. When I left the church some others--about twenty and since then more—have also come out. The greater portion of us were Methodists. Having, therefore, never been baptized (by immersion), the question has been considered by us. Some want to be baptized, and others are satisfied. They have come to me, and as I have not been immersed I hesitated about immersing others. If I could find a brother that would baptize me, and do, nor ask, any more, I would be glad to receive baptism. The Baptists here will not baptize unless we join their Church, and we do not want to become again entangled with a yoke of bondage.
Now, what ought we to do? I do, and have for some years desired to do, God's will; and I do not want to leave one duty undone. I do pray and believe that you will find time to answer this letter.
He was expelled from the Methodist Conference in June 1884. Ill and unable to attend the Conference, he was left without assignments and a committee was selected to examine the charges against him. Similar to those posted against [name], the specifications were that he denied immortality of the soul and eternal torment, and that he believed in a future probation. He appeared for trial, pleading guilty and demanding proof that he was wrong. “I tell you we had a good time,” he wrote later. He saw demanding proof as a peaceful compromise with the committee, but they were unbending and voted to expel him from the Conference.
A significant number of those attending were dissatisfied with the committee’s proof text and apparently with the committee itself. The Bible Study fellowship from his home congregation left with Williams. And about fifteen members of the congregation where the trial was held (some thirty-five miles north of the Williams home) walked out too. The next month, July 1884, he received a letter from a group in an adjoining county. About twenty names were signed to an invitation to speak. He went and received a hearing, though he was more of a curiosity than otherwise but interest grew there too. Sam Williams had a growing family; his children were small. He worked hard on his home farm, but continued to preach to these assemblies.
As noted above the issue of Baptism prompted him to write to Russell who answered him through the Watch Tower. Considerable affection between Russell and the Williams developed. Sam was briefly a traveling Watch Tower speaker in Texas, and there is a newspaper record of some of his visits. Unguided, except by the Bible and reading the Tower, three Watch Tower adherent fellowships developed. We think that this is representative of the period.
 This quotation and those that follow come from a letter from Williams to editor of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Enterprise. See the February 26, 1916, issue.
 We document this in volume one on page [-].
 See New York Times, May 21, 1870.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, April 1885, page 2.