Alfred Mason Williams (1840-1896), was born in Taunton, Massachusetts in 1840 and entered Brown University in 1856. Trouble with eyesight made him drop out after a couple of semesters. His eyesight did not keep him from volunteering in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. He sent Civil War reports to his hometown paper and to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune.
In 1865, Greeley sent Williams to Ireland to cover the story of the upstart Fenian movement then trying to reestablish Irish control over their own land. He filed twenty reports to Greeley. While there, Williams not only developed a lifelong sympathy for Irish Home Rule, but was enchanted by the ballads and poems of Ireland and became a recognized collector of Irish folklore.
Returning from Ireland in 1871, he became editor of the Taunton Gazette, married Cora Leonard, and moved to southwest Missouri in 1872, where he edited the Neosho Journal. On the border of the Indian Territory that would become Oklahoma, Williams developed a deep concern for the minority rights of Native Americans. He was also affected by recurring warcaused fevers, and he and his wife gave up Missouri in 1875. He then landed a job as a reporter for the Providence Journal.
Within a year, he was writing editorials for the Journal. Providence was not the only focus of his attention; in 1881 he published a well-received book on the Poets and Poetry of Ireland; in the same year, he also made a trip back to Neosho and visited his Indian friends.
The deaths of both George Danielson and Henry Bowen Anthony in 1884 not only advanced Alfred Williams and Richard Howland into the top spots of the newspaper but provided the opportunity for the Journal to declare its independence from the Republican Party.
GOP party boss Charles Brayton had made a mockery out of some temperance legislation by having himself installed as the chief of state police and by making a number of legislators judges in a new court system that was set up for hearing cases about prohibition. Neither Brayton nor the new judges had any intention on enforcing the legislation. Williams and the Journal railed against this chicanery, nicknamed the “May Deal.” Two years later, Brayton arranged to have the Journal formally drummed out of the party at a state convention meeting.
The death of Cora in 1886 was a turning point in Williams’ life. To console himself, he embarked on a long trip to Ireland where he met some of the emerging Irish literati. In the pages of the Journal, he published the works of these fledgling writers including William Butler Yeats, Douglas Hyde, and Katherine Tynan.
In 1891, he retired as editor, citing health reasons, and pursued his literary and cultural studies. In 1896, on a trip to the Caribbean Islands, Alfred M. Williams died. He donated his remarkable collection of Irish literature to the Providence Public Library where it is still housed.