J. Harold Williams

Inducted: 1968
Born: 09/22/1898
Died: 03/21/1968

J. Harold Williams, a man whose name became synonymous with Boy Scouting, served as chief executive of the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts for forty-three years. He started scouting at the age of 13, became a scoutmaster at 17, and became chief executive at 21. He was a planner, lecturer, friend, and advisor to some 200,000 boys and men. He developed Camp Yawgoog in South County into one of the nation’s leading scout camps and a model for boys’ camping, beginning in 1916. What began as a row of tents on the old Palmer Farm grew into one of the oldest scout camps in the nation, hosting 7,000 scouts on its 1,800 acres.

This year marks the 108th summer season at Yawgoog. It has lasted through forest fires, hurricanes, a worldwide depression, and two world wars. The constant that keeps generations of youth coming year after year is the “Yawgoog Spirit,” credited to its founder, J. Harold Williams. In 1916, he listed the following “attitudes and customs that have come to be part of the Yawgoog scene and which have helped to make that Yawgoog Spirit.

  1. The Scout Law is the law of the camp.
  2. ‘Finish Hard’ is our motto. Put your best into every endeavor and get the job done.
  3. Say ‘Good Morning’ each day with a smile.
  4. Have Fun – make your chores into games.
  5. Praise publicly; censure privately.
  6. Build up the other fellow.
  7. Come to Camp as a Troop, with your own Scoutmaster.
  8. Never lose sight of the individual in the crowd.
  9. Give every new camper a special welcome and special help to get started.
  10. Give the veterans the privilege of rolling their shorts; have the rookies wear theirs long, so we will know the boys to help.
  11. Fold those neckerchiefs neatly; never wear them like shawls.
  12. Give a cheer when your hike leaves camp and another cheer when you return – no matter how tired you may be.
  13. When passing through the Memorial Arch, Salute the memory of Captain George Bucklin.
  14. At noon, when the Memorial Bell Tower rings; stop; stand still; bow your head and ‘Remember Scouts who died for God and Country.’
  15. Earn a ‘Totin’ Chip’ so that you will be worthy to carry your axe or wear your sheath knife, for Yawgoog is where the ‘Totin’ Chip’ idea began.
  16. Make every stranger and every visitor feel welcome at Yawgoog.
  17. Keep Sunday as Yawgoog’s greatest day – with religious services, programs for Visitors, and the climax of the Dress Parade and Awards.
  18. When you hear Church Call blown by the bugler after Taps, remember that ‘A Scout is Reverent’ and that ‘Prayer Time’ has come.

Many of the same “attitudes and customs” J. Harold Williams observed during his tenure at camp are still in practice today. Scouts continue to pause at noon for the tolling of the Memorial Bell and to salute the memory of Capt. George Bucklin when passing through the Memorial Arch. More than what can be seen or heard, Yawgoog Spirit is also an attitude that finds its way to all areas of camp. It can be found in the instruction of a merit badge class, a smile during the evening campfire, or the enthusiasm of a cheer on one of the trails. From the smallest “Good Turn” to the grandest Sunday Dress Parade, Yawgoog Spirit is all around. It is what makes Yawgoog stand out from anywhere else in the world.  

In the National Scout Movement, Williams was known as a master showman, having written and produced one of the great area shows at each of the five National Scout Jamborees. He was also known across the United States and Canada as a lecturer and storyteller. He left his mark in world scouting, attending the Seventh World Jamboree in Australia in 1951 as program director of the American delegation. Williams was also a playwright writing plays about scouting that received favorable reviews. After Dark: A Boy Scout Comedy In Three Acts tellsa story about a group of Boy Scouts who embark on a camping trip in the woods. However, things take a hilarious turn when they encounter a series of mishaps and unexpected events that leave them struggling to survive the night. The play is filled with witty dialogue, physical comedy, and a cast of colorful characters, including the bumbling Scoutmaster, the know-it-all patrol leader, and the mischievous scouts. As the night wears on, the boys must work together to overcome their challenges and learn the true meaning of teamwork and friendship. Critics described it as a fun and entertaining play that is sure to delight audiences of all ages.

Williams was in the Class of 1915 at Brown University but left after his first year and became a reporter for the Providence Journal. He married Charlotte (Booth) Williams, and the couple had two children, a son and a daughter.

Williams retired in June 1962 after reaching the compulsory retirement age of 65. Nearly 2,000 active and retired scouts attended his retirement ceremony that was held at Meehan Auditorium at Brown University. He was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Education from Rhode College, a Master of Arts Degree from Brown University, and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Bryant University. He also received the University of Rhode Island’s Achievement Award and the Big Brother of the Year Award in 1962.

The J. Harold Williams Brotherhood Award was established to perpetuate his belief in the spirit of Scouting and in the ideals of the movement. Scouts are selected weekly from observation of the key camp staff as having practiced these ideals. Recipients of this award are recognized during the Sunday Dress Parade.

J. Harold Williams died on March 21, 1968. He was inducted into The Rhode Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968.

For additional reading:

  • The Yawgoog Story. Volume I. William J. Harold.
  • Camp Yawgoog: 1916-1990: Diamond Jubilee.
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