The Fletcher-Williams Family
A Vermont schoolteacher, Elijah Fletcher (1789-1858) traveled to New Glasgow, Va. (located a few miles north of Amherst) in order to take a teaching position. While teaching in this area, he became acquainted with the Crawford family of Tusculum and soon paid suit to daughter Maria Antoinette. They married in 1813 and would spend much of their married life in nearby Lynchburg. There, Fletcher developed a number of business interests, served as mayor for two terms in the early 1830s, served on the common council, and published The Virginian newspaper. He was a founding member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lynchburg. Williams was responsible for remodeling Sweet Briar House in 1851, creating today’s familiar Italianate façade.
Maria Antoinette Crawford
Maria Antoinette Crawford Fletcher (1792-1853) was the mother of Indiana Fletcher Williams and wife of Elijah Fletcher. She was raised at an estate called Tusculum, a few miles north of present-day Amherst. Elijah Fletcher purchased the Sweet Briar property, then called Locust Ridge, in 1830 from Maria Antoinette's aunt and uncle, Sarah Penn Crewes and Thomas Crewes. She is said to have renamed the plantation Sweet Briar (originally spelled "Sweetbrier") after a small pink rose (Rosa eglanteria) that bloomed here in abundance.
James Henry Williams
James Henry Williams was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States with his family in the early 1830s. A graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., he earned a divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1858. Indiana Fletcher and Williams met in New York at about the time of his graduation. He traveled to Virginia in 1865 to renew their acquaintance and they married in Lynchburg within a few weeks. Their only child, known to all as Daisy, was born a few years later. After marrying, Williams withdrew from his work as a clergyman and spent the remainder of his life managing the Sweet Briar estate, his wife’s other properties, and his own business interests in New York. He held the office of county clerk in Amherst and represented the county during negotiations over the new Virginia state constitution. Williams passed away in 1889. In leaving his entire estate to his wife, Williams also expressed a desire that a school might be established at Sweet Briar in memory of their daughter.
Indiana Fletcher Williams
Indiana Fletcher Williams (1828-1900) directed in her will that, aside from a few legacies to family and friends, her estate be used to establish a school for young women in memory of her daughter, Daisy. Her father, Elijah Fletcher, had spent his early adulthood as a schoolteacher and believed strongly in the importance of a solid education. He sent all of his children away to school (the sons attended Yale). Born and raised in Lynchburg, Indiana attended the school of Georgetown Visitation Convent in Washington, D.C. (now Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School). She subsequently attended St. Mary’s Hall (now Doane Academy) in Burlington, N.J., and later toured Europe with her sister and one of her brothers. An accomplished manager who steered her property safely through the turmoil of the Civil War and a savvy investor during her widowhood, she left an estate worth more than $1 million and encompassing over 8,000 acres. Despite objections from some family members, her bequest launched Sweet Briar College in 1901.
Maria Georgiana (Daisy) Williams
Maria Georgiana (Daisy) Williams, the only child of Indiana Fletcher and James Henry Williams, was born Sept. 10, 1867. She passed away from an inherited disease, thought to have been antitrypsin deficiency, on Jan. 22, 1884. She is buried with her family on the Sweet Briar College campus, at Monument Hill.