James D. K. Willis, My Maternal Great Grandfather

In my previous blog I used an account written by Florence Reid Willis who is one of my contemporary relations – a 2nd cousin. DNA analysis suggested that we were 5th to 8th cousins. But on closer examination we found that we were 2nd cousins. We share the same grandmother – May Belle Willis.

May Belle Willis Friend – as a young mother with 2 of her daughters in Minneapolis Minnesota, May 1912
May Belle Willis Friend (on the right) as a grandmother, I am on her right along with my cousin Betsy, Winchester, Massachusetts, 1939 or 1940

Florence Reid Willis is the daughter of one of my grandmother’s brothers.


James Davis Knowles Willis, My Great Grandfather

James Davis Knowles Willis was my Great Grandfather. The following account of his life was written by Florence Reid Willis, another one of his great grand daughters

His story

The parents of James Davis Knowles Willis were members of the Second Baptist Church of Boston.

James Davis Knowles was a clergyman, born in Providence Rhode Island, in 1798, died in 1838 in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. James was placed in a printing office at the age of 12, and while learning the trade he studied French and Latin. When he was 21 he became associate editor of William G. Goddard”s “Rhode Island American”. Entered the Baptist Church in March 1820. He was licensed to preach in the following autumn, and studied theology in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. There he also followed a collegiate course in Columbia College, after graduation he was appointed a tutor. On December 28 1825, he was ordained pastor of the 2nd Baptist Church in Boston.

In 1832 he was compelled by failing health to resign, and from that time until his death, which was due to small pox, he filled the chair of pastoral duties and sacred rhetoric at Newton Theological Seminary. At the same time he conducted for over two years the “christian Reiew”, a quarterly magazine. Besides addresses he published “Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson” (Boston,1829), and “Memoir of Roger Williams, the Founder of the State of RhodeIsland”.

I have paraphrased the above submission by Florence Reid Willis who in turn extracted the account from Appleton’s Encyclopedia.

Thoughts On Memory

What is the wiring in our brains such that we remember things – people, places, events, sensations, emotions, etc.? What is the cause of memory loss? Why do memories vary as between people. Why do memories become distorted? Why do memories vary so much as between people? Why do our memories vary over time? Etc. It is a BIG subject.

What is photographic memory? How does one classify it? Exact recall of a printed page?.

I have a case study very close to hand. My husband’s memory is fading. At what point did this become noticeable? It’s hard to pinpoint – everyone’s memory is a changing phenomenon. But I would say it became a factor approximately 5 years ago. I remember myself saying “your memory is shot”. And it has become a moving phenomenon.

In his early 80’s it was within “normal” bounds. Now at age 87 he can still remember the names of our 9 grandchildren and link who belongs to whom. But he can’t remember anything about our house and its location. He can’t understand where or why we are living in an assisted living facility. (We moved 10 months ago.) He can’t remember where our sons and their families live. He is very disoriented, both as to time and place.

And yet in the immediate present he is very sharp. And we have a lot of fun and laughter with plays on words. He is known here in the community of assisted living residents as a witty gentleman with a keen sense of humor! Amen to that.