No one could have predicted that James Williams, born in 1796 in Grainger County, Tennessee, would become a world traveler, author and Minister Resident to the Ottoman Empire. He and his brother, William Williams, moved to Chattanooga by 1850 to establish headquarters for their steamboats shipping salt and furs on the Tennessee River from Knoxville to Decatur. They began with two boats but later eliminated their competition by purchasing all the steamboats on the river.
In the early 1840s, James Williams founded and edited The Knoxville Post, but retired from the Post in 1844. In 1853, the Williams brothers joined with William D. Fulton to establish Chattanooga's first bank, the Bank of Chattanooga, at the corner of Market and Third streets. The Union occupation of Chattanooga ended the bank's activities in 1863.