Williams, David Marshall (Carbine), 1900-1975

Carbine Williams was born in Cumberland County, eldest of seven children. As a young boy, he worked on his family's farm. He dropped out of school after eighth grade and began work in a blacksmith shop, enjoyed a short stint in Navy, but was discharged because he was underage. After returning from the Navy, he spent one semester at Blackstone Military Academy before being expelled.

In 1918, he married Margaret Cook and they later had one child, David Marshall, Jr. Williams worked for Atlantic Coast Line railroad, but on the side he had an illegal distillery near Godwin, North Carolina. During a raid on this still in 1921, the Deputy Sheriff was shot to death, and Williams was charged with first degree murder. The trial ended in a hung jury, but Williams decided to plead guilty to a lesser charge of second degree murder. He was given a 20-30 year sentence.

While serving time at Caledonia State Prison in Halifax County, the superintendent began to observe in him a certain genius. As a child he had shown a talent for fashioning objects with his hands and as an adolescent had a special interest in guns.

In prison, he would save paper and pencils and stay up late at night drawing plans for various firearms. He was assigned to the prison's machine shop where he repaired the weapons for the guards. His extraordinary skills in the machine shop permitted him to stay ahead of his assignments and allowed him time for his own hobby. He began building lathes and other tools, and then parts for guns. His mother sent him technical data on guns and also provided him with contacts with patent attorneys. While in prison, he invented the short-stroke piston and the floating chamber principles that eventually revolutionized small-arms manufacture.

The family started a campaign to commute his sentence and they were joined by the sheriff to whom he had surrendered and the widow of the man he was accused of killing. Governor McLean reduced the sentence and in 1929 Williams left prison.

Back in Cumberland County, he set to work perfecting his inventions. After two years, he went to Washington, DC to show his work to the War Department. He got his first contract to modify the .30 caliber Brownings to fire .22 caliber smokeless ammunition.

It was the use of his short-stroke piston in the M-1 Carbine manufactured by Winchester and others, that brought his greatest fame and his nickname "Carbine Williams." General Douglas MacArthur called his light rapid-fire carbine "one of the strongest contributing factors in our victory in the Pacific."

In 1952 Jimmy Steward portrayed Carbine Williams in a movie of the same name. He spent his last years in Godwin after some time in Connecticut. He died in Godwin, North Carolina in 1975.

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