The GILLIAMs of Louisiana
Updated July 18, 2016
Although Hernando de Soto explored this region for Spain in the years 1541 and 1542, the colony of Louisiana was not founded until 1699, by two brothers from France, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. Its boundaries stretched as far east as the Perdido River, about halfway between present-day Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, westward to the Red and Calcasieu rivers, next door to Spanish territory; and extended north all the way to Canada, which was a French possession. The vast boundaries of colonial Louisiana included part or all of at least ten states: Alabama (western part), Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana (eastern part), Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
France reigned over the Louisiana colony from 1699 until all North American holdings were lost in 1763, at the end of the Seven Years War. All French territory east of the Mississippi River, which included the Florida parishes, went to Great Britain, and all French territory west of the Mississippi went to Spain.
The Spanish ruled its part of Louisiana from 1763 to 1800, when it was forced by Napoleon to relinquish control. It is important to note, however, that even though Louisiana was once again a French possession, there was no change of affairs. Spanish officials continued to govern the colony while Napoleon secretly negotiated with Thomas Jefferson to sell Louisiana to the United States. For this reason, researchers seeking people who lived in colonial Louisiana between 1800 and 1803 should begin in the Spanish records, not the French.
The United States took possession of Louisiana in December 1803 and began preparing the colony, which had never known a working democracy, for statehood. In 1812 war broke out between England and the United States, with Great Britain planning the conquest of Louisiana. Its objective failed when the Battle of New Orleans was lost. Less than four months later, Louisiana celebrated its third anniversary as an American state.
Early census records are filled with men whose given name is Guillaume, the French equivalent of William. Individuals with the surname Gilliam and Virginia roots did not first appear in the Louisiana Census records until 1850. When researching Louisiana records for Gilliams with Virginia roots do not ignore French-inspired spellings of surname Gilliam, such as “Guilliam” and “Guillam,” etc.
One of these first Gilliam families to settle Louisiana was the family of Miles Gilliam the grandson of Burrell Gilliam and Anne Johnson of Albemarle Parish, Surry County, VA. Miles by way of Georgia eventually settled in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.
Miles and his son William Gilliam, as the first Gilliams to do so, began to patent land in 1851 and 1852 in Bienville Parish.
Another early family of Louisiana was that of Travis Gilliam of North Carolina. He is found in the 1850 Georgia Census with his apparent mother Sarah, but is patenting land in Red River Parish, Louisiana by 1852. This Travis is most likely a grandson of Travis Gilliam of Cabarrus County, NC who married Edy Underwood and secondly Lucy Kent.
For information on specific parishes:
Bienville Parish, Louisiana
Various records relating to Gilliams that settled in Bienville Parish, LA