Samuel Wells Williams, an American sinologue, born in Utica, N. Y., Sept. 22, 1812. He graduated in 1832 at the Rensselaer polytechnic institute in Troy, and in 1833 went to Canton as a printer in the mission of the American board of commissioners for foreign missions. He there assisted in editing the " Chinese Repository," a monthly publication begun the year before by Dr. Bridgman. In 1835 he removed to Macao to complete the printing of Medhurst's Hokkeen dictionary. In 1837, while on a voyage to Japan to return home some shipwrecked mariners, he learned their language, and translated the books of Genesis and Matthew into it. He contributed about one third to Dr. Bridgman's " Chinese Chrestomathy," and published "Easy Lessons in Chinese" (8vo, Macao, 1842), " Chinese Commercial Guide" (1844), and "English and Chinese Vocabulary in the Court Dialect" (1844). He visited the United States in 1845, ana, to obtain funds for casting a font of Chinese type in Berlin, delivered lectures on China, which were enlarged and published under the title of " The Middle Kingdom " (2 vols., New York, 1848). Soon afterward he received the degree of LL. D. from Union college. In 1848 he returned to Canton, and took charge of the " Chinese Repository," which was discontinued in 1851 with its 20th volume.
He accompanied Com. Perry's expedition to Japan in 1853-'4 as interpreter, and in 1855 was appointed secretary and interpreter to the United States legation in Japan, and took charge of it until the arrival of the minister. In 1856 he published a " Tonic Dictionary of the Chinese Language, in the Canton Dialect," and an enlarged edition of the " Commercial Guide," both printed at the mission press in Macao, which was burned with most of the books in December, 1856. In 1858 he assisted Mr. Reed at Tientsin in the negotiations connected with the treaty, and the next year accompanied Mr. Ward to Peking to exchange the ratifications. He revisited the United States in 1860-61, and on his return to China in 1862 the legation was removed to Peking. The next year he published the fifth edition of the "Commercial Guide," nearly rewritten. In 1874 he published the " Syllabic Dictionary of the Chinese Language " (4to, Shanghai), containing 12,527 characters with their pronunciation as heard at Peking, Canton, Amoy, and Shanghai. This has superseded all other Chinese-English dictionaries.