James Wilson, Declaration of Independence Signer, Supreme Court Justice

Male 1742 - 1798  (55 years)

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  • Name James Wilson  [1
    Suffix Declaration of Independence Signer, Supreme Court Justice 
    Born 14 Sep 1742  Saint Andrews, , Fife, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 21 Aug 1798 
    Person ID I173061  Alger
    Last Modified 13 Nov 2018 

    Father William Wilson,   b. Est 1720,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Mother Alison Landall,   b. Est 1722,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Family ID F66239  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 1 Rachel Bird,   b. Est 1744,   d. 1786  (Age ~ 42 years) 
    Married 5 Nov 1771 
     1. Mary Wilson,   b. Est 1772,   d. Yes, date unknown
     2. William Wilson,   b. Est 1774,   d. Yes, date unknown
     3. Bird Wilson,   b. Est 1776,   d. Yes, date unknown
     4. James Wilson,   b. Est 1778,   d. Yes, date unknown
     5. Emily Wilson,   b. Est 1780,   d. Yes, date unknown
     6. Charles Wilson,   b. Est 1782,   d. Yes, date unknown
    Last Modified 13 Nov 2018 
    Family ID F66240  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 2 Hannah Gray,   b. Est 1744,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Married 1793 
     1. Henry Wilson,   b. Est 1794,   d. Est 1797  (Age ~ 3 years)
    Last Modified 13 Nov 2018 
    Family ID F66242  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 
    • **********
      (The following is from the Mormon genealogy website - familysearch.com - LZFH-5RP)

      ?i?James Wilson (September 14, 1742 ? August 21, 1798) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, where he represented Pennsylvania, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution. A leading legal theorist, he was one of the six original justices appointed by George Washington to the Supreme Court of the United States.

      Wilson was one of seven children born into a Presbyterian farming family on September 14, 1742 near St. Andrews, Scotland, to William Wilson and Alison Landall. He studied at the Universities of St. Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh, but never obtained a degree. While he was a student, he studied Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, including Francis Hutcheson, David Hume and Adam Smith. Imbued with the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in British America in 1766, carrying valuable letters of introduction. These helped Wilson to begin tutoring and then teaching at The Academy and College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). He petitioned there for a degree and was awarded an honorary Master of Arts several months later.

      Wilson began to read the law at the office of John Dickinson a short time later. After two years of study he attained the bar in Philadelphia, and in the following year (1767), set up his own practice in Reading, Pennsylvania. His office was very successful and he earned a small fortune in a few years. By then he had a small farm near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was handling cases in eight local counties, became a founding trustee of Dickinson College, and was lecturing at The Academy and College of Philadelphia.

      On November 5, 1771, he married Rachel Bird, daughter of William Bird and Bridget Hulings; they had six children together: Mary, William, Bird, James, Emily and Charles. Rachel died in 1786, and in 1793 he married Hannah Gray, daughter of Ellis Gray and Sarah D'Olbear; the marriage produced a son named Henry, who died at age three. After Wilson's death, Hannah married Thomas Bartlett, M.D.

      In 1774, Wilson published "Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament." In this pamphlet, Wilson argued that the Parliament had no authority to pass laws for the American colonies because the colonies had no representation in Parliament. It presented his views that all power derived from the people. Yet, he wrote that the people owed their allegiance to the English king: "A denial of the legislative authority of the British parliament over America is by no means inconsistent with that connexion, which ought to subsist between the mother country and her colonies." Scholars considered his work on par with the seminal works of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams of the same year. However, it was actually penned in 1768, perhaps the first cogent argument to be formulated against British dominance. Some see Wilson as a leading revolutionary while others see him as another reluctant, elite revolutionary reacting to the stream of events determined by the radicals on the ground.

      In 1775 he was commissioned Colonel of the 4th Cumberland County Battalion and rose to the rank of Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania State Militia.

      As a member of the Continental Congress in 1776, James Wilson was a firm advocate for independence. Believing it was his duty to follow the wishes of his constituents, Wilson refused to vote until he had caucused his district. Only after he received more feedback did he vote for independence. While serving in the Congress, Wilson was clearly among the leaders in the formation of French policy. "If the positions he held and the frequency with which he appeared on committees concerned with Indian affairs are an index, he was until his departure from Congress in 1777 the most active and influential single delegate in laying down the general outline that governed the relations of Congress with the border tribes."

      Wilson also served from June 1776 on the Committee on Spies, along with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Rutledge, and Robert R. Livingston. They together defined treason.

      On October 4, 1779, the Fort Wilson Riot began. After the British had abandoned Philadelphia, Wilson successfully defended at trial 23 people from property seizure and exile by the radical government of Pennsylvania. A mob whipped up by liquor and the writings and speeches of Joseph Reed, president of Pennsylvania's Supreme Executive Council, marched on Congressman Wilson's home at Third and Walnut Streets. Wilson and 35 of his colleagues barricaded themselves in his home, later nicknamed Fort Wilson. In the fighting that ensued, six died, and 17 to 19 were wounded. The city's soldiers, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry and Baylor's 3rd Continental Light Dragoons, eventually intervened and rescued Wilson and his colleagues. The rioters were pardoned and released by Joseph Reed.

      Wilson closely identified with the aristocratic and conservative republican groups, multiplied his business interests, and accelerated his land speculation. He became involved with the Illinois-Wabash Company during the War for Independence and was made its president in 1780. He became the company's largest single investor, owning one and a half shares outright and two shares by proxy, totaling over 1,000,000 acres (400,000 ha) of land. Wilson further expanded his land holdings by cofounding the Canna Company with Mark Bird, Robert Lettis Hooper, and William Bingham in order to sell land along the Susquehanna River in New York. Additionally, Wilson individually bought huge quantities of land in Pennsylvania in 1784 and 56,000 acres (23,000 ha) of land in Virginia during the 1780s. To round out his holdings, Wilson, in conjunction with Michael and Bernard Gratz, Levi Hollingsworth, Charles Willing, and Dorsey Pentecost purchased 321,000 acres (130,000 ha) of land south of the Ohio River. He also took a position as Advocate General for France in America (1779? 83), dealing with commercial and maritime matters, and legally defended Loyalists and their sympathizers. He held this post until his death in 1798.


      Compiled and edited by Allen Alger, Alger Family Historian - e-mail: alger@alum.mit.edu

  • Sources 
    1. [S963] Family of Adam, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, (https://new.familysearch.org/en/action/unsec/welcome : copyright 2008), accessed 13 Nov 2018), LZFH-5RP (Reliability: 3).

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