December 9: James Patriot Wilson

Our post today is drawn from Richard Webster’s History of the Presbyterian Church.

wilsonJamesPatriot_02The son of Rev. Dr. Matthew* and Elizabeth Wilson, James Patriot Wilson was born at Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware, February 21, 1769. His father was eminent as a physician and clergyman, and his mother was deemed a model in all her domestic and social relations. He was graduated with high honor at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, Pa., in August of 1788. So distinguished was he in the various branches, included in his collegiate course, that at the time of his graduation it was the expressed opinion of the Faculty that he was competent to instruct his classmates. He was at the same time offered a place in the University as Assistant Professor of Mathematics, but as his health was somewhat impaired and the air of his native place was more congenial with his constitution, he became an assistant in the Academy at Lewes, taking measures to regain his health, and occupying his leisure with reading history. Having devoted himself for sometime to the study of the law he was admitted to the bar in Sussex County, Delaware, in 1790.

In June, 1792, he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of John and Hannah Woods, of Lewes, Delaware, with whom he lived but little more than three years, as she died in December, 1795. She had two children, but neither of them survived her.

Though he had acquired a reputation as a lawyer that was perhaps unsurpassed perhaps in Delaware at the time, yet it was not long before he gave up this profession and entered the ministry. The death of his first wife may well have been what contributed to this change of course.

He was licensed to preach the gospel in 1804 by the Presbytery of Lewes, and in the same year was ordained and installed as pastor over the united congregations of Lewes, Cool Spring, and Indian River—the very congregations which had for many years enjoyed the ministry of his father.

In May of 1806, he was called, upon the death of Dr. Benjamin Rush (who had been his early and constant friend), to the pastoral charge of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He accepted the call, under the encouragement of his Presbytery, and relocateded to Philadelphia that same year. In May of 1828, he retired to his farm, near Hartsville, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, about twenty miles from the city, on account of the infirm state of his health, preaching nevertheless to his congregation as often as his health permitted. His resignation of his pastoral charge was not accepted till the spring of 1830. In the course of that season he visited the city and preached for the last time to his people. He died at his farm in the utmost peace, on December 9, 1830, and was buried on the 13th, in a spot selected by himself in the grave-yard of Neshaminy Church. His remains lie near the tomb of the celebrated William Tennant, the founder of the “Log College.” The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by the University of Pennsylvania, in 1807.

Dr. Wilson was in person above the middle height, and had a countenance rather grave than animated, and expressive at once of strong benevolent feelings and high intelligence. He was affable and communicative, and generally talked so sensibly, or so learnedly, or so profoundly, that he was listened to with earnest attention.

About three years after the death of his first wife, he was married in May of 1798 to Mary, daughter of David and Mary M. Hall, and sister of the late Governor Hall, of Delaware. Mrs. Wilson later survived her husband by nine years, and died January 5, 1839. They had nine children, only two of whom survived into adulthood; one of which was the Rev. Dr. James P. Wilson, of Newark, New Jersey.

As an author Rev. Wilson published lectures upon some of the Parables and Historical Passages of the New Testament, in 1810; An Easy Introduction to the Knowledge of the Hebrew Language, 1812; Ridgely’s Body of Divinity, with Notes, 1814 ; A Series of Articles on The Primitive Government of the Christian Churches; also Liturgical Considerations (1833), along with many tracts and essays. For more on his various publications, see Annals of American Pulpit, by William B. Sprague, vol. 4, page 353.

[* A Memoir of Rev. Dr. Matthew Wilson can be found published in The Presbyterian Historical Almanac for 1863, on page 48.]

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