The 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.
Though he had acquired a reputation as a lawyer unsurpassed perhaps in his native State, yet he ere long relinquished his profession and entered the ministry. 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 same which had for many years enjoyed the ministry of his father.
In May, 1806, he was called, at the instance of the late Dr. Benjamin Rush (his early and constant friend) to the pastoral charge of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He accepted the call, by the advice of Lewes Presbytery, and removed to Philadelphia the same year. In May, 1828, he retired to his farm, near Hartsville, Bucks County, Pa., 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, 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 “ Log College.” The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by the University of Pennsylvania, in 1807.
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.
In May, 1798, he was married to Mary, daughter of David and Mary M. Hall, and sister of the late Governor Hall, of Delaware. They had nine children, only two of whom survived him, one of whom is the Rev. Dr James P. Wilson, of Newark, N. J. Mrs. Wilson died January 5, 1839.
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. In the ordinary intercourse of society his manners were exceedingly bland. He was affable and communicative, and generally talked so sensibly, or so learnedly, or so profoundly, that he was listened to with earnest attention.
As an author he 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 on Liturgical Considerations ; besides many Tracts and Essays.—See Annals of American Pulpit, William B. Sprague, vol. iv.. page 353, published by Carter & Brother, New York.
[* A Memoir of Rev. Dr. Matthew Wilson is published in The Presbyterian Historical Almanac for 1863, page 48.]