Select Wilson Miscellany

Here are some Wilson stories and accounts over the years:

Wilson Estates in the North of England

The table below shows six of the estates that were owned by Wilson families in the north of England during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.  The main locations were in Cumberland, Westmoreland, and northern Yorkshire.

Mathew Wilson 
Eshton Hall
nr. Gargrave, Yorkshire
from Westmoreland (1)
Edward Wilson
Casterton Hall  
nr. Kirkby Lonsdale
granted then (2)
William Wilson
Bank Hall
nr. Penrith, Cumberland
county sheriff then
Richard Wilson
Forest Hall
nr. Newcastle, Durham
acquired then
Richard Wilson
Melton Hall
nr. Doncaster, Yorkshire
inherited (3)
James Wilson
Sneaton Hall
nr. Whitby, Yorkshire
acquired (4)
Arthur Wilson
Tranby Croft
nr. Hull, Yorkshire
built then (5)

Note (1): These Wilsons were recorded at Nether Levens and Heversham in Westmoreland from the 1550's. Edward Wilson founded a grammar school at Heversham in 1613.  Peter Robinson wrote his book A History of Eshton Hall in 2006. 

Note (2): Casterton Hall was in Westmoreland.  These Wilsons had made money in manufacturing in Kendal before becoming landowners in Westmoreland and northern Lancashire.  They were related to the Wilsons of Eshton Hall.  Edward Wilson of Dallam Tower was granted the Casterton Hall estate by Queen Catherine out of her dower lands.  The Wilson name here later became Carus-Wilson. 

Note (3): Richard Wilson was descended from Thomas Wilson, a Leeds wool merchant in the 17th century. The family had become rich by the next century.  One line of this family moved to London and produced Benjamin Wilson, the painter, and his son the British army general Sir Robert Wilson.  Meanwhile Christopher Wilson of the family lost both his father and mother in the 1780’s and was brought up as an orphan.  But he was the grandson of John Fountayne, the Dean of York, and inherited his estates and took the Fountayne name after the Dean’s death in 1802. 

Note (4): James Wilson had sold his St. Vincent sugar plantation in the Caribbean and used the proceeds to buy this estate in England. 

Note (5):
Thomas Wilson founded the Wilson shipping line of Hull in 1822.  His family home of Tranby Croft near Hull, built in 1874, became well-known because of a gambling scandal involving the Prince of Wales in 1890.

Peter Wilson of Sotheby's

Peter Wilson was the architect of international art-auctions in the post-World War II period and of the growth of Sotheby's, the London art-auction house that he headed for 22 years.  

Born into Yorkshire landed gentry at Eshton Hall, he had joined Sotheby's in 1936 as a porter in the furniture department and rose to be its Chairman in 1957.  Over the next two decades, he dramatically altered the art market by making art auctions not only respectable but also glamorous and one of the most popular ways to disperse art collectibles. 

In the process, he transformed Sotheby's from a small fine-arts auction house - sales were $2 million in the late 1930's - into a $575-million-a-year enterprise that functioned in 21 countries and also dealt in real estate, stamps, livestock, automobiles and ships. 

Peter Wilson did it by his expert use of publicity, mass marketing, jet travel, and his tireless energy and extraordinary knowledge of art.  This tall charismatic man was known to the writer Ian Fleming and some think that he was the inspiration for Fleming’s creation James Bond.  However, the real-life Peter Wilson was different.  His own marriage was dissolved in 1951 after his discovery of previously latent homosexuality.

The Martyr of Wigton and Her Brothers Who Fled

In 1684 a Wigtonshire farmer named Gilbert Wilson and his wife attended conformist services. However, their children had become attracted to the teaching of the Covenanters and attended illegal 'conventicles' to hear their prayers and sermons.  Gilbert Wilson was fined for his children’s nonconformity and his family was treated like outlaws.  The children took themselves into the hills of upper Galloway and spent months hiding from the troopers. 

Two of the daughters, Margaret and Agnes, were then found and imprisoned.  Their father secured Agnes’s release as she was just thirteen at the time.  But Margaret, aged eighteen, was pronounced guilty and killed by drowning through “being tied to palisades fixed in the sand and there to stand until the tide overflowed her."  She became known as the Wigton martyr. 

Tradition has it that three Wilson brothers - Robert, Samuel and John – fled to Ireland in an open boat that year, bringing with them two ancient wooden family armchairs.  They made their home at Ballymena in county Antrim. 

John Wilson of this family emigrated with his family to Bucks county, Pennsylvania in the 1730’s.  Some Wilsons departed for Australia in the 1850’s.  Samuel Wilson prospered there and returned to England thirty years later a rich man.

Wilsons from Ireland to Pennsylvania and Beyond

John Wilson, according to the family lore, was one of the defenders of Londonderry during the siege by Jacobite forces in 1689.  His son John departed for America in 1729 and made his home in what was then still the frontier in Pennsylvania, Letterkenny township in the Cumberland Valley.  He was an elder of the Presbyterian church that was built there in 1737.  He died in 1773. 

His eldest son Hugh went to Georgia and was apparently “lost sight of."  John moved to North Carolina in 1764, following other Scots Irish families there, in what is now Gaston county.  James moved west from Pennsylvania to Ohio in 1797 after his wife died.

“He and several others clubbed together and built a flat-boat on the Monongahela river, on which they placed their families, and floated down to the Ohio river.  They had on board horses, cattle and sheep.  The wolves one day made sad havoc with their little flock of sheep.  When they arrived at their destination of Chillicothe, they found but one house with a shingle roof and that a log structure.”  

Only Samuel remained in Pennsylvania.  He became the pastor of the Big Springs Presbyterian church at Newville in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania.

Robert Wilson and Robert Burns

The Wilson family of Kilwinnet can trace their line of descent back to the Ayrshire village of Mauchline. Robert Wilson was said to have been a native of Mauchline, although he may have been born in Paisley and taken as a baby to Mauchline. 

According to the poet Robert Burns, Robert Wilson was the childhood sweetheart of Jean Armour.  In 1786 Wilson was in Paisley working when he was visited there by a Jean Armour pregnant by Burns.  Burns and Armour were later married in 1788 after Jean's return to Mauchline from Paisley. 

Robert Wilson’s nickname was the “gallant weaver” from the song Burns wrote about him.  He was carrying on a family tradition of weaving.  Robert married Margaret Thomson in 1789 and they had a large family.  His son William and his grandson Robert were also weavers.  Robert eventually gave up weaving in 1855 for snuffbox making.

Tom Wilson and the Canadian Rockies

Tom Wilson was born of Irish parents in Simcoe county just outside Toronto in 1859.  Excited by tales of the Canadian West, he decided to enlist in the NW Mounted Police. 

Getting there from Ontario at that time was an arduous journey.  To reach his destination, according to his daughter, he travelled from Barrie to Sarnia in Ontario and then by steamship

Marquis Claude de Jouffroy d'Abbans is generally credited with the first experimentally successful application of steam power to navigation; in 1783 his
to Duluth, Minnesota.  There he took the Northern Pacific Railway to the end of its line at Bismarck, North Dakota.  Here he transferred to a vessel which made its way up the Missouri river to Fort Benton, Montana.  From there he travelled by horseback to Fort Walsh.

He worked there for a time for the NW Mounted Police but then in 1882 got a job as packer, pathfinder and surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railway.  In his initial surveying role for them that year he was the first white man to see the beautiful Lake Louise.  Tom went on to become one of the great mountain men of the Canadian Rockies. 

He and his wife Minnie made their home in Banff where he opened an outfitter’s store.  He remained in Banff to the end of his days.  He was active in the mountains until 1920.  As an old man he would entertain guests at the Banff Springs Hotel with stories of the old days in the Rockies.

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