Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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Rachael Bird Wilson


Wife of James Wilson

Rachael Bird, the youngest daughter of William Bird of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, proprietor of the fine country seat and iron works on the Schuylkill River, known as Birdsborough, became, in 1771 or 1772, the first wife of James Wilson. He was a young lawyer at the time, having been but recently admitted to the practice of law after completing his studies in the office of John Dickinson, one of the most celebrated barristers of his day. Wilson was a highly educated young Englishman who had come to this country in 1766, with letters of introduction to some of the most prominent men of New York and Philadelphia. After being admitted to the bar he practiced for two or three years in Reading and Carlisle and in Annapolis, after which he took up his permanent residence in Philadelphia. Very early in his legal career, he became a strong adherent of the American cause, and during the remainder of his life much of his time and great abilities were devoted to public affairs, either in the State of his adoption or under the new national government. He died suddenly in 1798, in North Carolina, at Edenton, where he was presiding at a session of the federal court to which he had been appointed by President Washington. His wife, Rachael Bird, had died twelve years before, in 1786, leaving five children: Mary, who married Paschal Hollingsworth, of Philadelphia; William, who died at Kaskaskia in 1817; Bird, who held a judicial position in Pennsylvania and afterward became a clergyman in New York; James, who was a lieutenant in the army, resigned his commission and became a merchant and died at St. Domingo in 1808; Charles was first a midshipman in the navy and afterward in a mercantile business and died in Havana in 1800. The children whose decease is noted, died unmarried.

Judge Wilson married for his second wife, Hannah Gray, "an amiable young lady of Boston," second daughter of Ellis Gray, a merchant of that city. One child was born of this marriage, Henry, who died in infancy. Mrs. Wilson survived her husband and later married Dr. Thomas Bartlett of Boston and died in London in 1807.

Source: Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence, by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1997). Orignaly Published in 1912 as volume 3 of The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). Pages 205-207. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)


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Last modified January 8, 2004