The New Student's Reference Work/Wilson, Alexander

Wil′son, Alexander, an American naturalist, was born at Paisley, Scotland, July 6, 1766. He was a weaver and peddler, and at 24 published a volume of poetry. In 1794 he reached Newcastle, Del., with but a few borrowed shillings in his pocket. While peddling through New Jersey he began to study the habits of birds, and after teaching some years he determined to form a collection of American birds. His first trip was made in 1804 through the unbroken wilderness of western New York to Niagara Falls. He gave an account of this journey in his poem of The Foresters. His position of assistant-editor of Rees' Cyclopædia gave him more means and time for his undertaking, and, when the first volume came out in 1808, he spent some months in tramping, “looking for birds and subscribers.” He sailed down the Ohio to Louisville, and rode on horseback from Nashville to New Orleans. He made another tour of the eastern states in 1812. He had, however, overworked himself in preparing his book, and lived only to finish seven volumes. Two more were edited by George Ord, who had accompanied him on some of his journeys, and the work was carried further by Charles Lucien Bonaparte. Wilson was the first to make a careful study of American birds, and his great work on American Ornithology is a scientific classic. The author died at Philadelphia, Aug. 23, 1813. Consult Difficulties Overcome by C. Lucy Brightwell.