Alexander Wilson, an American ornithologist, born in Paisley, Scotland, July 6, 1766, died in Philadelphia, Aug. 23, 1813. He was the son of a distiller, and was himself a weaver and peddler. In 1790 he published a volume of poems. Having been prosecuted and punished for a lampoon at Paisley, he resolved to emigrate, and arrived at New Castle, Del., July 14, 1794, with only a few borrowed shillings, without an acquaintance, and with no decided purpose. After working at various trades, he went through New Jersey as a peddler, and during this journey seems to have first paid minute attention to the habits and appearance of birds. He afterward taught school at various places in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, finally settling in 1802 at Kingsessing on the Schuylkill. His home was near the botanical garden of William Bartram, who encouraged his taste for ornithology, and Wilson resolved to form a collection of the finest American birds. His first excursion (October, 1804) was to Niagara falls, through the then unopened wilderness of western New York. He published a metrical account of this journey in the "Port Folio," under the title of "The Foresters, a Poem." He learned drawing, coloring, and etching from Alexander Lawson, and persuaded Bradford, a Philadelphia publisher, who had employed him in editing the American edition of "Eees's Cyclopaedia," to furnish funds for an American ornithology on an adequate scale.
The first volume of the work appeared in September, 1808, but it was too expensive to be very successful. In January, 1810, the second volume appeared. Sailing down the Ohio in a small boat as far as Louisville, he set out on horseback from Nashville for New Orleans in May, 1811, and arrived June 6. Sailing again, he reached Philadelphia in August, and began the third volume. In September, 1812, he started on another tour to the eastern states. On his return ho employed himself so unceasingly in the preparation of his work, that he impaired his already weakened constitution and hastened his death. He completed the publication of seven volumes, and the eighth and ninth were edited after his death, with a biography, by George Ord, who had been his companion in some of his journeys. The work was afterward continued by Charles Lucien Bonaparte (4 vols. 4to, Philadelphia, 1825-'33). An edition of Wilson's poems was published at Paisley in 1816, and another at Belfast in 1857. A statue of him was erected in Paisley in October, 1874. - See "Difficulties Overcome: Scenes in the Life of Alexander Wilson, the Ornithologist," by C. Lucy Brightwell (8vo, London, 1860); "Alexander Wilson, the Ornithologist: a New Chapter in his Life, embodying many Letters hitherto unpublished," by Allan Park Patton (8vo, 1863); and a volume of verse and miscellaneous prose works, with a memorial, introduction, notes, etc, by the Rev. A. B. Grosart (Paisley, 1874).