National Records of Scotland

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James Wilson (1742-1798)

James Wilson (1742-1798)

Signatory to the American Declaration of Independence

James Wilson was educated at Cupar Grammar School and the University of St Andrews. After a brief period in Edinburgh he emigrated to America where he studied law. From 1774 onwards he became involved politically and argued that, as the American colonies had no representation in the British parliament it had no authority over them. He was one of two Scots who signed the American Declaration of Independence - the other was John Witherspoon - and played a key part in the framing and ratification of the federal constitution. In 1790 he was appointed professor of law at the College of Philadelphia but his financial situation took a turn for the worse over the next few years leading to imprisonment for debt. He fled to North Carolina and died there on 18 August 1798. He was buried in a private cemetery on the estate of Samuel Johnston. In 1906 he was reinterred in Christ Church cemetery in Philadelphia after a ceremony which commemorated him as one of the founding fathers of the United States of America.

Baptism in 1743

James Wilson was baptised on 14 June 1743, the son of William Wilson and Alison Landals. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Largo in the county of Fife records that his parents were from the parish of Ceres, that he was baptised by Mr Smith, minister of Newburn and that the witnesses were Robert Pearson, James Wood 'and many others'. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives his birth date as 14 September 1742.

Baptism entry for James Wilson

Baptism entry for James Wilson (22 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 443/2, page 62