Notes for William Adair Wilson

A Wilson Family Tree

Notes for William Adair Wilson

"History of Saline County, Missouri", Missouri Historical Co., St. Louis, 1881, pp. 415-416:


The subject of this sketch--the youngest of four brothers, John, Robert, David, and Wm., sons of Wm. Wilson--was born, December 17, 1807, in Augusta county, Virginia. He, with his brothers, came to this state, locating in Howard county, in 1825. He afterwards located in this county. His brother David died many years ago, and Gen. John Wilson removed to California, filled quite a number of high official positions, and died in San Francisco, some two years since. Robert located in St. Joseph, Missouri, represented his county and district for many years in the state legislature and senate, and other offices, and served out the unexpired term of one of our U. S. senators.

In June, 1835, Judge Wilson married Miss Mary E. Reeves, daughter of the late ex-Governor Reeves, of Missouri. His wife survives him and resides on the old homestead, in Marshall, Missouri. The result of this marriage was five sons and two daughters, all living, except Martha C., who married Dr. Grove, of this county, and died in 1865, in Fayette [should be Columbus], Indiana, the present home of her husband; Annette married the Hon. John R. Vance, and now resides in Marshall, as does also Leonard Wilson, our present efficient postmaster. Col. Ben. H., Hon. W. A. and Bird L. Wilson now reside in Colorado; and Horace E. Wilson resides at St. Joseph, Missouri.

Judges Wilson and Leonard, having located in Howard county about the same time, and having married sisters, there sprang up between them a very strong social, personal and political attachment, which lasted during their lives. Both were staunch whigs, and both consistent, firm and uncompromising Union men, and cordially supported the national government during the late conflict.

In 1835, he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of militia, by Gov. Dunklin. In August, 1836, he moved to Saline, and in 1838 was elected county judge, serving with Judges Brown and Field. On February, 6, 1850, appointed county and circuit clerk, and ex-officio recorder, vice John A. Trigg, resigned, and in March following was elected to said offices for unexpired term, extending to 1854, when he was re-elected and filled said offices for the term of six years.

In 1862, Judge Wilson was appointed by Gov. Gamble, circuit and county clerk of the county, and in the same year, provost marshal, with rank of major. When the 71st regiment, E. M. M. [enrolled Missouri militia -- Union], was organized, he was made lieutenant-colonel of same. It is not saying too much to say, that no one in this county was better or more favorably known at Union or Federal headquarters of this state, or at Washington City, than Judge W. A. Wilson. He filled the clerkships of the county up to the time of his death, August 18, 1865 [should be August 28]. Judge Wilson was a lawyer by profession, and, except while in office, practiced that profession. He was, for a time, law-partner of Col. T. W. B. Crews and Hon. W. H. Letcher. He, like his brothers, Robert and John, was a man of more than ordinary ability, and possessed, in a remarkable degree, that foresight and confidence, so well calculated to lead and inspire any party with which he might become connected. In the discharge of all his official duties, he was honest and efficient, and never betrayed the trusts confided to him. For more than twenty years prior to his death, perhaps, no man was more generally or prominently known to the people here. As a public spirited citizen, he was ever ready to contribute to every laudable enterprise. A man of excellent judgment--having once made up his mind, was determined and invincible. Duty and right outweighed all other considerations with him. He was a Union man in the broadest sense of that term. It is not saying too much, when we say, he formed the nucleus around which the Union element of this county rallied, more, perhaps, than any one else. Of a pure, positive and unsullied character, his opinions were ever sought and respected by his friends. He was faithful in all the relations of life; as a husband, parent, friend, the same integrity of character and goodness of heart were manifested, and gained for him that love and confidence he possessed to such an eminent degree. He was unswervingly true to his principles and to the instincts of his generous and manly nature. In his friendship he was faithful; in his susceptibilities, tender and emotional; in disposition and temperament, genial in a very high degree. In all the relations of life, he bore himself as a "man among men." His memory to us is precious, and his virtues remain a legacy to his surviving co-laborers in the cause to which he gave the strength and power of his manhood. Upon that brow, now cold in death, honors thick had clustered; and as he went forth from our ranks, many eyes were dim with tears, and many hearts were full of sighs. In the cemetery, at Mount Olive, "may his ashes requiescat in pace."

Note that he has a gravestone in Ridge Park Cemetery, Marshall, MO. Perhaps the cemetery changed names or his remains were moved to Ridge Park Cemetery?

The above biography of William Adair Wilson says that he came with his family from Augusta County, VA, to Howard County, MO, in 1825; he then moved to Saline County in August 1836. When he moved to Saline County, he initially moved to Old Jefferson, which no longer exists; it was on the Missouri River in the northeastern part of the county near present-day Cambridge. Later, he moved to Marshall; from letters in the Abiel Leonard Papers of the State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscript Collection, it looks like he moved from Old Jefferson to Marshall in late 1844.

From a biography of his son Adair in "Portrait and Biographical Record of Denver and Vicinity, Colorado", Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1898, pp. 321–325 (obtained from

The youngest of his large family was William A., a native of Augusta County, Va., and in early life a merchant, but later a student of law with his brother, Gen. John Wilson, who had preceded the family to Missouri and had served in the war of 1812. William was admitted to the bar in Saline County and opened an office in Marshall, where he was a pioneer and prominent attorney. For years he was clerk of all the courts there. When the Civil war broke out he was somewhat advanced in years, but enlisted in the state militia and was made lieutenant-colonel of a regiment, serving until the close of the war, but the exposure of camp life caused his death soon afterwards. He was then about fifty-seven years of age. Fraternally he was a Mason.

There is an interesting letter in the Abiel Leonard Papers from John Wilson (William’s older brother) to Abiel Leonard, dated 13 Nov [?] 1852, in which John says (some punctuation added):

I have been thinking much of of [sic] my brother Wm & his family, & am exceeding desirous to get them here [i.e., California] -- To remain at Saline, even with his clerkships, he can only live, & not gather any thing. His family is large & growing & he ought in some way if he can provide better means for their support & education. if he was here with only a couple of thousand Dollars to begin with he wd. on that day be richer than he can by any possibility be at the end of 20 yrs. The question is how is that to be effected? I have written to my brother on the subject & I take the liberty to write to you and have made to my brother this suggestion & hope I shall not offend you by laying it before you. I suppose, for I do not know the fact, that he could not do more than make a decent outfit to get here over the plains, & nothing left to begin on here after he came, & without money is rather a bad fix here, but even that will be better for him & his family than to stay where he is. If my brother & you will endorse for him for about 3000 [$ is probably cut off] for two years or 18 months interest at 10 per cent, letting the lender take out the first year’s percentage at the paying of the money & the other years interest & the debt to be paid at the end of the two years or 18 months as it shall be agreed, & let him lay that money out in either cattle & sheep & bring it over the plains, he can pay the debt when due & int. & have a fund in cattle worth 20000 $ (indeed far more) to go on -- I will stand his security to you & my brother that he pays the debt when it is due. the arrangement if made cannot fail to place him in easy circumstances. I shall be able by the time he gets here to give him a farm & I can say to you & my brother both that whatever you may say I shall be good security unless all signs fail.

[John’s proposal is very similar to what Rufus McDonald and James Wilson (nephew-in-law and nephew to John and William) actually did in 1864 -- they took a lot of mules from Missouri to California and made a big profit on them (see the notes for Rufus LeeMcDonald). William must not have liked the idea, though (or the deal fell through).]

According to "History of Saline County", William lost the positions of county and circuit clerk in the election of 1859. Then, according to the above, he was re-appointed to them in 1862. Presumably, the election winners had run off and joined the Confederates.

According to the McGrew letter, during the Civil War, friends and neighbors who sympathized and fought with the Confederacy made so many threats against his life (even coming to his home with ropes to hang him) and also threatened the lives of his wife and children, that to protect his family he moved them to Ohio for the duration of the Civil War. In "History of Saline County, Missouri", it says that 90% of the citizens of Saline County were from Virginia, Kentucky, or Tennessee, and most were Confederate sympathizers (I have seen elsewhere that this part of Missouri has sometimes been called "little Dixie"). William A. Wilson was an important leader of the Union sympathizers. Marshall was occupied by the Union during most of the Civil War; Lt. Col. William A. Wilson was in command of the post part of the time (in 1862 and 1863). From letters in the Abiel Leonard Papers, it was Oxford, OH, where the family went, probably sometime in 1864. They may have chosen Oxford because it is fairly near to where William’s sister, Nancy Wilson Loop, lived (in Somers Township, near Camden, OH). There are more details on all of this in the chapter on William Adair Wilson and Family During the Civil War in my Wilson book. In December 1864, William was the only one of the family in Marshall. Adair was in Nevada, Ben was in the Army, and the rest of the family was in Oxford. Leonard returned to Marshall at the beginning of Jan 1865, and Ben returned a few months later after he was mustered out of the service. It appears that the rest of the family only returned at the time of William's death (perhaps in time to see him before he died). In a letter dated 15 Aug 1865 (from the Abiel Leonard Papers), Leonard wrote to his cousin Reeves Leonard, "I would have sent it [a deed] sooner but Father has been so unwell that I was was [sic] unable to attend to it. he is not improving any. we have sent for Mother She will be here in a few days."

There is a little more about his passing in a death notice in the Howard Union (Glasgow, MO), 7 Sep 1865, p. 2 (obtained from

Col. William A. Wilson died at the Missouri Hotel, in Marshal [sic], on the 28th ult., after a painful illness of more than three weeks of typhoid fever. The deceased was an old and valued citizen of Saline county.

William's will, from his probate case file (obtained from the Saline County probate clerk; it is difficult to read in places, and poorly punctuated, so some may not be quite right):

In the name of God Amen, I William A. Wilson of the County of Saline in the State of Missouri, do make and declare this my last will and testament hereby revoking all others or former wills by me made

First I will that all my just debts and funeral expenses be paid of whatever kind

Second I give and bequeath to my beloved wife Mary E. Wilson all the remainder of my estate, both real and personal, to hold and use during her natural life for her support and the support and education of the younger children All money arising from the sale of land or otherwise which may not be necessary for the current expenses of the family, according to the judgment of my executrix hereinafter named, I will, may be loaned or invested for the benefit of the estate as my executrix may think best.

Third I give and bequeath to my son Benjamin H. Wilson, one thousand dollars, it being money loaned to and expend for me, at different times, and I will that no account be made of it at the final distribution of my estate

Fourth I give and bequeath to my daughter Kate Grove five dollars.

Fifth I have given to my son Adair Wilson, one thousand dollars which I wish to have charged to him and taken from his distributive share of the estate at the final distribution

Sixth I give and bequeath to my daughter Annett Wilson five dollars

Seventh I give and bequeath to my sons Leonard Wilson, Horace E. Wilson & Bird Wilson, each the sum of five dollars, as they arrive at the age of twenty one years respectively prior to distribution

Eighth I hereby appoint my beloved wife, Mary E. Wilson sole executrix of this my last will and testament with full power to execute the same, and to make such distribution to the heirs of my estate as she in her judgment may think best at any time.

Ninth At the final distribution of the residue of my estate among the heirs thereof, after paying the legacies heretofore named I will that all the surviving heirs as children share and share alike, and if any said heirs should die leaving issue they are to receive the distributive share of said deceased heir In witness whereof I hereunto subscribe my name and affix my seal this 24th day of August A.D. 1865 W. A. Wilson

The estate inventory is listed as $10,892.12 personal and $10,135 real.

1830 census
William Adair might have been living with brother John Wilson in Howard Co., MO. There were two 20-29-year-old males in the household; one of them could have been William Adair.

1840 census
Images 6 and 7 on (Marion Twp., Saline Co., MO)
Listed as William A. Wilson. Household consisted of three males (ages 30-39, 20-29, under 5) and two females (ages 20-29 and under 5). Presumably the male aged 30-39 was William A., the female aged 20-29 was Mary E., and the two under-5-year-olds were Benjamin and Kate. Don't know who the 20-29-year-old male was. Also, two slaves are listed, a male aged 10-23 and a female aged 10-23. Everything else is blank (for example, nothing indicated in the employment section).

1850 census
Image 143 on (District 90, Saline Co., MO)
Listed as William A. Wilson, age 39 [should be 42], born in Virginia. Occupation, clerk ct. [court clerk]. Value of real estate listed as $1200. Household consisted of William A., Mary E., Benjamin H. B., Catherine, Adair, Annett, Leonard, and Mary L. Wilson; Sophronia Doak; and William B. Simmons.
Image 32 on slave schedules (District 90, Saline Co., MO)
Listed as William A. Willson. Four slaves: male age 56; females ages 30, 14, 8.

1860 census
Image 13 on (Marshall, Saline Co., MO)
Listed as Wm. A. Wilson, age 51 [should be 52], born in Virginia. Occupation, lawyer. Value of real estate listed as $5000, value of personal estate listed as $3000. Household consisted of William A., Mary, Benjamin, Adair, Annette, Leonard, and Horace Wilson.
Image 2 on slave schedules (Marshall, Saline Co., MO)
Two slave houses, seven slaves: males ages 44, 5, 2; females ages 24, 14, 6, 1.

Note: Some of the information in these pages is uncertain. Please let me know of errors or omissions using the email link above.    ...Mike Wilson

Page generated on 15 May 2020