|Born||July 6, 1766
|Died||August 23, 1813(aged 47)|
Alexander Wilson (July 6, 1766 – August 23, 1813) was a Scottish-American poet, ornithologist, naturalist, and illustrator. Wilson is now regarded as the greatest American ornithologist prior to Audubon; Wilson is considered the father of American ornithology. It was his meeting with Audubon in Louisville, Kentucky in 1810 which probably inspired the younger Audubon to produce a book of his own bird illustrations, though Audubon's reaction to Wilson was decidedly ambiguous.
Several species of bird were named after him, including Wilson's Storm-petrel, Wilson's Plover, Wilson's Phalarope, Wilson's Snipe and Wilson's Warbler. The warbler genus Wilsonia was also named for him by Charles Lucien Bonaparte. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology is also named after him.
Wilson was born in Paisley, Scotland, the son of an illiterate distiller. In 1779 he was apprenticed as a weaver. His main interest at this time was in writing poetry (Robert Burns was seven years older than Wilson). Some of Wilson's work - commenting on the unfair treatment of the weavers by their employers - got him into trouble with the authorities. The "golden age of Renfrewshire song" is embodied in the persons of Wilson and Robert Tannahill. Alexander Wilson was born near the Hammils, a broad if not steep waterfall in Paisley where the River Cart skirts Seedhill. It does indeed appear to be the case, as William Motherwell states, that a great amount of literary activity began in Paisley around this time.
In May 1794 Wilson left Scotland with his nephew to find a better life in America. Wilson obtained employment as a schoolteacher in Milestown, near Philadelphia. In 1801 he left Milestown and found a new teaching post in Gray's Ferry, Pennsylvania; Wilson took up residence in nearby Kingsessing. It was here that he met the famous naturalist William Bartram who developed Wilson's interest in ornithology. In 1802 Wilson decided to publish a book illustrating all the North American birds. With this in mind he traveled widely, watching and painting birds and collecting subscribers for his book. The result was the nine-volume American Ornithology (1808–1814), illustrating 268 species of birds, 26 of which had not previously been described. He died during the writing of the ninth volume, which was completed and published after his death by his friend George Ord. Wilson lies buried next to Ord at Gloria Dei Church cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Alexander Wilson died in 1813 in Philadelphia, where he is buried in the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes) Cemetery. He is honoured in his home town of Paisley with a memorial and a statue. The statue stands in the grounds of Paisley Abbey, and the memorial stands on the banks of the River Cart at the Hammills waterfall in Paisley. It is inscribed "Remember Alexander Wilson 1766-1813. Here was his boyhood playground."
- Wilson, Alexander. n.d. The tears of Britain. A poem. OCLC: 166684875.
- Bonaparte, Charles Lucian, and Alexander Wilson. 1825. American ornithology or, The natural history of birds inhabiting the United States, not given by Wilson. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Carey.
- Wilson, Alexander. 1808. American Ornithology; or, the Natural History of the Birds of the United States: Illustrated with Plates Engraved and Colored from Original drawings taken from Nature.
- Wilson, Alexander, and Alexander Wilson. 1800. List of pieces written by Mr. Alexander Wilson, now in Philadelphia. [Paisley, Scotland]: Printed by Andrew Young. At head of title: Paisley repository. No. VIII. Probable decade of imprint from NSTC. "The American blue bird [by A. Wilson, in verse]": p. 2-3; "The Baltimore bird [by A. Wilson, part in verse]": p. 4.
- Wilson, Alexander, 1766-1813. 1800. Watty and Meg: or the wife reclaimed, together with : Habbie Sampson and his wife or, a new way of raising the wind : Donald and his dog : the West Kintra weaver turned teetotaler : the Loss o' the pack : John Tamson's cart : Takin' it out o' his mouth. Paisley, Scotland: W. Wilson.
- Wilson, Alexander, 1766-1813. 1800. Rab and Ringan: a tale as delivered in the Pantheon, Edinburgh by the author of Watty and Meg; to which is added The twa cats and the cheese, a tale. Glasgow: Brash & Reid.
- Wilson, Alexander. 1801. Oration, on the power and value of national liberty delivered to a large assembly of citizens, at Milestown, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday, March 4, 1801. Philadelphia: Printed by H. Maxwell. Reprinted in Early American imprints. Second series;, no. 1668.
- Wilson, Alexander. Papers, 1806-1813. Philadelphia: American Philosphical Society. This material relates to Alexander B. Grosart's biography of Wilson. There are notes and copies of letters and documents, including a copy of Wilson's will. There is one poem by Wilson, "The Last Wish," and an 1806 letter to William Bartram.
Biographies of Alexander Wilson 
Wilson was a prolific letter writer giving biographers insight into his life. Below are major biographies written, in part, from his letters.
- The Life and Letters of Alexander Wilson by Clark Hunter. The American Philosophical Society for its Memoirs series, Volume 154, Philadelphia. 1983. ISBN 0-87169-154-X.
- Alexander Wilson: Wanderer in the Wilderness by Robert Plate. David McKay Company, Inc. New York. 1966. Library of Congress Number 66-11348 (no ISBN).
- Alexander Wilson: Naturalist and Pioneer by Robert Cantwell. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and New York. 1961. Library of Congress Number 61-12246 (no ISBN)
- Alexander Wilson, Poet-Naturalist: A Study of His Life with Selected Poems by James Southall Wilson. Neale Publishing Company, New York and Washington. 1906.
- Wilson the Ornithologist: A New Chapter in His Life by Allan Park Paton. Longmans, Green & Company. 1863.
- Sketch of the Life of Alexander Wilson by George Ord. Harrison Hall, 1828. Biographer Clark Hunter adds: "This is substantially enlarged from that which Ord wrote for vol. 9 of the American Ornithology. Contains many more letters."
- Biographical Sketch of the Late Alexander Wilson to a Young Friend by Thomas Crichton. J. Neilson, Paisley. 1819.
- Stone, Witmer. 1906. "Some Unpublished Letters of Alexander Wilson and John Abbot." The Auk, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct., 1906), pp. 361-368.
- Hunter, Clark (1983), The Life and Letters of Alexander Wilson, American Philosophical Society, p. 111, ISBN 087169154X.
- Find a Grave. "Alexander Wilson". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- Hunter, edited by Clark (1983). The life and letters of Alexander Wilson. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN 0-87169-154-X.
- Biographies for Birdwatchers, Barbara & Richard Mearns ISBN 0-12-487422-3
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Wilson, Alexander". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Media related to Alexander Wilson at Wikimedia Commons
- Alexander Wilson, American Ornithologist Complete illustrations from the 9 vol. edition with critical biography.
- Alexander Wilson Cornell University, Mann Library
- Wilson's poetry A collection of Wilson's poetry compiled at Virginia Tech