Ohio History Journal





[This memorial was submitted by the writer at the annual meeting

of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, June 6, 1902.-


It is my sad duty to record for the annals of our Society the

decease of our esteemed friend Dr. Thomas Wilson, late curator

of Archaeology in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.,

whose death occurred early Sunday morning, May 4th, 1902.

Dr. Wilson was a great friend of our Society and was also

a contributor to our Quarterly. In many ways I have been com-

pelled to call upon Dr. Wilson for information upon various sub-

jects pertaining to Museum work and in all cases he responded

cheerfully and generously.

Dr. Wilson spent the greater part of his busy life in the city

of Washington. He was born July 18, 1809, at New Brighton,

Beaver Co., Pa. His ancestors both on his father's and mother's

side came from northern England; those on his father's side

settled in Harford county, Md., while those on his mother's side,

the Mercers, settled in Chester county, Pa. As the country be-

came more settled the Wilsons moved to Beaver Co., Pa., and the

Mercers to Columbiana county, Ohio.

In those early days it was not considered of great value to

have an education, but Dr. Wilson attended the common schools

at New Brighton, where he received the best education afforded

there, at that time. He was a very ambitious young man and

bound to make his way in the world. He left his native town

of New Brighton and came to Salem, Ohio, where he apprenticed

himself to David Woodruff in order to learn carriage making.

He remained with Mr. Woodruff for two years and then went

west, serving as a journeyman in several places in Illinois and

Missouri. He finally settled in Marietta, Marshall county, Iowa,

where he followed his trade of making plows used for breaking

the new prairie land.


158 Ohio Arch

158      Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


In a short time he was chosen a deputy clerk of the court.

From this experience he turned his attention to law and later

completed his course in the law office of Finch & Croker, Des

Moines, Iowa, after which he was admitted to the bar. He then

returned to Marietta and began his legal practice, in which he

continued with marked succes.

At the beginning of the Civil War he enlisted in the 2d Iowa

Cavalry, and was promoted to the rank of Captain, but prefer-

ring the infantry branch of the service, he resigned and raised a

company which was known as the 4th Iowa Volunteers, of which

he was given command. He was mustered out of service Sept. 16,

1864. He went to Washington to settle up his accounts with

the government and there formed a legal partnership with the

distinguished Thomas Corwin of Ohio for the prosecution of

claims against the government. All the members of the Ohio

State Archaeological and Historical Society will remember the

visit of Dr. Wilson to our city, some years ago, when he pre-

sented to the Society a fine oil painting of Thomas Corwin, his

former partner. In 1881 he retired from the practice of law

and was appointed United States consul to Ghent, Belgium, after

a few years he was transferred to Nantes, and later to Nice,


For years prior to his study of the law he was very much in-

terested in the mounds and prehistoric monuments of this coun-

try. After his stay in Nantes he took up the study of prehistoric

monuments and all of his leisure time was devoted to the study

of archaeology. He visited all the museums and collections in

western Europe and investigated most of the sites known for

their occupation by prehistoric man. During his residence in

Europe, he gathered, both by purchase and as the result of his own

excavations, a collection of several thousand objects pertaining

to prehistoric archeology of Brittany. This collection he de-

posited in the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1887 Dr. Chas. Rou, curator of archaeology in the Smith-

sonian Institution died, and Dr. Wilson became his successor, in

which position he continued until his death.

Dr. Wilson was one of the foremost advocates of popu-

lar instruction in the Science of Anthropology, and he devoted

Memorial to Thomas Wilson

Memorial to Thomas Wilson.            159


much time to lecturing and writing upon the subject. Many of

you will remember the address of Dr. Wilson, as Vice President of

Section "H" of the American Association for the Advancement

of Science, given in Orton Hall, Ohio State University. The

subject being, "The beginnings of the study of Prehistoric An-


Among his many contributions to Anthropology and Archae-

ology may be mentioned, "A Study of Prehistoric Anthropology,"

1888; "Results of an inquiry as to the existence of Man in North

America during the Paleolithic Period of the Stone Age," 1888;

"Criminal Anthropology," 1890; "Primitive Industry," 1892;

"Minute Stone Implements from India," 1892; "The Swastika,

The Earliest Known Symbol," 1895; "Prehistoric Art, Or the

Origin of Art as Manifested in the Works of Prehistoric Man,"

1897; "Arrowpoints, speareheads and knives of Prehistoric

Time," 1898.

In connection with his Museum work he was called upon to

install, at the Cincinnati Exposition in 1888, an exhibit from the

Department of Prehistoric Anthropology. He also assisted in

making the display at the World's Fair in Chicago; at the Exposi-

tion in Atlanta and other places. In 1889 he was sent to Paris

as a delegate from the Smithsonian Institution to the tenth in-

ternational congress of anthropology and prehistoric archaeology.

In 1892 he visited the Columbian historical exposition held in

Madrid. He served on the jury of awards at the World's Co-

lumbian Exposition at Chicago. He was also one of the com-

missioners to the exposition held in Brussels in 1898; his services

there gained for him the decoration of the Order of Leopold

Premier, King of Belgium. Dr. Wilson was one of the regents

of the National University from which he had received the de-

gree LL. D. He was a member of many scientific and patriotic

societies and a member of the Anthropological Societies of Brus-

sels, London, Paris and Washington.