Wilson, Alexander


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Wilson, Alexander,

1766–1813, American ornithologist, b. Scotland. He came to the United States c.1794, taught in rural New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and became a citizen in 1804. Encouraged by William BartramBartram, William,
1739–1823, American naturalist, b. Philadelphia; son of John Bartram. He is known chiefly for his Travels (1791), in which he describes his journey (1773–77) through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida and areas to the west.
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, he studied the birds of his adopted country, learned to portray them, and began his encyclopedic American Ornithology (9 vol., 1808–14), a work that is noted for its accuracy and sensitive draftsmanship. Wilson broke with earlier conventions, observing and describing birds in their habitats and naming birds according to the Linnaean binomial method; the beauty and accuracy of his depictions inspired Audubon and other later naturalists. The last two volumes of this series of books were completed by his friend and biographer (1829), the naturalist George Ord, after Wilson's death. In all, the books illustrated and described 264 birds, 48 of them previously unknown. Wilson is also known for his poems and essays on nature.

Bibliography

E. H. Burtt, Jr. and W. E. Davis, Jr., Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology (2013).

Wilson, Alexander

(1766–1813) ornithologist; born in Paisley, Scotland. Raised in poverty, he supported himself as a weaver and peddler before emigrating to the U.S.A. in 1794. Settling in Philadelphia, he taught school and took up the study of birds. In 1808 he published the first volume of his American Ornithology, completing six more volumes over the next five years. His assistant completed the project after his death. Wilson also published two volumes of poetry, including a collection in the Scots dialect.