Sketches of Students of First
Hon. WILFORD L. WILSON. Mr. Wilson was born at Cazenovia on the 14th day of February, 1815, and was reared to manhood in that place. His father, a physician, who had completed his course at Dartmouth College but a little more than a year before, entered upon a promising medical practice in Cazenovia, but was suddenly cut down by death when Wilford was only seven weeks old. His mother, who had been a teacher for several years before her marriage, resumed that occupation, and continued it for more than twenty years. In his childhood he was her pupil, until after the Seminary opened, when he was among its scholars. He possessed great coolness in places of peril, which, united with excessive physical energy, led him to climb the lightning rods, and exhibit acrobatic feats upon the highest steeples. Often his good mother was seized with consternation when, perhaps upon some military review day, she would be told he was sitting upon the ball which surmounted the sharp spire of the Presbyterian Church, and many a rebuke did he receive for his supposed recklessness; but the propensity was in him, so he was always self-possessed and felt safe. To this day he never visits Cazenovia but he is pointed out to the later generation as the one who performed the climbing exploits; but tradition, as is usual, has coupled with the facts several apocryphal stories.
In March, 1831, during an extensive revival which prevailed in Cazenovia, he became a Christian, and soon after united with the Church. That event changed the whole current of his life; it led him to engage immediately in benevolent and religious work, and after a time inclined him to seek the Gospel ministry. With that view he commenced fitting for college, and, in order to prosecute study, entered the Seminary again in 1833, and remained connected with it until the spring of 1836.
The public agitation of the abolition of slavery commenced in the State of New York during this period, in which he engaged with youthful zeal and constancy born of deep conviction. The first State antislavery convention was held in Utica, October 21, 1835, of which he was probably the youngest member. It was broken up by a mob and sent flying over the hills to Peterborough, the home of Gerrit Smith, the members making part of the journey by night, and in some cases subjected to many insults. While passing through Vernon, in the morning before daylight, he was set upon by a rabble; stones, clubs, mud, and other missiles rained upon him until he was knocked insensible, his cheek bone broken, and his clothing ruined. At many different times in the five years following it was his fortune to fall into riotous and violent assemblies, some in his native State, but more in Connecticut.
In September, 1836, he entered the freshman class at Hamilton College, and continued there one year. For reasons which were then deemed sufficient, many of the students left when he did, and several who had come from the Oneida Conference Seminary concluded to go to Middletown, Conn. He accompanied them, joined the Wesleyan University in August, 1837, and continued there two years. During the long winter vacation of three months in 1837-38, when many of the students applied themselves to teaching, he was employed as an agent of the American Antislavery Society, traveling in Connecticut with Tyler, Birney, Storrs, Colver, and others, encountering a good many difficulties in the pro-slavery communities; but the labor was crowned by the organization at Hartford of a State antislavery society on the 28th of February, 1838. The next season, that of 1838-39, he engaged with the State society, visited many places where abolition meetings had never been held, and received considerable rough usage.
In the fall of 1839 he entered the theological department of Yale College, graduated with the class in 1842, and, in accordance with usage, had been licensed to preach at the end of the preceding year. Having married, in September, 1840, Miss Ann Perry, a former pupil of the Seminary, at Newport, N.Y., he settled for a season at New Haven, and then returned to Newport, where he continued to reside, preaching a part of the time until the summer of 1844. Several things had conspired to prevent his ordination and full induction into the ministry, and his license having expired by limitation, he engaged in merchandising, which was carried on for several years. His first wife died in 1851, and he subsequently married Miss Abby Waterman, who was also a resident of Newport, and who is still living.
In 1855 his attention was turned to the West as a prospective home, and after a visit to the territory of Minnesota he became so well satisfied with the healthfulness of its climate, and its promise of business, that he removed his family there in the fall of 1856.
On the organization of the internal revenue service, after the breaking out of the war, he was appointed assistant assessor for Ramsey County, embracing the city of St. Paul, and was afterward commissioned by President Lincoln assessor of the district, which position he held into the presidential term of Andrew Johnson, by whom he was removed because of refusal to stand by his "policy." Since that he has been employed in the Pension Office of Minnesota; has been commissioned several times
for special work by the Pension Department at Washington, and during the last State administration was private secretary to the governor. He is now president of the Board of Managers of the State Inebriate Asylum, recently founded.
He has three sons, the children of his first wife, two of whom did good service in the army, and returned safely. For nearly twenty years he had been an officer in the Presbyterian Church, having been continuously re-elected as a ruling elder, and is new performing the duties of that position in the session of the Dayton Avenue Church, St. Paul. In this relation he has been honored and blessed, and has been made a blessing to others.
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