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James Wilson Papers

Identifier: mss-862

Scope and Contents

The collection contains correspondence, deeds, marriage certificates, genealogies, clippings, and photos of the Wilson family of Bradford, Vermont, including James Wilson (1763-1855), first globe maker in America; his sons, Boyd H. Wilson and Samuel Wilson; his daughter, Mary Ann (Wilson) Waterman; his grandsons, William H. Wilson and J. Wilson Tabor; and other descendants.

Material concerning globe making includes a formula for making ink, and a letter (1834 August 11) from Cyrus Lancaster, an employee in Wilson's Albany, New York Globemaking shop, discussing the poor quality of paper and the comparatively poor prospects for selling globes.

The collection also includes documents of the MacDuffee family of Londonderry, New Hampshire, and the Waterman family of Bradford, Vermont.


  • Majority of material found in 1782-1889
  • 1782-1963



Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical / Historical

James Wilson (1763-1855) was the first globe maker in America. Born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, he worked as a farmer and blacksmith. In 1796, he moved to Bradford, Vermont. He developed an interest in cartography and drew geographic and celestial markings on wooden spheres covered in paper, creating the first globes made in America, in 1796. Biographies credit a 1790s exhibition of European globes at Dartmouth with his drive and inspiration. He refined his wooden designs and learned copper engraving in order to produce plaster globes covered in the metal. In 1813, he opened the first globe factory in the US and found commercial success with a 13 inch globe that cost $50. They were exhibited in Boston in 1814. Wilson then developed a papier-mache version which was less expensive and proved popular for schools and homes. He went into business with his son John and opened a second factory in Albany, New York called J. Wilson and Son. In 1827, a pair of Wilson globes was exhibited at the Library of Congress. At the age of 83, he created a model of the solar system that he called "Planetarium." It was first produced for Vermont's Thetford Academy, and later for commercial sale.

He was married to Molly Highland (d. 1786) and they had a son, James, born in 1785. He remarried Sarah Donaldson ) and they had ten children, three of whom died in childhood. Their surviving children were Sarah or "Sally" (1790-1826, married Stephen Tabor), Samuel (about 1785-1833), John (about 1790-1833), David (1791-1827), Boyd H., Eliza (married a Mr. Wilson), and Mary (married a Mr. Van York). James Wilson married a third time, in 1805, to Agnes MacDuffee (1783-1875) and they had four children: Agnes (about 1810-1855), Mary Anne (about 1813-1833), Jane (1818-1858). Mary Anne and Jane married brothers Willard Waterman (1810-1876) and William Waterman (1812-1853 in 1845), respectively, of Norwich, Vermont.


0.4 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



Collection contains correspondence, deeds, marriage certificates, genealogies, clippings, and photographs documenting the activities of the family of James Wilson, the first globe maker in America.


Library Research Annex; contact for access.


  • White, J. T. The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 17. New York, New York, 1921.


  • Parker, Edward L. The history of Londonderry, comprising the towns of Derry and Londonderry, N. H. Boston, Massachusetts, 1851. Available via
Guide to the James Wilson Papers
2018 August
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)