Wilson, William

Born: 1794-04-27 Loudoun County, Virginia

Died: 1857-04-29 Carmi, Illinois

Alternate name: Willson

Wilson briefly served in the military during the War of 1812. In 1817, Wilson received his license to practice law in Virginia, and later that year, he moved to the Illinois Territory, where he settled in White County. In 1819, the Illinois General Assembly elected Wilson to fill a vacancy on the Illinois Supreme Court. In 1820, Wilson married Mary S. Davidson, and together they had ten children. In 1824, the General Assembly selected Wilson as the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, a position he held until his retirement in 1848. In 1841, when the General Assembly increased the number of Illinois Supreme Court justices to nine and gave them circuit court responsibilities, Wilson presided over the Fourth Judicial Circuit, in east central and southeastern Illinois. Wilson presided over at least sixteen circuit court cases in which Abraham Lincoln was an attorney. Wilson also served as a justice in 107 cases in which Lincoln represented clients before the Illinois Supreme Court. Wilson was a Whig but rarely participated in politics. After retiring from the bench, he lived on a large farm near Carmi, Illinois, one of three farms he owned in White County.

John J. Duff, A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (New York: Bramhall House, 1960) 174; Sarah John English, “William Wilson: Pioneer Judge in Illinois,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 31 (June 1938), 221-24; History of White County, Illinois (Chicago: Inter-State, 1883; reprint, Carmi, IL: White County Historical Society, 1966), 504-6; B. D. Monroe, “Life and Services of William Wilson, Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 11 (October 1918), 391-99; John Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis, 1899), 1:21-22, 125-26; John M. Scott, Supreme Court of Illinois 1818: Its First Judges and Lawyers (Bloomington, IL: n.p., 1896), 35-59; For Lincoln's cases before Wilson, search "Wilson, William," Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Search.aspx. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.