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Thomas B. Wilson

Thomas Bellerby Wilson was born in Philadelphia on January 17, 1807, the son of wealthy British parents Rebecca Bellerby and Edward Wilson, a Quaker and iron merchant. His formal education began at a Quaker school in Philadelphia, but he also studied at a boarding school in Darlington, England, and at universities in Paris, France, and Dublin, Ireland. By 1822, he had returned to America and was apprenticed to a pharmacist in Philadelphia. In 1828 he entered the University of Pennsylvania as a medical student, and received his M.D. degree in 1830. Being of independent means, however, he never practiced medicine, preferring instead to spend his time studying the natural sciences. He lived in Philadelphia until he was 26, then moved to a farm near New London in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Around 1841 his brother Rathmell moved to Newark, Delaware with his wife and two chldren, and Thomas joined them. Although Newark remained his base of operations for the rest of his life, he regularly visited Philadelphia and maintained a residence there for when he was attending society meetings, buying books or tending to his investments.

Wilson made many long field trips on horseback in order to collect minerals, fossils, shells, birds, reptiles, fish and insects. He also purchased entire collections of specimens (along with pertinent books on the subjects) by mail and during his five trips to Europe.

Wilson appears to have invested his inheritance well, and was generous with his donations. He joined the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in 1832, and was the Academy's principal benefactor, eventually donating approximately $200,000, a very large fortune in those days. Some of this donation was in the form of over 15,000 volumes for the Academy Library and (with his brother Edward) 26,000 birds. The bird collection was so large that Wilson had to donate funds to enlarge the Academy's building. He also donated an excellent collection of minerals to the Academy, along with various other natural history objects. Wilson served as President of the Academy from 1863-1864.

Wlson was also one of the founders of the American Entomological Society in 1859, and gave about $26,000 to help launch and sustain it. Other recipents of his generosity included the Historical Society of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Medical Society, always with the stipulation that if his anonymity in these gifts was not maintained he would make no further donations. He died of typhoid fever (ironically, transmitted by an insect) in Newark in 1865, at the age of 58, having never married. The mineral collection he donated to the Academy was sold to a consortium of mineral dealers (Bryan Lees, Wayne Leicht and Ian Bruce) in 2007.

DAY, W.H. (1984) T.B. Wilson, M.D., a founder and benefactor of the American Entomological Society, and his family: our first Newark, Delaware-Philadelphia connection. Entomological News, 95 (4), 137-147.
ANON. (1882) Thomas Bellerby Wilson, M.D., Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware, Wilmington: Aldine Publishing and Engraving Co.
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The Mineralogical Record - Thomas B. Wilson Thomas B. Wilson
Portrait in oil (1881)
by Henry Ulke
The Mineralogical Record - Thomas B. Wilson 74 x 77 mm,
Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences label for a specimen donated by Thomas B. Wilson.
The Mineralogical Record - Thomas B. Wilson 73 x 57 mm,
Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences label for a specimen donated by Thomas B. Wilson
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