This Place in History: James Wilson

Vermont Historical Society


At ‘This Place in History‘, we’re in Bradford with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“James Wilson lived here in Bradford about 100 yards away from where we’re standing. He was the first globemaker in the United States. He was self-taught. He taught himself how to engrave and researched everything, even how to make the globes. We have a number of his globes and some of his writings at the Vermont Historical Society. I think we should get in the car, head over there. I’ll bring you into the vault and we can see some of this really cool stuff,” began Perkins.

“Wilson was born in Londonderry, NH in about 1762. He moved to Ryegate and then Bradford and he started off as a farmer. But he saw early on kids in the U.S. weren’t getting the geography lessons that a young educated person should. This was very progressive for somebody in the 1790s. The only globes they could get were very expensive and imported from London. So he embarks on this self-education odyssey.”

“He went and he started to learn the art of engraving locally and assisted in a couple of print shops. For geography, he decided to buy himself a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica. He had to put his extra farmland in Ryegate up as collateral to buy this set,” continued Perkins.

“He used those to teach himself geography with the maps that were in there. And he also had to teach himself how to do projections so you could print a map flat and cut it such that it could be turned into a globe. He worked on this for years. We suspect 1802 was the earliest globe that he produced. And that’s the first globe produced in the Americas, right here in Vermont.”

“From there, it really took off. The demand got so big he couldn’t meet it from this little town of Bradford, Vermont. It was on the Connecticut River, but not necessarily a huge transportation hub. So he sent his sons over in the 1820s to start a factory and shop out of Albany, New York.”

“They’re pretty rare now, so it’s hard to find a Wilson globe that is in good condition. This is a celestial globe and a celestial globe can be adjusted. You should be able to set the globe up based on all these markings so that once you look at it, you can see the night sky from where you are located,” explained Perkins.

“This is an 1816 terrestrial globe by James Wilson. It’s in superb condition. Look at North America. We’re talking 1816. We have no idea what’s out there. But there’s a pretty good job here on the East Coast and he’s got the shape basically.”

“He was very good at marketing his materials and labeling them so all of his globes are marked. It says by J. Wilson, Vermont,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

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