Marshall Pinckney Wilder by John Ward Dean

Librarian of the New England Historic-Genealogical Society.

There are few men in our community whose lives afford as striking an example of what can be achieved by concentration of power and unconquerable perseverance as does that of Col. Wilder. The bare enumeration of the important positions he has held, and still holds, and the self-sacrificing labors he has performed is abundant evidence of the extraordinary talent and ability, and the personal power and influence, which have enabled him to take a front rank as a benefactor to mankind.

Marshall Pinckney Wilder, whose christian names were given in honor of Chief-Justice Marshall and General Pinckney, eminent statesmen at the time he was born, was the oldest son of Samuel Locke Wilder, Esq., of Rindge, N. H., and was born in that town, September 22, 1798. His father, a nephew of the Rev. Samuel Locke, D.D., president of Harvard College, for whom he was named, was thirteen years a representative in the New Hampshire legislature, a member of the Congregational church in Rindge and held important town offices there. His mother, Anna, daughter of Jonathan and Mary (Crombie) Sherwin, (married May 2, 1797,) a lady of great moral worth, was, as her son is, a warm admirer of the beauties of nature.

The Wilders are an ancient English family, which the "Book of the Wilders," published a few years ago, traces to Nicholas Wilder, a military chieftain in the army of the Earl of Richmond at the battle of Bosworth, 1485. There is strong presumptive evidence that the American family is an offshoot from this. President Chadbourne in his life of Col. Wilder, and the author of the "Book of the Wilders," give reasons for this opinion. The paternal ancestors of Col. Wilder in this country performed meritorious services in the Indian wars, in the American revolution, and in Shays' rebellion. His grandfather was one of the seven delegates from the county of Worcester, in the Massachusetts convention of 1788, for ratifying the constitution of the United States, who voted in favor of it. Isaac Goodwin, Esq., in the Worcester Magazine, Vol. II. page 45, bears this testimony: "Of all the ancient Lancaster families, there is no one that has sustained so many important offices as that of Wilder."

At the age of four Marshall was sent to school, and at twelve he entered New Ipswich Academy, his father desiring to give him a collegiate education, with reference to a profession. When he reached the age of sixteen, his father gave him the choice, either to qualify himself for a farmer, or for a merchant, or to fit for college. He chose to be a farmer; and to this choice may we attribute in no small degree the mental and physical energy which has distinguished so many years of his life. But the business of his father increased so much that he was taken into the store. He here acquired such habits of industry that at the age of twenty-one he became a partner, and was appointed postmaster of Rindge.

In 1825, he sought a wider field of action and removed to Boston. Here he began business under the firm name of Wilder & Payson, in Union street, then as Wilder & Smith, in North Market street, and next in his own name, at No. 3, Central wharf. In 1837 he became a partner in the commission house of Parker, Blanchard, & Wilder, Water street, next Parker, Wilder, & Parker, Pearl street, and now Parker, Wilder, & Co., Winthrop square. Mr. Wilder is the oldest commission merchant in domestic fabrics in active business in Boston. He has passed through various crises of commercial embarrassments, and yet he has never failed to meet his obligations. He was an original director in the Hamilton, now Hamilton National, Bank, and in the National Insurance Company. The latter trust he has held over forty years, and he is now in his fiftieth year in the former. He has been a director in the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company for nearly forty years, and also a director in other similar institutions.

But trade and the acquisition of wealth have not been the all-engrossing pursuits of his life. His inherent love of rural pursuits led him, in 1832, to purchase a house in Dorchester originally built by Gov. Increase Sumner, where, after devoting a proper time to business, he gave his leisure to horticulture and agriculture. He spared no expense, he rested from no efforts, to instill into the public mind a love of an employment so honorable and useful. He cultivated his own grounds, imported seeds, plants, and trees, and endeavored by his example to encourage labor and elevate the rank of the husbandman. His garden, green-houses, and a forest of fruit-trees occupied the time he could spare from business, and here he has prosecuted his favorite investigations, year after year, for half a century, to the present day.

Soon after the Massachusetts Horticultural Society was formed, Mr. Wilder was associated with the late Gen. Henry A. S. Dearborn, its first president, and from that time till now has been one of its most efficient members, having two years since delivered the oration on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary. One of the most important acts of this society was the purchase of Mount Auburn for a cemetery and an ornamental garden. On the separation of the cemetery from the society, in 1835, through Mr. Wilder's influence, committees were appointed by the two corporations, Judge Story being chairman of the cemetery committee, and Mr. Wilder of the society committee. The situation was fraught with great difficulties; but Mr. Wilder's conservative course, everywhere acknowledged, overcame them all, and enabled the society to erect an elegant hall in School street, and afterwards the splendid building it now occupies in Tremont street, the most magnificent horticultural hall in the world. In 1840 he was chosen president, and held the office for eight successive years. During his presidency the hall in School street was erected, and two triennial festivals were held in Faneuil Hall, which are particularly worthy of notice. The first was opened September 11, 1845, and the second on the fiftieth anniversary of his birth, September 22, 1848, when he retired from the office of president, and the society voted him a silver pitcher valued at one hundred and fifty dollars, and caused his portrait to be placed in its hall. As president of this association he headed a circular for a convention of fruit-growers, which was held in New York, October 10, 1848, when the American Pomological Society was formed. He was chosen its first president, and he still holds that office, being in his thirty-third year of service. Its biennial meetings have been held in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Boston, Rochester, St. Louis, Richmond, Chicago, and Baltimore. On these occasions President Wilder has made appropriate addresses. The last meeting was held September, 1881, at Boston, where he presided with his usual vigor and propriety, at the advanced age of eighty-three.

In February, 1849, the Norfolk Agricultural Society was formed. Mr. Wilder was chosen president, and the Hon. Charles Francis Adams, vice-president. Before this society, his first address on agricultural education was delivered. This was the first general effort in that cause in this country. He was president twenty years, and on his retirement he was constituted honorary president, and a resolution was passed recognizing his eminent ability and usefulness in promoting the arts of horticulture and agriculture, and his personal excellence in every department of life. He next directed his efforts to establishing the Massachusetts board of agriculture, organized, as the Massachusetts Central Board of Agriculture, at a meeting of delegates of agricultural societies in the state, September, 1851, in response to a circular issued by him as president, of the Norfolk Agricultural Society. He was elected president, and held the office till 1852, when it became a department of the state, and he is now the senior member of that board. In 1858 the Massachusetts School of Agriculture was incorporated, and he was chosen president; but before the school was opened congress granted land to the several states for agricultural colleges, and in 1865 the legislature incorporated the Massachusetts Agricultural College. He was named the first trustee. In 1871 the first class was graduated, and in 1878 he had the honor of conferring the degree of Bachelor of Science on twenty young gentlemen graduates. He delivered addresses on both occasions. In 1852, through his instrumentality, the United States Agricultural Society was organized at Washington. This society, of which he was president for the first six years, exercised a beneficial influence till the breaking out of the late civil war. He is a member of many horticultural and agricultural societies in this and foreign lands.

Col. Wilder, at an early age, took an interest in military affairs. At sixteen he was enrolled in the New Hampshire militia, and at twenty-one he was commissioned adjutant. He organized and equipped the Rindge Light Infantry, and was chosen its captain. At twenty-five he was elected lieutenant-colonel, and at twenty-six was commissioned as colonel of the Twelfth Regiment.

Soon after his removal to Boston he joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. In 1856 he was chosen commander of the corps, having four times previously declined nominations. He entered into correspondence with Prince Albert, commander of the Royal Artillery Company of London, founded in 1537, of which this corps, chartered in 1638, is the only offspring. This correspondence established a friendly intercourse between the two companies. In June, 1857, Prince Albert was chosen a special honorary member of our company, and twenty-one years later, in 1878, Col. Wilder, who then celebrated the fiftieth or golden anniversary of his own membership, nominated the Prince of Wales, the present commander of the London company, as an honorary member. They are the only two honorary members that have been elected by the company, and both were commanders of the Honorable Artillery Company of London when chosen. The late elegantly illustrated history of the London company contains a portrait of Col. Wilder as he appeared in full uniform on that occasion.

In 1839, he was induced to serve for a single term in the Massachusetts legislature as a representative for the town of Dorchester. In 1849 he was elected a member of Gov. Briggs's council, and the year following, a member of the senate and its president. In 1860, he was the member for New England of the national committee of the "Constitutional Union party," and attended, as chairman of the Massachusetts delegation, the National convention in Baltimore, where John Bell and Edward Everett were nominated for president and vice-president of the United States.

He was initiated in Charity Lodge No. 18, in Troy, N. H., at the age of twenty-five, exalted to the Royal Arch Chapter, Cheshire No. 4, and knighted in the Boston Encampment. He was deputy grand master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, and was one of the six thousand Masons who signed, Dec. 31, 1831, the celebrated "Declaration of the Freemasons of Boston and Vicinity;" and at the fiftieth anniversary of that event, just celebrated in Boston, Mr. Wilder responded for the survivors, six of the signers being present. He has received all the Masonic degrees, including the 33d, or highest and last honor of the fraternity. At the World's Masonic convention, in 1867, at Paris, he was the only delegate from the United States who spoke at the banquet.

On the 7th of November, 1849, a festival of the Sons of New Hampshire was celebrated in Boston. The Hon. Daniel Webster presided, and Mr. Wilder was the first vice-president. Fifteen hundred sons of the Granite State were present. The association again met on the 29th of October, 1852, to participate in the obsequies of Mr. Webster at Faneuil Hall. On this occasion the legislature and other citizens of New Hampshire were received at the Lowell depot, and addressed by Mr. Wilder in behalf of the sons of that state resident in Boston.

The Sons celebrated their second festival Nov. 2, 1853, at which Mr. Wilder occupied the chair as president, and delivered one of his most eloquent speeches. They assembled again June 20, 1861, to receive and welcome the New Hampshire regiment of volunteers and escort them to Music Hall, where Mr. Wilder addressed them in a patriotic speech on their departure for the field of battle.

The two hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the settlement of Dorchester was celebrated on the 4th of July, 1855. The oration was by Edward Everett; Mr. Wilder presided and delivered an able address. On the central tablet of the great pavilion was this inscription: "Marshall P. Wilder, President of the Day. Blessed is he that turneth the waste places into a garden, and maketh the wilderness to blossom as a rose."

In January, 1868, he was solicited to take the office of president of the New England Historic-Genealogical Society, vacated by the death of Gov. Andrew. He was unanimously elected, and is now serving the fourteenth year of his presidency. At every annual meeting he has delivered an appropriate address. In his first address he urged the importance of procuring a suitable building for the society. In 1870, he said: "The time has now arrived when absolute necessity, public sentiment, and personal obligations demand that this work be done and done quickly." Feeling himself pledged by this address, he, as chairman of the committee then appointed, devoted three months entirely to the object of soliciting funds, during which time more than forty thousand dollars was generously contributed by friends of the association; and thus the handsome edifice. No. 18 Somerset street, was procured. This building was dedicated to the use of the society, March 18, 1871. He has since obtained donations amounting to upwards of twelve thousand dollars, as a fund for paying the salary of the librarian.

In 1859, he presided at the first public meeting called in Boston in regard to the collocation of institutions on the Back Bay lands, where the splendid edifices of the Boston Society of Natural History and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology now stand. Of the latter institution he has been a vice-president, and the chairman of its Society of Arts.

He was one of the twelve representative men appointed to receive the Prince of Wales in 1860, at the banquet given him in Boston; also one of the commissioners in behalf of the Universal Exposition in Paris, 1867, when he was placed at the head of the committee on horticulture and the cultivation and products of the vine, the report of which was published by act of congress.

In 1869, he made a trip to the South for the purpose of examining its resources; and in 1870, with a large party, he visited California. The result of Mr. Wilder's observations have been given to the public in a lecture before the Massachusetts state board of agriculture, which was repeated before the Boston Mercantile Library Association, the Amherst and the Massachusetts Agricultural colleges, Dartmouth College, the Horticultural Society, and the merchants of Philadelphia, and bodies in other places.

His published speeches and writings now amount to over eighty in number. A list to the year 1873 is printed in the "Cyclopedia of American Literature." Dartmouth College, as a testimonial to his services in science and literature, conferred upon him, in the year 1877, the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

The Hon. Paul A. Chadbourne, LL. D., late president of Williams College, in a recent memoir of Mr. Wilder remarks: "The interest which Col. Wilder has always manifested in the progress of education, as well as the value and felicitous style of his numerous writings, would lead one to infer at once that his varied knowledge and culture are the results of college education. But he is only another illustrious example of the men who, with only small indebtedness to schools, have proved to the world that real men can make themselves known as such without the aid of the college, as we have abundantly learned that the college can never make a man of one who has not in him the elements of noble manhood before he enters its halls."

In 1820, Mr. Wilder married Miss Tryphosa Jewett, daughter of Dr. Stephen Jewett, of Rindge, a lady of great personal attractions. She died on a visit to that town, July 21, 1831, leaving four children. On the 29th of August, 1833, Mr. Wilder was united to Miss Abigail, daughter of Capt. David Baker, of Franklin, Mass., a lady of education, accomplishments, and piety, who died of consumption April 4, 1854, leaving five children. He was married a third time on the 8th of September, 1855, to her sister, Miss Julia Baker, who was admirably qualified to console him and make his dwelling cheerful, and who has two sons, both living. No man has been more blessed in domestic life. We know not where there would be a more pleasing picture of peace and contentment exhibited than is found in this happy family. In all his pursuits and avocations, Mr. Wilder seems to have realized and practiced that grand principle which has such a bearing and influence on the whole course of life,—the philosophy of habit, a power almost omnipotent for good or evil. His leisure hours he devotes to his pen, which already has filled several large volumes with descriptions and delineations of fruits and flowers proved under his own inspection.

The life of Col. Wilder is a striking instance of what an individual may accomplish by industry, indomitable perseverance, and the concentration of the intellectual powers on grand objects. Without these, no talent, no mere good fortune could have placed him in the high position he has attained as a public benefactor. He has been pre-eminent in the establishment and development of institutions. Few gentlemen have been called upon so often, and upon such various occasions, to take the chair at public meetings or preside over constituted societies. Few have acquitted themselves so happily, whether dignity of presence, amenity of address, fluency of speech, or dispatch of business be taken into consideration. As a presiding officer he seems "to the manner born." His personal influence has been able to magnetize a half-dying body into new and active life. This strong personal characteristic is especially remarked among his friends. No one can approach him in doubt, in despondency, or in embarrassment, and leave him without a higher hope, a stronger courage and a manlier faith in himself. The energy which has impelled him to labor still exists.

In closing this sketch, we may remark that a complimentary banquet was given him, September 22, 1878, on the eightieth anniversary of his birth. On this occasion the Rev. James H. Means, D. D., his pastor for nearly thirty years, the Hon. Charles L. Flint, secretary of the board of agriculture, the Hon. John Phelps Putnam, judge of the Massachusetts superior court, and others paid tributes to the high moral character, the benevolent disposition, and the eminent services of the honored guest of the evening.

Judge Putnam closed as follows: "Our dear old friend, we greet you. On this auspicious occasion we wish you many returns of your natal day. Serus in cœlum redeas,—late may you return to the heavens. And when that day comes, on which, in the onward march of life you shall fall by the way-side, may you fall as falls the golden fruit in this autumn time,—

'Sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.'"