Placer County










            As the pioneer in the fruit shipping business in Placer County, Mr. Wilson must be given credit for having the foresight and keen business acumen to start a new industry and prove it from the beginning to be a profitable one, and with such far-reaching possibilities that his pioneer work is of inestimable value to this section of California.  With his little office in the Railroad Express shed, and a wheelbarrow for delivery, for he did not even have a horse and cart when he first entered the fruit trade, he met the arrival of trains in the Newcastle yards, shipping out fruit until business grew and he finally sent from Newcastle Placer County’s first solid carload of fruit, which was consigned to Denver, Colo., with freight charges of $900.

            A native of Ireland, born August 15, 1828, at Lurgen, County Armagh, Mr. Wilson was the son of Oliver Wilson, an officer in the English Army, whose wife died at the birth of their first child, our subject.  Educated in the country schools of his homeland, he later served an apprenticeship on board the British ship Thetis, for four years; leaving that vessel, at Quebec, he shipped on the Arabia, of Belfast, on which vessel he sailed until 1854.  In that year he rounded Cape Horn as one of the crew on the old brig Thomas Watson; he served as quartermaster on this ship, and also on the Uncle Sam, acting in that capacity during two voyages.  During the two succeeding years he was boatswain and finally was promoted to third mate.  He was on this vessel when cholera broke out on board, and 900 people died of the dread disease.  Mr. Wilson sailed from Philadelphia on the Westermoreland bound for Liverpool and they had been out but a few days when they picked up the crew of the May T. Sterrit, of Maine; which had been dismantled, and they had to scuttle the ship as it was in the course of other vessels and a bad menace to navigation.  Many and wide were his experiences as he sailed on different ships and touched at various ports, and learned much of different countries and their inhabitants, and this, no doubt, contributed to his originality of mind, and led him to embark on an absolutely new business venture when he did settled down and become a “landlubber”.

            Deciding to make California his home, Mr. Wilson located in Newcastle, Placer County, in 1865, and his first work was for the late pioneer, J. H. Mitchell.  He was engaged in mining, but in the meantime he became the owner of a home and one acre of ground in town, and on his land he planted fruit trees, which were soon to bring him such excellent returns, his first sales amounting to $1000 per year.  He bought more land and purchased fruit of his neighbors to satisfy his growing trade, and thereby laid the foundation of the present-day fruit shipping house of W. J. Wilson & Son, Inc., of Newcastle.  A really remarkable man, by his industry and thrift he built up a rapidly advancing business, both as a grower and shipper, and was the father of “fruit shipper’s row” in Newcastle.

            Twice married, Mr. Wilson became acquainted with his first wife, Miss Mary O’Malley, while serving as quartermaster on board the Sonora, and their marriage occurred November 4, 1856.  Her death occurred August 31, 1891, survived by two children:  Mary J. Madden, of Newcastle; and W. J. Wilson, a prominent fruit grower and shipper and head of W. J. Wilson & Son, Inc., of Newcastle, who is mentioned on another page in this history.  Mr. Wilson’s second marriage, in 1893, united him with Mary Ann Agnes Shepherd, and their one child died in infancy.  The wife and mother died in 1918 at the home place.  Mr. Wilson died on October 26, 1911, on the Wilson ranch near Newcastle.  He was an honorable and respected citizen, a thoroughly Christian gentleman whose word was recognized by all as being as good as his bond.  Prominent in Democratic circles in Placer County, a man of broad and liberal ideas, his influence carried much weight when a delegate to various conventions.  Devout and liberal in donations, both to his own and other churches, he will long be remembered, as one who co-operated in all movements for the development of his section, and as one of Placer County’s leading citizens.    





Transcribed by V. Gerald Iaquinta.

Source: “History of Placer & Nevada Counties, California”, by W. B. Lardner & M. J. Brock. Pages 455-457. Historic Record Co., Los Angeles 1924.

© 2013  V. Gerald Iaquinta.




Placer County Biographies

California Statewide

Golden Nugget Library