John Wilson, Clergyman
"John Wilson, first pastor of the church in Boston, was the son of Dr. William Wilson, salaried member of the church at Rochester, Kent, England. His mother was niece of Dr. Edmund Grindal, the renowned archbishop of Canterbury. He was born at Windsor, had a pious education, and made considerable progress in classical learning at school and at college. He was 4 years at Eaton, and during this time was directed to speak a Latin oration, when the Duke de Biron, minister from Henry IV visited the schools; for which the Duke bestowed three angels upon him.
He was admitted into King's College, Cambridge, 1602. His prejudices were strong against the Puritans until he read the work of Mr. Richard Rogers, called the seven treatises. He afterwards, by the advice of Dr. Ames, joined a pious company at the university, who held conferences upon religious subjects. He studied diligently the controversy between the Episcopal Church and the Puritans, and became convinced, that he ought not to conform to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England. For this he was expelled the university. When his father could not persuade him to alter his views of religion, he advised him to enter the inns of the court. By the influence of the earl of Northampton, chancellor of the university, he afterwards received his degree at Cambridge.
When he began to preach, he had frequent invitations to take the charge of a church; but as frequently was complained about to the spiritual courts, and silenced. The earl of Warwick was his friend, and by his influence he obtained leave to exercise his ministry. In the year 1629, when the plantation of a new colony was begun, Mr. Wilson was invited to join them, and embarked in the fleet which came here in 1630. When he arrived at Salem he was about 42 years old; but had a large share of health and vigor. He was able to assist his brethren under the difficulties of a new plantation, "the main design of which was to settle the ordinances of the gospel, and worship Christ according to his own institutions."
The next month after their arrival, they organized their church in Charlestown. He was installed teacher of this church, August 27, 1630. Afterwards he was chosen pastor of the church in Boston, and separated to the task, November 22, 1632. They were careful to mention that, although they used a raising of hands as a sign of election, and not that he renounced the ordination he received in England. In the dispute, which divided the Boston church, Mr. Wilson and Governor John Winthrop were on one side. Most of the church, with their teacher, Reverend John Cotton, were of a different opinion, and were likewise strengthened by the authority, talents and fanatical zeal of Sir Henry Vane.
Mr. Wilson threw all his influence in favor of Governor Winthrop at the next election. He even stood upon a tree, and spoke to the people. Upon this occasion he discovered much spirit, though his general character was that of a mild and moderate man. He was very affable in speech, and condescending in his deportment. He yielded to the superior and more overbearing influence of the great Cotton in everything, except in this Antinomian controversy, and in giving the government to Winthrop.
He lived to be an old man, and followed to the grave both John Cotton and John Norton. When Mr. Norton returned from England, good Mr. Wilson censured him for his conduct. He and elder Penn, in the name of themselves and others, acquainted him, that an assistant must be chosen. Mr. Allen had preached, and the people were much captivated with him. Mr. Norton, however, had his friends, and they increased, though the generality of his flock had their prejudices against him. Mr. Wilson preached his last sermon at Roxbury lecture for his son in law, Mr. Danforth, and died August 7, 1667, in the 79th year of his age. His remains were interred with uncommon respect. Mr. Mather of Dorchester preached his funeral sermon, Zechiel i. 5. Our fathers, where are they?
An observation of Dr. Ames, the celebrated professor, deserves to be recorded to the honor of Mr. Wilson, "that if he might have his option of the best condition this side heaven, it would be the teacher of a congregational church of which Mr. Wilson was pastor." That witty writer, Mr. Ward, author of the simple cobbler of Agawam, remarking the hospitality of Mr. Wilson, and knowing that he was fond of anagrams, said, that the anagram of John Wilson was, "I pray come in, you are heartily welcome." This anecdote is better attested, than one lately given to the public about this same Mr. Ward, concerning his interview with Dr. Mather, who refused him even entrance to his house. Mr. Peters, who relates this, did not recollect that Dr. Mather was not one of the same generation.
— Biographical Dictionary, By John Eliot D.D., 1809 (edited)