A merchant and amateur horticulturalist from Dorchester, Mass., Marshall P. Wilder (1798-1886) was a key figure in American pomology during the mid-nineteenth century and a major supporter of agricultural education. A supreme organizer and institution builder, he was a founder and president of the American Pomological Society and United States Agricultural Society, and president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and New England Historic Genealogical Society. His 1849 address before the Norfolk Agricultural Society is often credited as an important catalyst for the creation of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, and he served as trustee of the College from its opening in 1867 until his death in 1886.
The Wilder Collection consists primarily of printed works written or collected by Marshall P. Wilder, including materials pertaining to early meetings of the American Pomological Society and the United States Agricultural Society, his 1849 address to the Norfolk Agricultural Society, and his address to the first graduating class at MAC. Among the handful of manuscripts are a draft proposal to hold a national meeting of fruit growers (the inaugural meeting of the American Pomological Society), two letters regarding his donation of a large number of books to the MAC library, and a bound set of 22 beautiful watercolors of pear varieties painted by Louis B. Berckmans.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Marshall P. (Marshall Pinckney) Wilder
A merchant and amateur horticulturalist from Dorchester, Mass., Marshall P. Wilder was a key figure in American pomology during the mid-nineteenth century and an important supporter of agricultural education in Massachusetts. Born in Rindge, New Hampshire, on September 22, 1798, Wilder was presented at 16 with a choice of attending college, starting a farm, or working in the family store, and elected to farm. Following the death of an uncle two years later, however, he was called upon to join his father in their burgeoning wholesale business, remaining there until he set out for the larger markets of Boston in 1825. As senior partner in the firms of Wilder and Payson and Wilder and Smith, Wilder enjoyed considerable success within the city's mercantile community. In 1837, he joined Isaac Parker and Abraham W. Blanchard in the commission dry goods trade, to create a notably prosperous and long-lived firm, Parker, Blanchard, and Wilder (later Parker, Wilder and Co.).
In 1831, Wilder purchased an estate in then-suburban Dorchester from Gov. Increase Sumner where he turned to his avocation, horticulture, with extraordinary zeal. He rapidly transformed Hawthorne Grove into a model in horticultural experiment. Noted particularly for his work with camellias and azaleas, as well as flowers, Wilder experimented extensively with new cultivars, importing or developing as many as 1,200 varieties of pear, for example, including the wildly popular Bartlett from England and the Beurre d'Anjou from France. The inevitable setbacks did little to dampen his industry. Although a greenhouse fire in 1839 cost him all but two of his eight hundred camellias, Wilder had rebounded sufficiently quickly that a year later he was able to exhibit three hundred varieties to a touring group from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.
Perhaps the most notable feature of Wilder's career in horticulture was his remarkable energy and organizational capacity. A regular at horticultural fairs, he was a founding member of the New England Horticultural Society in 1829 and the Massachusetts Academy of Agriculture (a reform school for boys) in 1845, president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (1840-1848), a founder and president of the American Pomological Society (1848-1886), the Massachusetts Agricultural Club, the Norfolk Agricultural Society, and the United States Agricultural Society, among many other organizations. Outside of horticulture, he was president of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (1868-1886), an officer in the state militia in New Hampshire and later in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, and he was elected to single terms in the Massachusetts General Court (1839), the state Executive Council (1849), and the state senate, of which he predictably chosen president (1850).
Wilder's 1849 address on agricultural education before the Norfolk Agricultural Society was considered instrumental in building support for establishing an agricultural college in the Commonwealth. Although he was not the first to propose the idea of an agricultural college for Massachusetts, he may have been its most persistent advocate. To build political support for agriculture, Wilder helped establish the State Board of Agriculture in 1852 (it was first constituted unofficially the year previously), and although it was more than a decade before the college became a reality, Wilder did not flag in his support. A trustee of MAC from 1863 until 1886, Wilder was singled out for the honor of addressing its first graduating class in 1871. He was similarly important in supporting the founding of MIT, though only after William B. Rogers agreed that the college would provide instruction in pomology and horticulture.
Wilder died in Dorchester on December 16, 1886.
The Wilder Collection consists primarily of printed works of the pomologist Marshall P. Wilder, reflecting his broad commitments to American horticulture, agricultural education, and the Massachusetts Agricultural College. Theses include strong runs of programs and president's addresses for the early meetings of the American Pomological Society and United States Agricultural Society, both of which he helped found, and most of his presidential addresses to the New-England Historic Genealogical Society. Among the miscellaneous publications are several addresses to regional agricultural societies, including his seminal 1849 address to the Norfolk Agricultural Society, and seven copies of his address to the first graduating class of Massachusetts Agricultural College.
The small number of manuscript items in the collection include a draft copy of the proposal to hold a national meeting of fruit growers -- the first meeting of what would become the American Pomological Society -- and two letters relating to gifts of books to the MAC library. Of special note is a volume of 22 watercolors by the Belgian-American artist Louis E. Berckmans (d. 1883) of pear varieties.
Acquired from Marshall P. Wilder.
The following bound items were removed from the collection and transferred to the rare books stacks:
Many books and periodicals donated by Wilder to the MAC library are located in the library's general collection.
Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection: Marshall P. Wilder Collection (RG 2/3 W55). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.