William B. Wilson – Coming to America

William B. Wilson 1909

Arnot celebrated an annual Wilson Day. The five-page souveneir booklet shown above contained two photos of turn-of-the-century Arnot, a listing of the Wilson Day organizers, and the United Mine Workers of America logo.

Coming to America

William Bauchop Wilson was born in Blantyre, Scotland, April 2, 1862, the third child of Adam Black Wilson and Helen Nelson Bauchop Wilson. Two prior children, John and Hannah, each died at the age of four.

Two stories from Wilson’s unpublished autobiography illustrate his life in Scotland:

My earliest recollection runs back to a piece of childish mischief. We were living in a little village called Woodhall, on the banks of the Cather burn (brook), not far from Airdrie. It was a beautifully bright day and my aunt and my mother were taking advantage of the fine weather to wash and bleach the family linen. About the house was no place for a healthy boy who was too small to help and too large to be put to bed. My constant playfellow was about the same age as myself. We … wandered down to the brook where we paddled about and played and splashed each other until we were soaking wet from head to foot. On our way home we came upon a chimney sweep plying his trade in one of the cottages. The bags for holding his soot lay in a pile at the door… It was fine sport to wrestle and roll and tumble among the bags and see the dust fly up out of them. We were soon sticky with soot and blacker than the sweep himself. The washing was over at home. The sheets, pillow cases and table linen were spread out upon the grass, spotless and clean, bleaching in the sun. The sight of them took our fancy and we forthwith proceeded to decorate them with all kinds of fantastic figures. We threw ourselves down full length upon the linen and were filled with joy at the beautiful black imprints we made. We repeated the process up and down, crosswise and diagonally, with our legs and arms spread out like a cross, and closed up like a jack-knife, until there were few places of white cloth left big enough to make a mark upon….

Shortly afterwards, we moved to Haughhead in the suburbs of Hamilton. There I witnessed the only mine explosion I ever saw. I was playing with a number of children not far from the pit. In the midst of our games we were startled by a loud roar, and a great cloud of black smoke and rubbish shot out of the shaft as though propelled from the mouth of a cannon. Immediately there was consternation in the village. Women and children ran, excitedly screaming, to the pithead. Fortunately there were a number of experienced miners at hand. The mines had been shut down for repairs and most of the miners were at home. It was known, however, that there were eight men in the pit making repairs. A rescue party was organized at once. It was comprised of my father, two uncles and two other men. Shortly after they had been lowered into the pit, a second explosion took place. They were all given up for lost. Yet they were safe. Their search for the other men had taken them into a place where there was only one opening… and the explosion swept past them leaving them uninjured…This was in 1868, but young as I was it left a deep impression on my mind.

During a coal mine strike in Feb. 1868 in Haughhead, Scotland, Wilson’s family was evicted from their company-owned house. Although the strike was settled within a few weeks, the family did not have a place to live and roomed with two other families in an abandoned stable. Adam Wilson had two options: return to the mines and betray the cause of better working conditions for the miners, or leave Blantyre to find other employment. Adam Wilson sought work as a miner unsuccessfully in other parts of Scotland; the operators refused to hire anyone who was on strike in any other part of Scotland. After several more moves, Adam chose to emigrate to the United States to find work. With the meager savings he and Helen had accumulated in the Cadzow Cooperative Society, Adam sailed to New York in April 1870 leaving Helen with the children, William, Joseph, and Jessie, until he could save enough money to send for them.


Adam chose to settle in the bituminous coal mine region of Arnot, a small village in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, approximately three miles from Blossburg. After several months, Adam had saved and borrowed enough money to send for his family in Scotland. On August 27, 1870, Helen, the children and her father, John Bauchop, sailed from Glasgow, Scotland to the United States landing at Castle Garden, N.Y. about two weeks later. Wilson wrote of his first days in the United States:

…We expected father to receive us [at Castle Garden]. He was not there. Neither was there any message from him. All day long we waited and still no word came. We had no means to travel with and very little to buy food. When night came on the younger children were put to sleep on the benches. Mother sobbed occasionally, but under the circumstances her courage was great. About 9 o’clock at night, an agent came through the building calling mother’s name. He had an order for tickets over the Erie [Railroad] to Corning, N.Y., where father would meet us. We were bustled aboard a ferry boat and taken to the Erie station at Jersey City, and crowded into an immigrant train bound for the West. The next day we had a joyous reunion with father at Corning and took our first meal in a restaurant. That night about midnight we reached Blossburg. From there we rode in a lumber wagon on a log road through a dense hemlock forest to the new mining town of Arnot, our future home, where we arrived about 2 o’clock in the morning. It was a clear frosty night and the chill of the atmosphere was balanced by the beauty of the moonbeams shining through the trees.

The next morning we were out bright and early to get a glimpse of the new land that was to be our home. The first things that caught the eye were stumps and stones and rough board houses, not a very pleasant picture to one who had been accustomed to the well groomed surface of the valley of the Clyde.

Founded in 1866, Arnot, was the largest town in Tioga County by 1883 with a population of approximately 3,500 hailing from Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Sweden, Germany, and Poland.


The Wilson index:

• William Bauchop Wilson Main Page
• Growing up in Arnot, Pennsylvania
• The Next 20 Years
• Secretary-Treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America
• Congress
• Secretary of Labor
• 1921 – 1934
• The Family
• Ferniegair Farm Blossburg, Pennsylvania
• United Mine Workers Pins & Ribbons
• Poetry By W.B. Wilson
• Bibliography

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