James Wilder’s First Wife

When I was at Malone/Burke, I found out that James Wilder had a first wife, before Almanzo’s mother. It seems that other people were as surprised as I was by this fact. Other than mentioning it in passing in my posts about Malone/Burke I was going to let it go until I could do some research myself, however as I’ve gotten questions about it, I decided to ask Sharon Jahn, one of the major authorities on the Wilder family in Spring Valley (and the more I see of her work the more I think she’s probably one of the top authorities on the James Wilder family in general) if she would give me a little more information and she generously gave it and said I could put it here. Below is information from two e-mails from Sharon:

“In the estate papers from Mrs. Angelina Day Wilder, with information for the papers from her granddaughter, Angelina Howard Merritt, in the Parish of Acadia, state of LA, the following: “That my grandmother, Mrs. Angelina Albina Day Wilder, was married but once and then to my grandfather, James Mason Wilder; that my grandfather was only married twice and of his first marriage there were no children born; that his second marriage was to my grandmother…..”

(Sarah here again, that was important because of Louisiana’s inheritance law at the time which gave primary interest in an estate to children of the first marriage, why E.J. was disinherited when her husband died. This was a European tradition that focused more on the maintenance of the property rather than fairness to the children and is the source of all those younger sons that have to marry well that show up in romantic literature.)
“From the records of the First Congregational Church of Malone ‘November 4, 1840 Mr. James M. Wilder aged 27 years, farmer of Malone, and Miss Mary Shonyo, aged 20 years, a house maid of Constable, were married by me, Ashbel Parmelia?. Witnesses: Abel Wilder & wife, Mr. & Mrs. Shonyo, the parents of the bride, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Nichols & wife.'”

“On her tombstone is gives 1842 as her death date & I couldn’t find the reference but I have been told she died either from a miscarriage or during birth…..”

“I found a letter from Ed Tattershall, who was historian at Malone for years. He said James purchased the farm in 1840 because of his marriage to Mary. Ed also said James sold his cemetery
lot to Harriet & Richard Shonyo in 1874 & thought they were probably Mary’s parents. In her book (p. 18) Dorothy Smith mentions the lot sold to Horace & Richard Shonyo. ”

I also contacted Elizabeth Menke at the Malone site who also confirmed the story, but said it was deliberately downplayed at the site because it didn’t fit with their interpretation focus of the site.

Thank you to both Sharon and Betty. It’s their research and I am very grateful that they were willing to share it on this unique facet of the Wilder story.

Sarah S. Uthoff is main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+,LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.


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Sarah Uthoff - Trundlebed Tales

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+, LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

4 thoughts on “James Wilder’s First Wife”

  1. Thank you so much for the info on James Wilder’s first wife! I was a volunteer tour guide at the Spring Valley museum many years ago, and I am well acquainted with Sharon Jahn. She told me a few years ago that she knew the James Wilder had been previously married, and she was trying to verify the details. I pleased that she has done so, and I hope that the Wilder sites will soon include this information in their publications.


  2. I would love to find out more about James M. Wilder’s life. Moving to MN because of bad crops doesn’t seem enough of a reason. And him going to LA at age 85 to raise rice. He seems very interesting!

    Also would like to know more about Almanzo other than from Laura. Anything to read?

    Thank you. I thought Farmer Boy was excellent.


    1. You might want to check with “The Story of the Wilders” by William T. Anderson and “The Wilder Family Story” by Dorothy Smith. You may also want to contact the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Spring Valley, MN that has done some incredible research on the Wilder family.


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