The Wilder Family in America

A brief history


By his performance in the Battle of Bosworth, Nicholas won the esteem of King Henry. On April 15, 1497, the king granted a coat of arms for appreciation of his bravery and the family has remained armigerous.. Wilder Crest

The original estate was Nunhide (then probably Nunehyde) and in 1496, he bought the property called Nunhide from John Kent. This estate is a few miles from Reading in Berkshire. There would have been a timber-framed house on the property and the brick walls of the old court in front of this house are still in place. In the early 17th century it was replaced by a pleasant brick and tiled house which, with various alterations and additions, still stands today and is known as Nunhide Farm House.

The Lordship of the Manor of Nunhide was held by Goring Priory (just across the River Thames in Oxfordshire) until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. This would probably account for the name: Nun’s hyde. A hyde was the Anglo-Saxon name for an area of land. Eventually it was bought by Thomas Wilder, a great-grandson of Nicholas, in 1632. Thomas then became the independent owner. The house may well have been rebuilt at this time. The Nunhide property still forms part of the Sulham Estate, lying to the south of Sulham village.

In 1633, John Wilder married Amy Knapp of Chilton. Through this marriage the family became Founder’s Kin of St John’s College Oxford, Sir William White, the founder, having been her ancestor. This no doubt accounts for the fact that a number of Wilders graduated from St John’s.

Nicholas and his wife Isabel (or Elizabeth) had seven sons. The eldest was John who married Agnes, and the youngest, also called John, was married to Alice Keats. Alice’s father, John Keats, owned land at Sulham which when the Doomsday Book was compiled in 1086, had been a feudal manor held by Theodoric the Goldsmith - an ancient kind of banker, who also held land at the adjoining manor of Purley Magna and other lands in Berkshire. John and Alice had a large family - four sons, John, Nicholas, William and Thomas, and three daughters, Eleanor, Joan and Alice.


JOHN. Known as John of Nunhide, John succeeded to the property on his father's death in 1588. It was his son John (fifth generation), born to his brother Thomas’ widow Margaret , who lived at Combe on the borders of Berkshire and Hampshire. The American Wilders who first settled in Norfolk, Virginia are descended from John.

NICHOLAS. He died without issue when only 22 years old.

WILLIAM. In 1582, John gave by deed of entail the Sulham House to William, their third son, and arranged for Thomas, the fourth son, to become the proprietor of the entailed estate. In John's will, made in October, 1588 and proved by his widow Alice in November, John and Thomas were both provided for and a deed of conveyance was also made to Thomas. The family residence, Shiplake, which was not a part of the entailed estate, was probably conveyed by deed to Thomas, and thus made to continue as the family residence. The property was entailed but William unfortunately had no children and when he died in 1600 it passed to his younger brother Thomas, again entailed for Thomas’ eldest son.

THOMAS. Thomas (of Sulham) and his wife Margaret had two children, John and Thomas (fifth generation) but he did not live long. His widow, Margaret, then married her brother-in-law John of Nunhide, and it will be seen that by this marriage the property of Sulham and Nunhide was consolidated. It was their son John, referred to above, who held the land at Combe.


The eldest son of Thomas of Sulham was John and it is from him that the main line of English Wilders is descended.

The younger son of Thomas, also called Thomas, married Martha, the heiress to property at Shiplake in Oxfordshire. There is mention of the family in Shiplake in the reign of Henry VII and also long after, but unfortunately the registers of the time of Charles I in Shiplake have been torn out. He was known as Thomas of Shiplake, and on his death in 1634 this property was passed on to his son John. In 1638 his widow Martha, having put her affairs in England in order, she sailed in the Confidence and settled in Hingham, MA with her four younger children, Thomas, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. It is from this family that most of the American Wilders are descended.

In 1712 in the reign of William and Mary, Henry Wilder, great-great-great-grandson of Nicholas, bought the Lordship of the Manor of Sulham, and in 1724 the Advowson, or Patronage, of the Living. He had married Elizabeth Saunders in 1705. Whether the family's love of literature came from him or not, Henry Wilder loved books and makes special mention of his library in his Will.

Henry and Elizabeth had a son John, who in 1735 during the reign of George II, married Beaufoy, daughter of Col. William Boyle of Shiplake and grand-daughter of Sir Samuel Garth who was Physician in Ordinary to George I and Physician General to the Forces in Ireland. Beaufoy came from a very distinguished family and could trace her descent as sixteenth in direct line from Edward III. She was also a considerable heiress and, although she and her husband appear to have lived mainly at her family home at Shiplake after their marriage, John did not neglect to add to his Sulham property. He bought more land at Sulham in 1750. In 1766 he obtained from the College of Heralds a formal Grant of the Arms he pleaded that his family had long borne, having been "a long time Lords of the Manors of Sulham and Nunhide". His portrait in uniform and that of his wife Beaufoy, painted by the American artist Singleton Copely, hang in Sulham House today.

John and Beaufoy had eight children, most of whom were born at Shiplake; three daughters died young and are buried at Sulham.

In 1768 their eldest son, Henry, married Joan Thoyts and through that marriage further property came into his possession. In 1773, a year after his father's death, he sold Shiplake and in 1777 bought Purley Hall, a large country house with a home farm and extensive grounds to the north and adjoining his property at Sulham. Built in 1609 by Francis Hyde of Pangbourne, it was originally known as Hyde Hall.

In 1720, the property was sold to Francis Hawes, who changed the name to Purley Hall. However, the Hawes family was involved in the financial scandal of the South Sea Bubble and in 1777 were thus forced to sell the property to the Rev. Dr. Henry Wilder for 9,500 pounds. The house remained in Wilder ownership until 1961 and is still in private hands.

In 1838 the Rev. John Wilder rebuilt the Norman church at Sulham with a new building in the Italianate style. The church and its churchyard, adjoining the grounds of Sulham House, contain a number of Wilder memorials. The Wilders provided many Rectors of the parish, and between 1823 and 1944 there was an unbroken line of them - something of an ecclesiastical record!

Sulham church front sulham church and interior

Sulham House was built by William and Mary in 1701 with final major alteration completed by John Wilder in 1838. It is the main residence of the Sulham Estate.

Anne Horsman 1998 Updated 3/11/98

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