John Wilson was born in Greatham, near Hartlepool in 1837. At the age of ten Wilson was working in the Stanhope Ironstone Quarry for just over 4d. a day. Three years later he moved to Ludworth Colliery.
In 1856 Wilson went to sea and for a while worked in Pennsylvania and Illinois in the USA. He returned to England and in 1869 helped establish the Durham Miners Association.
Wilson, a member of the Liberal Party, was elected to the House of Commons in the 1885 General Election. Wilson lost his Houghton seat in the 1886 General Election. After the death of William Crawford, Wilson became MP for Mid-Durham and held the seat for the next twenty-five years.
John Wilson died in 1915.