When this county was created in 1860 by the Eighth Texas Legislature, it was named for Texas patriot James Charles Wilson. A native of England, Wilson (1818-1861) left his homeland in 1836 and by 1839 had settled in Brazoria County, Texas. He studied law there under Judge John W. Harris and future Governor Elisha M. Pease, and boarded with former Provisional Governor Henry Smith.
Wilson had a multifaceted career while a resident of the state. As part of the ill-fated Mier Expedition in 1842, he was held in a Mexican prison until escaping in 1843. He returned to Brazoria County, where he served as editor of the "Brazos Planter" and a district clerk. After obtaining his law license in 1844, Wilson had a successful law practice, was elected to the Texas Senate, and became Commissioner of Claims to settle problems arising from land grants given under the colonization laws of Spain and Mexico.
During the last years of his life, James C. Wilson moved his family to a homestead near Gonzales, where he continued to practice law and was licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Upon his death in 1861, Wilson was buried in the family cemetery near Gonzales but was later reinterred in the State Cemetery in Austin.