As a child, he received a limited schooling and did not have a higher education. He engaged in mercantile and agricultural pursuits. During the American Civil War, he was appointed as the first lieutenant of Company East, Seventieth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry on November 2, 1861.
He was discharged as a captain on November 27, 1862.
He was also a chairman on the Committee on Agriculture (Forty-first and Forty-second Congresses). He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1872 to the Forty-third Congress.
He died in the village of Tranquillity (near what is now known as Seaman), Adams County, Ohio, at the age of eighty. He is buried in Tranquillity Cemetery.
Restored by Ralph and Patricia Alexander, The John T. Wilson Homestead Wilson built and lived in Tranquillity, Ohio still can be visited by the public.
He was a member of the Ohio Senate from 1863 to 1866 and was elected as a Republican to the Fortieth, Forty-first, and Forty-second Congresses (serving from March 4, 1867 until March 3, 1873).