Col. Timothy Bigelow (1739-1790) is one of the most fascinating and utterly admirable people I have come across in my exploration of our ancestors.
- In his youth, he was tutored by John Adams, the future patriot and U.S. president.
- In his twenties, he eloped with his heiress fiancee, riding with her on horseback to a clandestine ceremony more than a hundred miles away in Hampton, New Hampshire.
- In his early civilian life, he was a blacksmith, but his passions ran to the political issues of the day, and from the political to the military.
- He was a member – in the run up to the revolutionary period – of the Committee of Correspondence.
- He was an early member of the Sons of Liberty, a clandestine loose affiliation of colonists dedicated to resisting British rule.
- He was a delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress for its first two sessions.
- He was the first, unanimously chosen, commander of the Minute Men of Worcester, and marched with them following the call to the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
- In the Continental Army, he served under, among others, Arnold, Gates, and Lafayette.
- He fought – seemingly – everywhere: at Quebec, Monmouth, Saratoga, Verplanck’s Point, Peekskill, Valley Forge, and Yorktown, and was present at the surrender of Burgoyne.
- He was captured and held as a prisoner of war, by the British in Canada, before being exchanged back.
- He retired a full Colonel.
- Following the war, Congress granted him 23,040 acres of land in Vermont, in lieu of money, on which was founded the town of Montpelier, VT; he never saw the grant, however.
- He returned to civilian life almost certainly suffering from what is today called PTSD. The description of his symptoms, written in the vernacular of the 18th century, is both absorbing and heart wrenching.
- Following the death of his teenaged son, he developed a severe depression, and, financially destitute, died in debtor’s prison at the age of 5o.
In the next several posts, I’m going to reproduce a number of the materials I have found on this man: admittedly, some of it is a little dry, some of it repeats what has appeared elsewhere, but…each item offers something unique as well: some new anecdote, a letter from his wife, the entry of his jailer on his death, etc.; together they present multiple perspectives on an individual whom – I believe – history needs to acknowledge once again.
The following account appears first, not because it it the best of the material I found on Bigelow, but because it offers just a thumbnail sketch of the man, a way to break the ice. It appears as part of the Bigelow family web page.
from the site, Bigelowsociety.com
Col. Timothy 4 Bigelow, fifth child of Daniel 3 (Joshua 2, John 1) and Elizabeth (Whitney) Bigelow, was born in Worcester, Worcester county, MA on 2 Aug. 1739. He married, on 1 July 1762, Anna Andrews, daughter of Samuel and Anna (Rankin) Andrews, born 11 April 1747 At Worcester. At the time of her marriage she was an orphan and had inherited a considerable fortune. Her maternal grandparents were James and Rachel Rankin, immigrants from Ireland with the Scots Presbyterians of 1718. Her father Samuel Andrews established a tannery in Worcester, and built the Bigelow Mansion opposite Courthouse Square.
Timothy Bigelow was early apprenticed to the blacksmith trade, and carried on that occupation most of his life. He was self-educated, and as a young man was widely-read and became a fluent speaker, and accumulated a little library. He was known locally for his prowess at debating.
He early espoused the anti-British sentiment, both writing & speaking a break with the mother country. At the opening of the conflict between the colonies and England, in March 1773, Timothy was a member of the Committee of Correspondence. In December following he organized the “Political Society,” the meetings of which were held in his home, and by means of which the power of the Tory party was broken in Worcester.
In 1774 the citizens formed the Sons of Liberty through the influence and support of Bigelow. He was a member of Boston’s Whig Club, and associated with Warren and Otis, and other leading colonial advocates. He was a delegate to the Provincial Congress in its first two sessions. In the formation of the Minute Men in Worcester, Timothy Bigelow was chosen its commander unanimously, and he drilled the men so thoroughly that when Gen. George Washington reviewed the company, he said, “This is discipline, indeed.” Bigelow marched at the Battle of Concord and Lexington, and soon after was commissioned a major.
In September following he volunteered for the expedition to Quebec under Benedict Arnold going by way of the Kennebec river through the wilderness of Maine. On this expedition Maj. Bigelow was ordered by Gen. Arnold to ascend a mountain near the headwaters of the Kennebec, with a small party of men, for the purpose of reconnaissance. This mountain today bears the name Mt. Bigelow.
While on the march to Quebec, he wrote the following to his wife:
October 26th, 1775. On that part of the Kennybeck called the Dead river, 95 miles above Norridgewock
I am at this time well, but in a dangerous situation, as is the whole detachment of the Continental Army with me. We are in a wilderness nearly one hundred miles from any inhabitants, either French or English, and but about five days provisions on an average for the whole. We are this day sending back the most feeble and some that are sick. If the French are our enemies it will go hard with us, for we have no retreat left. In that case there will be no alternative between the sword and famine. May God in his infinite mercy protect you, my more than ever dear wife, and my dear children, Adieu, and ever believe me to be your most affectionate husband,
Bigelow proceeded on the march to Quebec, and on the 31st of December was taken prisoner by the British, and kept prisoner until the following August. He, with other prisoners, was taken to New York, and then exchanged. He promptly reentered the service as Lieut.-Colonel under General Gates, and in 1777 was commissioned a full Colonel, the highest rank of any Bigelow during the Revolutionary War. He was at Saratoga, Verplanck’s Point, Peekskill, Valley Forge, West Point, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and the surrender of Burgoyne.
…After the War he came home ill and was unable to resume his occupation as a Blacksmith. It was then he went to West Point for some time, and was appointed commander of the arsenal at Springfield. When his health broke he returned to Worcester, after eight years in the army and found his property and business seriously diminished and encumbered in debt. With others he obtained a grant for 23,040 acres (dated 21 October 1780), on which was founded the town of Montpelier, VT. He never saw the grant. His Son Andrew’s death from consumption in 1787, and the pressure to pay off his indebtedness caused his health to decline. With his finances depleted, he resumed his occupation of blacksmith, but with the post-war inflation, his own distaste for business, and the pressure of friends who had lent him money, he was thrown into debtors’ prison. He died in debtors’ prison 31 Mar 1790 at the age of 51. A friend, Isaac Thomas, placed a single line in the Massachusetts Spy announcing his obituary. His widow Anna died 9 July 1809 at Groton, MA.
It is said that he was of fine personal appearance, over six feet in height, with military bearing. In addition to his vigorous mind, he had a warm and generous heart, according to Howe’s Bigelow genealogy.
In addition to several chapters of patriotic organizations named in his honor, there are at least three memorials to Col. Timothy Bigelow:
- Montpelier, Vermont was founded and named by him.
- Bigelow Mountain in Maine, the same that he climbed, is named for him.
- Worcester Common has a Bigelow monument, presented by grandson Timothy Lawrence, in 1861.
- Several monuments bear his name at Valley Forge.