The Life of Col. Timothy Bigelow as Recounted in the History of Worcester

The title says it all. The man’s story almost reminds me of Mozart and his relationship with Vienna. A leading citizen of a city. An influential, highly regarded man. Active life. Hard times. Ignominy. Death as pauper, at a youngish age. Resurrection, in reputation if nothing else. Monuments, ceremonies, and shared pride once again in the man their fathers and grandfathers had treated so badly.

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from History of Worcester, Massachusetts, from its earliest settlement to September, 1836; with various notices relating to the history of Worcester County, by Willam Lincoln, Worcester, 1837. Ebook available here.

 

COL. TIMOTHY BIGELOW

Col. Timothy Bigelow, was born in Worcester, August 12, 1739. His father, Daniel Bigelow, was of that class of substantial farmers who have been distinguished here for independence, good sense, industry and probity. [1] The youngest son, the subject of this sketch, was first apprenticed to a mechanic trade, and afterwards prosecuted the business of a blacksmith with diligence.[2] He was soon ranked among the most energetic and prosperous of the young men of the village. With strong native power, and shrewd observation of men and things, he labored to supply the want of the advantages of education: he collected a small but well selected library, became acquainted with some of the best English authors, and gained the art of speaking with directness and force, and of writing with point and accuracy. These acquisitions were soon called into full exercise.

 

As the clouds of the revolution gathered, he was placed in prominent position among the Whigs of the town. Our best educated and most influential men were decided Tories. Mr. Bigelow, espousing with ardor the opposite party, as early as March 1773, was elected of the local Committee of Correspondence, and, in December, organized the Political Society.[3] Meetings of these bodies were often held at his dwelling, and measures were there concerted in secret, which broke the control of the adherents of the king. The recital of his exertions would be but repetition of the narrative of that struggle between the patriots and royalists, with which he was identified, already spread through former pages. The bold and then treasonable resolutions of the town, in 1774, were resisted in the public meeting of the inhabitants by Col. Putnam, who remonstrated against the adoption, in an appeal of solemn and lofty eloquence: they were sustained vigorously, by Mr. Bigelow, and carried triumphantly. From that day the ‘sons of liberty’ were victorious, where Toryism had possessed its strongest hold in the interior. Member of the famous ‘Whig Club’ assembling in Boston, he was associated with Warren, Otis, and other eminent movers of the springs of ‘rebellion.’ He was delegate in the Provincial Congress during Its first and second sessions.[4] When the company of Minute Men was formed, he was chosen, by unanimous vote, to be its commander. Under his unwearied instruction, this corps attained such excellence in military exercises, as to draw from Washington, on the first review, the expression ‘ this is discipline indeed.’ On the day preceding the Concord fight, he had been engaged in preparations for the removal of the military stores to a place of safety, and returned, in good time to place himself at the head of his men, when they took up the line of march, on the 19th of April, 1775. Arriving at Cambridge, on the following day, he joined the army, as Captain, and soon after, by commission from Congress, was promoted to the rank of Major. In September 1775, he engaged, as volunteer, in the expedition against Quebec. Had that winter march through the wilderness been the exploit of a Grecian phalanx, or Roman legion, the narrative of sufferings and dangers, severe as were ever endured or encountered, would have been celebrated in song and story. One of the three divisions penetrating through the forest, by the route of the Kennebeck. was commanded by Major Bigelow.[5] In the attack on Quebec, during the night of the 31st of December, in the assault on the fortress, exposed to a shower of balls from the barriers and ramparts, he was made prisoner, and remained in captivity until the summer of 1776. An exchange having been negotiated, he returned, and was soon after called into service with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The commission of Colonel was received, Feb. 8, 1777, and he was appointed to the command of the 15th Regiment of the Massachusetts line in the Continental Army, then forming, principally of the men of Worcester county. Remaining in Worcester, until the ranks were filled and the new troops drilled, he marched to join the Northern Army under Gen. Gates, and arrived on the scene of action in season to assist in the capture of Burgoyne. With his regiment, we afterwards trace him, at Saratoga, in Rhode Island, at Verplank’s Point, Robinson’s Farms, N. J. Peekskill, Valley Forge, and West Point. A braver band never took the field or mustered to battle. High character for intrepidity and discipline, early acquired, was maintained unsullied to the close of their service.

After the army was disbanded, Col. Bigelow was stationed for a time at West Point, and afterwards assigned to the command of the national arsenal at Springfield. When he left military life, it was with the reputation of a meritorious officer, but with straightened purse. The pay of the soldiers of freedom had been irregularly advanced, in depreciated currency,[6] and large arrears were with-held. With a frame physically impaired by long hardship, toil, and exposure, with blighted worldly prospects, with the remains of private property considerable at the outset, but seriously diminished by the many sacrifices of his martial career, he returned to his home. With resolute spirit he set to work to repair his shattered fortunes, and resumed the old occupations of the forge and work shop. But times had changed since the fires of the furnace had been last kind- led. If the products of his skill were in as quick demand as in former days, responsible customers were diminished. Hard money had ceased to circulate; credit existed only in name; and public confidence was destroyed. Change too had come over the war-worn veteran himself. The stirring occupations of the field, the habits formed by eight years of active service, the tastes acquired by residence in the camp, and action in the exciting events of the revolution, and disuse of old avocations, had produced inaptitude for a course of business so long discontinued. Still, he bore up against circumstances of discouragement, and contrived to maintain his family in comfort and in respectable position. With others, he obtained a grant of a township of land in Vermont, containing 23,040 acres, Oct. 21, 1780, upon which he founded a town and bestowed the name of Montpelier, now the capital of the State. A severe domestic affliction, in 1787, the loss of his second son, Andrew, who fell a victim to rapid consumption, uniting with other disappointments, depressed his energy, and cast over his mind a gloom presaging the approaching night of premature old age. He died March 31, 1790, in the 51st year of his age.[7]

Col. Bigelow was of fine personal appearance. His figure was tall and commanding. In stature he was more than six feet in height. His bearing was erect and martial, and his step was said o have been one of the most graceful of the army. With taste for military life, he was deeply skilled in the science of war, and the troops under his command and instruction, exhibited the highest condition of discipline. He possessed vigorous intellect, ardent temperament, and a warm and generous heart.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Daniel Bigelow married Elizabeth Whitney, and with his wife moved from Water- town to Worcester, and resided in that part of the town then called Bogachoa°”, now Ward, where he died at the great age of 92 years. He had five children, David, Nathaniel, Daniel, Timothy, and Silence : the latter, was for many years a school mistress; the former, with a single exception, have been before mentioned. His paternal ancestors early emigrated from England. The first recorded notice of any of the family in this country, is of John Bigelow, an inhabitant of Watertown, who in 1636, served as Grand Juror, at a term of the Court held at Newtown, now Cambridge. He was possessed of extensive tracts of land, cultivated a farm, and ‘was well to live.’ The name was formerly written Biglo, by corruption from Bedloe, the more ancient orthography.

[2] He built a forge before the war on the south side of Lincoln Square. After returning from the army, he erected a trip hammer and other iron works, on the site of the Court Mills, now owned by Stephen Salisbury, Esq.

[3] An account of this society and of the political exertions of Col. Bigelow will be found in the sixth and seventh chapters of this work.

[4] Col. Bigelow, with other leading Whigs, desirous of the establishment of a press in Worcester, had made proposals to Isaiah Thomas to issue a newspaper here. An arrangement was effected for this purpose at the commencement of 1775. The removal of the Spy from Boston, took place immediately after the battle of Lexington.

[5] During a clay’s halt of the troops, on this memorable march, Major Bigelow ascended a steep and rugged height, about 40 miles northwestward from Norridgewock, in Somerset County, Maine, for the purpose of observation. This eminence still bears the name of Mount Bigelow.

A faithful and most interesting narrative of the campaign against Quebec, was published by John Joseph Henry, a soldier in the expedition, afterwards President of the Second Judicial District of Pennsylvania : the journal of Major Return J. Meigs is printed in 2 Mass Hist. Coll. ii. 227: some original letters of Arnold, are inserted in the Maine Historical Society’s Collections, i. 341. From these sources maybe derived full detail of the memorable expedition.

[6] The following extracts of a letter from Mrs. Bigelow to her husband, Feb. 26, 1780, show the depreciated state of the currency.

‘On account of the heavy fall of snow, there is not a possibility of gelling wood from the farm at present, no one who does not live on the great road can bring any with a sled. The common price is fifty dollars, and it has been sold for fifty-six dollars the load’. ‘The money you sent me was very acceptable, for I was in debt for Andrew’s pair of shoes, forty dollars; and also for some mending in the family, which made the account almost seventy dollars. I paid the servant, fifty-eight dollars for what money he had expended on the road [in a journey of about 60 miles.] A bushel of malt now sells for thirty dollars, and a pound of hops for six dollars.’

[7] Col. Bigelow married Anna Andrews, a young orphan lady of Worcester, born April 1 1 , 1747, and at the time of her marriage, July 7, 1762, heiress of a fortune considerable in those days. The union was a love match, and was contracted at Hampton’ N. H. the Gretna Green of the Old Bay State. She died at Groton, July, 1809. She was the only child of a connection formed under somewhat romantic circumstances. Her father, Samuel Andrews, at a late period of youth, having fitted himself for college, and passed the customary examination, was admitted to Harvard University. Returning to visit his friends, before commencing his classes, he saw and became enamored of Anna, youngest daughter of James Rankin and Rachel Irving, his wife, emigrants from Ireland with the Scotch Presbyterians of 1718. His suit, prosecuted with ardor and assiduity, was successful, and the bridal was soon solemnized. Abandoning the plan of obtaining a liberal education, he purchased and cultivated a small farm on the western shore of Quinsigamond. Diligence, prudence, and sobriety, brought the reward of prosperity. He removed to the village, erected a house on the site of the jail, lately pulled down, established a tannery north of the bridge on Lincoln square, and in 1749, built the old Bigelow mansion, opposite to the Court House, on the spot where the large brick dwellings of Stephen Salisbury, Esq. now stand, where he died. On his decease, the estate descended to his only daughter Anna.

Col. Bigelow had six children, 1. Nancy : born Jan. 2, 1766, married Hon. Abraham Lincoln, long Selectman and Representative of the town, and Member of the Council at the time of his death, July 2, 1824. 2. Timothy : b. April 30, 1767, (See page 266.) 3. Andrew : b. March 30, 1769, d. Nov. 1787. 4. Lucy : b. May 13, 1774, m. Hon. Luther Lawrence, formerly of Groton, now of Lowell. 5. Rufus : b. July 7, 1772 : he was merchant in Baltimore, and died unmarried in that city, Dec. 21, 1813. 6. Clara : b. Dec. 29, 1781, m. Tyler Bigelow, Esq. of Watertown.

The materials for this sketch have been derived from an excellent memoir of Col. Bigelow, kindly communicated by the Rev. Andrew Bigelow of Taunton.

 

 

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