The Life of Timothy Bigelow, Crowdsourced


Rounding out these readings on Col. Timothy Bigelow is his Wikipedia entry. I am not including the entries from Wikipedia for most of our more famous ancestors, but here I’m making  an exception. The description of the incident with the British spies, as well as the expedition under Arnold to Quebec, and the log entry of his jailer noting that he had been discharged “By Deth” provide justification enough.


from Wikipedia

Timothy Bigelow (August 12, 1739, Worcester, Massachusetts – March 31, 1790, Worcester)

Timothy Bigelow was born on 2 Aug 1739 in a part of Worcester known as Pakachoag or College Hill, located in Worcester County, Massachusetts, USA. son of Daniel Bigelow and Elizabeth Whitney. Timothy Bigelow’s father was a farmer, the owner of 100 acres of land on “Little Packachoag Hill.” Timothy and his brothers grew up in the ways and manners of the times. Chores, assisting their father and in “off hours” the boys enjoyed swimming and fishing in the summertime, fishing in the winter, because a stream, called the French River, divided the northerly section of the farm.

He 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, became a fluent speaker, and accumulated a little library. Future President John Adams was Timothy’s teacher. He was known locally for his prowess at debating. In the rear of the Andrews home Tim Bigelow had a blacksmith’s shop where he blew the bellows, heated and hammered the iron, and shod the horses and oxen and mended the plows and chains for the farmers of the country about him. As described in the history books, Tim was as bright as a button, more than six feet high, straight and handsome, and walked upon the earth with a natural air and grace that was quite captivating.

Up to that time that Timothy Bigelow forsook the anvil and forge for the musket and sword, his life had been tinged with romance; a bright background for the dark shadows that were to gather and culminate in tragedy at twoscore years and ten. He fell in love with pretty Anna Andrews, an heiress, whose guardian refused consent to her marriage with a humble blacksmith. Then it was that the spirit later to burst forth into full flame, when fanned by the winds of the Revolution, inspired young Bigelow; and, engaging the fleetest horses obtainable, he and his betrothed dashed to Hampton, New Hampshire, where they were married. They returned Mr & Mrs Timothy Bigelow and eventually had 6 children together.

In the house built by his father-in-law, Samuel Andrews, at the corner of Main Street and Lincoln Square, which stood until 1824, Timothy Bigelow gathered an extensive library, and when not engaged at his forge, took every opportunity to perfect his oratorical gifts that during the Revolution served him so well.

It was there he lived when he became one of the Patriot leaders in Worcester, one of the chief promoters of the Sons of Liberty, the organizer of the American Political Society, a member of the Committee of Correspondence, and a delegate to Provincial Congress, It was also where he lived when news of the Boston Tea Party reached him; and, dropping his hammer, he hastened to his house, where he took from his closet a canister of tea, and burned both container and contents in the fireplace, and afterward covered the remains with red-hot coals. With no explanation to his family he then returned to his forge.

If it were not for the fact the Benjamin Thomas Hill has with great care preserved and photographed the fragment of wall paper whereon is depicted what is supposed to be the Bigelow House, nothing would remain to show just how it looked when the brave officer made his home there.

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 Mar 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. It was Timothy Bigelow who, with General Joseph Warren, persuaded Isaiah Thomas to establish himself in Worcester, and with their aid the printer was able to move his press here a few days before the outbreak of the Revolution.

Timothy Bigelow plays an important part in the well-known story concerning the visit of the two British spies at the tavern of “Tory” Jones which once stood on Main Street, opposite Chatham in Worcester. It seems that British General Gage, about a month before the battles of Lexington and Concord, concluded that it would be a fine plan to march from Concord to Worcester, and thus more easily quell the revolution that he knew was brewing. With this idea in view, he dispatched two of his officers, Captain Brown and Ensign de Bernicre, to make a thorough examination of the roads and bridges and to bring back a full report of conditions generally in Worcester. The two young men arrived in March, 1775, at “Tory” Jones Tavern, where on account of their civilian dress they felt they would not be recognized; but the innkeeper, though favoring the British cause, had a garrulous tongue, and it was not long before it was noised abroad that two strangers were staying at the tavern. A delegation of citizens came to call; but the spies, being wary, told their host that they were simple sailor-folk, who were not dressed sufficiently well to receive strangers. At which the landlord may have said: “We know why you are here. I and my friends who await you are loyal to the king, and we would assist you in any way that lies in our power.”

The spies remained in seclusion over Sunday; and early Monday morning, having asked for some roast beef and brandy, they proceeded on their way back to Boston, feeling fairly sure that their presence in the town was generally unknown. They had, however, not reckoned on the vigilance of Colonel Timothy Bigelow, of the public safety committee, and others, who knew the exact time of arrival and departure, this accurate knowledge concerning strangers – especially strangers who walked with a military gait – being a part of their duties as members of the vigilant committee. the spies left the town by a route different from that by which they had entered it. They were dismayed to find that a tall, erect horseman was riding after them. As told by one of the British soldiers in disguise:

At two o’clock it ceased snowing a little, and we resolved to set off for Marlborough which was about sixteen miles off. We fund the roads very bad, every step up to our ancles [sic]; we passed through Sudbury*, a large village near a mile long; the causeway lies over a great swamp, or overflowing of Sudbury river, and it is commanded by high ground on the opposite side. [The soldiers may have been referring to Shrewsbury and the causeway as Sudbury is further and past Marlboro from Worcester.] Nobody took the least notice of us, till we arrived within three miles of Marlborough (it was snowing very hard all the while) when a horseman overtook us, and asked us form whence we came – we said from Weston; he asked us if we lived there – we said no; he then asked where we resided,and, as we found there was no evading his questions, we told him we lived in Boston. He then asked us where we were going; we told him to Marlborough, to see a friend; (as we intended to go to Mr. Barnes, a gentleman to whom we were recommended and a friend to the government:) he then asked us, if we were in the army; we said no, but were a good deal alarmed at his asking us that question; he asked several rather impertinent questions, and then rode on to Marlborough, as we suppose. to give them intelligence of our coming – for on our arrival the people came out of their houses (though it snowed and blew very hard) to look at us; in particular, a baker asked Capt. Brown. ‘Where are you going Master?’ He answered, to see Mr. Barnes.

With the town of Marlborough aware of the possibility of British Spies being within their midst, thanks to the warning of Tim Bigelow who had ridden in terrible weather for 18 miles in the snow, several folks queried Mr. Barnes who feigned that they were relatives of his wife from Penobscot and were going to Lancaster. That gave him enough time to send the soldiers off through a snowy back road around 9pm (they were planning to rest and leave at 12am) until the Committee of Correspondence showed up at his Mr. Barnes house and searched it for top to bottom claiming if they had found the soldiers, they would have taken the house down around his ears. They had sent horsemen on every road to find them, but with the weather being so bad, they could not as the soldiers had ridden as fast as they could without stopping until just outside Boston as they feared for their lives. Shortly after, Mr. Barnes was run out of Marlborough by a violent mob – without his possessions – and eventually died banished in London in 1808.

In the formation of the Minute Men in Worcester, Timothy Bigelow was chosen its commander unanimously. He drilled the men so thoroughly that when Gen. George Washington reviewed the company, he said, “This is discipline, indeed!” The gallant Patriot, who, with the little company of minute-men that he had carefully drilled, answered the call of the rider who on a foaming horse dashed through Worcester early in the morning of the memorable 19 April 1775, calling: “To arms! To arms! War is begun!” The Minute-Men with their commander gathered on the Worcester Common; and there, with cannon booming and bells ringing, they received their instructions, and with bowed heads listened to the benediction of the Rev. Thaddeus Maccarty, minister of the Old South Church, before they began their march to what would be known as the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Soon after, he 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 was later named for him and is now known as Mount Bigelow.

While on the march to Quebec, he wrote the following to his wife:

October 26, 1775

On that part of the Kennybeck called the Dead river, 95 miles above Norridgewock

Dear Wife. 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, Timo. Bigelow.

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 Quebec, Monmouth, Saratoga, Verplanck’s Point, Peekskill, Valley Forge, Yorktown, West Point, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and the surrender of Burgoyne. (There is a plaque on a Monument at Valley Forge).

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. Congress, realizing how much back pay was due him for his eight years of service, granted him 23,040 acres of land in Vermont, in lieu of money (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 eventually 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 after 6 weeks on March 31, 1790 at the age of 51.

One of the saddest entries made in any record of the city of Worcester is the note on March 31, 1790, in the old jail book, of the discharge of Colonel Timothy Bigelow, – “By Deth.”

His record reads in whole:

Timothy Bigelow, Worcester, Esquire, Time of commitment, February 15, 1790 by Execution By authority of Levi Lincoln, Esq. Description: Six feet, Dark Complexion. Discharged April 1, 1790 by Death.

His friend, Isaac Thomas, placed a single line in the Massachusetts Spy announcing his obituary. His widow Anna died on July 9, 1809 in Groton, MA.

In his lifetime, Col. Bigelow was a delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, participated in the Committee of Correspondence, fought in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and served as colonel of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army.[4] He accompanied Benedict Arnold in his expedition to Quebec in 1775, and was captured there, remaining a prisoner until 1776. He was made colonel on February 8, 1777, and, when in command of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment, assisted at the capture of John Burgoyne. He was also at Valley Forge, West Point, Monmouth, and Yorktown. After the war Bigelow had charge of the Springfield Arsenal. He was a benefactor of the academy at Leicester, Massachusetts.



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