Worcester Hero of the Revolution Died - in Jail!

By Kenneth Colvin


Picture of Col. Timothy Bigelow's MonumentThe fact that our Worcester County area produced many Revolutionary War heroes is not unknown. Some names have remained prominent over the 200 years since; others have been passed over by time and almost forgotten. It is our intended purpose to "revive" as many as possible during this, our Bicentennial year. In their day, many held important and responsible positions in our community. The "Wealthy" or the not so well off financially is unimportant for all were "concerned" citizens.

Timothy Bigelow comes within this category of local heroes. Here was a man of determination and character. Yet he died in a Debtor's Prison on March 31. 1790: a broken man, humiliated and disappointed at the age of 51 years.

On the record it shows Timothy Bigelow was a blacksmith and a successful one before he embarked on his military career. His great great grandfather had been a blacksmith before him but it is doubtful that this fact did much, if anything, to influence Timothy's decision to embark upon a similar career. His grandfather had been a soldier in King Philip's War. Perhaps this fact, too, might have been a factor in Timothy's decision to become a soldier or it might not. All existing evidence indicates Timothy Bigelow's father was a farmer, the owner of 100 acres of land on "Little Packachoag Hill" and it is probable Timothy and his brothers grew up in the ways and manners of the times. Of course there were always the chores, assisting their father and in "off hours" (usually at odd moments as well as infrequent) it is safe to guess the boys enjoyed swimming and fishing in the summertime, possibly ice-fishing in the winter, because a stream, called the French River, divided the northerly section of the farm.

Growing older, Timothy Bigelow was apprenticed to "learn the blacksmithing trade" in Worcester. In due time he established his own blacksmith shop on the west side of Millbrook, a bit south of the present Lincoln Square. He married on July 7, 1762, and inherited, through his wife, her father's ample homestead which was on Main Street, again at or about the Lincoln Square of today. This house became known, later, as the Timothy Bigelow House and a memorial plaque inserted into the wall in front of our present Court House building marks the approximate location.

Timothy Bigelow is recorded as "firm in his convictions, untiring in his efforts and (possibly) impulsive." He was frequently in the company of the Whigs and in opposition to the mandates of Britain's King and Parliament that related to the oppression of their American Colonies. In 1773 a Town Meeting (Worcester was then a town) elected him a member of the Committee of Correspondence. In 1774 he was re-elected a delegate to the Provincial Congress (to be convened at Concord) and re-elected on January 3, 1775. He was the organizer of "The American Political Society" whose avowed purpose was to

further the cause of ail Whigs and Patriots. It was during this period of political activity Timothy Bigelow probably made the acquaintance of other Patriots in Boston, particularly Paul Revere, Dr. Joseph Warren and Isaiah Thomas (the printer to the cause). A few days before the Lexington Concord battles it is recorded that the Thomas press, type and other printing equipment was secretly moved from Boston to avoid confiscation by the British - and stored in Timothy Bigelow's cellar.

Always a busy man, and many were equally active in the months just prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Bigelow found time to drill Worcester's Company of Minute Men (to be used if and when needed). On record is George Washington's comment: "This is discipline, indeed." When the Worcester Company joined the Continental Army's encirclement of Boston. Bigelow's military experience began at the age of 21, as a private, during the ill-fated expedition to Quebec in 1759.

April 19, 1775, found the news of Lexington and Concord arriving in Worcester soon but not sufficiently early to allow Captain Timothy Bigelow to marshal his company and travel the distance in time to reach the scene before the British had returned to Boston. The Company remained on duty, however.

In less than a week the Massachusetts Militia was re-organized, under the command of General Artemas Ward (of Shrewsbury). It was then that Captain Bigelow became a Major by appointment of the General.

Benedict Arnold's fearful and fateful expedition on Canada found the new Major taking part. A terrible journey up the Kennebec River in what is now the State of Maine - the exhausting trip over the mountains (one of which is now named Mount Bigelow) to Quebec during the September 1775 to December 1775 resulted in only 60 of the original component arriving at Quebec. The attack failed miserably. Arnold was wounded, Richard Montgomery was killed; Timothy Bigelow was captured by the enemy. He, Bigelow, remained a prisoner-of-war from December 1775 to August 1776 when he signed a parole. Returning by ship he arrived in Worcester in September.

On February 8, 1777, Major Bigelow became a Colonel where he was attached to the 15th Massachusetts Colonial Line of the Continental Army. He was active at Albany, at Saratoga (the capture of General Burgoyne), wintered at Valley Forge in 1777-1778, took part in the Battle of Monmouth, 1778, Stoney Point and Verplank's Point in 1779. He was also at West Point in 1779 and a part of 1780. Then to Yorktown, taking part in that battle and witnessing Lord Cornwallis' surrender, October 15, 1781, where his regiment was a part of Lafayette's Corps which carried a redoubt `with bayonets." One of his men, present at this battle`, said "Col. Bigelow was everywhere all the time and you would have thought, if you had been there, that there was nobody else in the struggle but the Colonel and his regiment."

Again, records indicate that Col. Bigelow wintered with the Rhode Island Expedition in Providence during 1778 and 1779. At Valley Forge he was close to His Excellency, George Washington, and a member of the General Court Martial officers' group. Like other military leaders, Timothy Bigelow seems to have been in many places all at once. Qualified leaders were in short supply.

Following the Yorktown surrender, the 15th Regiment returned to important West Point which was so nearly 'lost" by Benedict Arnold's treacherous plan in the mid-war years. Enlisted men (for three years or "for the duration" of the war) were gradually allowed to return home; fresh recruits took their places. Orders came to report with his regiment at Providence He was there, in the Spring of I 782, when the glad tidings came indicating negotiations for peace were under way. On November 30 of that year the signing of provisional articles brought the devastating war to a close.

Eventually released by the military, Timothy Bigelow returned to the house on Main Street, Worcester. Here his wife, his children and his friends received him as a true soldier; deserving all honors due him ---there were many. To "pick up the loose ends" was more difficult than had seemed possible. Seven years of severe hardship, exposure, the accompanying privations had made him in ill health; yet he was only 43 years' old at the time. For his day and age he was an old man.

He found most of his property seriously impaired. His purse was almost empty due to the inflated values of the times and an almost universal lack of money with an acceptable value. Much of his military service pay was still due him. With courage and fortitude. Timothy Bigelow went to work to rebuild his shattered fortune for himself and his family. He rekindled the fires in the old forge- idle for these eight long years-but his aptitude had, somehow, gone; the once skilled hand had lost its former "know-how." He became more disturbed for his future.

Again, "trade" had found new suppliers for his work and new occupations had diverted former patrons of the blacksmith shop. Some of the old business connections just did not exist Military operations, camp life, action in the field which he had become accustomed to now made the much slower pace of building a profitable business, as a blacksmith, an insurmountable chore. He was disappointed but he persisted.

His second son, Andrew, died in November 1787; the already distressed Colonel became even more discouraged.

The cumulative effects of large obligations. Incurred while he was fighting for the stay-at-homes and who now demanded "full settlements," was impossible to meet on an "immediate" basis. The death of his son, Andrew, the over-all feeling of failure all contributed. As a result Colonel Timothy Bigelow, a hero, a strong and good man, a leader, was "cast into prison" for his debts without consideration by those stay-at-homes who owed him for their freedom. He was committed to the Worcester County Jail whose records read:


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.


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