The Bigelows of Malden
at Dedication of 1727 Kiersted House, Saugerties Historical
Society Museum,October 10, 1999
Thank you, all, very much. I am honored and delighted
to be here. I am especially amazed at the number of folks here - rain
and mud notwithstanding. It shows how important its history is to the
Since I am here as a descendant of the Bigelow family
of Malden, or Bristol as it was originally called, I am going to indulge
in an activity which some in my family have called "Bigelowmania¨ Others
may call it ancestor worship. Nevertheless, the story of the Malden Bigelows
and their origins may have lessons valid today for us all. It is a story
which exemplifies much of the history of the early European settlers of
our East Coast. Let it be said, however, that this building, the Du Bois-Kiersted
House, predates the first arrival of a member of my family by many years.
The original Bigelow to come to the new world was John
Biglo of Watertown, Massachusetts. The first mention of him is of his
marriage to Mary Warin (Warren) August 30, 1642 ¡V the first marriage
recorded in that town. It was obviously a good marriage ¡V they had thirteen
children together. By trade he was a blacksmith ¡V very important in those
He prospered ¡V was made a Surveyor of Highways, a Constable,
and three times a Selectman. He was listed as a soldier in 1675 ¡V in
whatever war or skirmish we don¡¦t know. After his wife Mary died, he
re-married, and he died in 1703 at the ripe age of 84.
He spelt the name "Biglo" in his will (which he signed with an "X").
His estate amounted to a very comfortable 627 pounds plus, and he had
a good funeral, for the funeral expenses included twenty gallons of wine!
Eleven of the thirteen children survived, married, prospered
and spread out. Many of his descendants lived to be very old and had a
lot of children - as was usual in those days.
The sixth child, Joshua, born in 1655, was a soldier in
King Phillip¡¦s War and was wounded. As a result he was granted land in
¡§Narragansett #2¡¨, but he stayed in Watertown most of his life. At 87
he moved to his grant, in what is now Westminster, and died there in his
90th year. He too had many children ¡V twelve to be exact, all of whom
seem to have survived to adulthood.
The next in the Malden Bigelow line was Lieutenant John
¡V who moved to Hartford and then to Colchester, Connecticut ¡V married
four times, had a big house but only five children! He died in 1770, supposedly
in his 94th year.
One of his sons, David, born in 1706 ¡V died in Colchester,
which became Marlborough, Connecticut, in his 93rd year He and his two
wives produced twelve children
The second child, another David, was born in 1732. He lived on in Marlborough
until he died in 1820 at only 88. But he and his wife had eight more Bigelows,
the seventh being Asa - we are there at last! - the first of the Malden
Bigelows, a cautious Yankee trader.
My best source is Bartlett¡¦s History of Ulster County published in 1884
from which I will paraphrase or quote. Born during the Revolution on January
18, 1779, he grew up in Glastonbury, Connecticut.
Asa was apprenticed at 14, and had very little schooling. When he became
of age, he opened a store on his own account in the town of Colebrook.
In 1802, he married his childhood playmate Lucy Isham... ¡§he in his twenty-third
and his wife in her twenty-second year. He was reasonably successful in
his business, and in the course of four or five years accumulated a few
hundred dollars, but, fancying there was a wide sphere of action for young
men in the ¡§far West¡¨, he mounted his horse one day, and with all the
money of which he was possessed stuffed into his saddlebags, started for
the State of New York ¡V the ¡§far West¡¨ of that period, - accompanied
on another horse by his brother-in-law, who had married Lucy¡¦s sister,
Sally Isham. The pilgrims crossed the Hudson River at Catskill, and traveled
southward along its west branch as far as Flatbush. Here (Asa) was inclined
to purchase a tract of land on the river and settle, but upon a more careful
study of the situation concluded to return to the Dutch settlement at
Saugerties, some eight miles farther north. He there purchased the house
and store on the corner of Main Street now known as Russell¡¦s Block...and
commenced a general shipping and commission business. He bought ... the
produce of the surrounding country, which he shipped to the New York market
and sold, making his settlements largely in merchandise. He was quite
prosperous, and seems very soon to have been recognized as one of the
leading men of the county.
¡§In 1811... Saugerties, theretofore a part of the town of Kingston, was
itself incorporated into a town. Mr. Bigelow was elected the second supervisor
of the new town, and was re-elected every year till he took up his residence
elsewhere. Upon his application, a post-office was established at Saugerties,
and he was its first postmaster. He continued to hold this office also
till he moved to Bristol, now called Malden, about two miles north of
Saugerties. The navigation of Saugerties Creek in those days was subject
to serious interruptions from freshets and shoals, which proved such an
inconvenience to his business that after five years experience Mr. Bigelow
determined to go two miles farther north, where he could have his dock
privileges and warehouse directly on the river, with plenty of water...
¡§ The only house in Bristol, when Mr. Bigelow arrived there, was an old
fish-house, which stood upon the site now occupied by the Malden House.
¡§He had purchased in 1808, a tract of about two hundred
acres, for which he paid six thousand dollars....Upon the upper end of
this property he built a frame store, on the south side of the road leading
to what (was) known as the Isham wharf. He erected for his own use the
first dwelling-house in the place„mSoon after settling there he commenced
building the brick store into which he moved in 1814. Four years later
he took his brothers-in-law, Charles and Giles Isham, into partnership
with him, under the firm-name of Bigelow and Isham... Not long after this
partnership was formed Mr. Bigelow withdrew from it, and built (a) stone
store on a property adjoining on the north, which he purchased in 1813.
Its water-privileges constituted its chief value. Here he re-established
himself, first alone, and afterwards associated with him his son-in-law,
Stephen Kellogg, and his two oldest sons, Edward and David. He here prosecuted
a prosperous business till he retired with a handsome competence about
¡§Though diligent in business, Mr. Bigelow did not forget or neglect his
duties to the public. He erected the first two hotels in Bristol; he procured
the establishment of a post-office in the place, which led to a change
of its name to Malden... He, with his two brothers-in-law, bore almost
the entire expense of constructing the first church and parsonage in Malden.
He procured the charter for the turnpike which unites Malden with the
mountain settlements in its rear, and furnished most, if not all the money
for building it. He also built the first academy in Malden, and the first
sloop that was ever constructed in the town of Saugerties. She was called
the "Phoenix", and plied between Bristol and New York.
¡§Mr. Bigelow¡¦s habits of business bore the impress of strong individuality,
and go far to explain his uninterrupted success as a merchant, and his
influence in whatever community he was a citizen. He never bought what
he could not pay for at the time; he never gave a note in his life, nor
endorsed but one, and that he had to pay. It was for one and hundred and
fifty dollars, in behalf of a relative, and before he left Connecticut.
This note is still in the family. He often spoke of this as one of the
indiscretions of his youth, but at the same time he regarded the money
it cost him as the best investment he ever made, for it cured him for
life of any disposition to use or lend his financial credit. It is needless
to say that there was no house on the Hudson in better financial standing.
¡§During the war of 1812 the scarcity of currency compelled him to issue
his own paper in the form of currency, redeemable on presentation, for
the convenience of his customers...(an old timer remembered) when the
Bigelow ¡¥shinplasters were the only currency in the place¡¦, adding 'And
we were all glad enough to get them.¡¦
¡§Though he had enjoyed the most limited opportunities for education,
Mr. Bigelow was so liberally endowed in every way by nature that he was
sure to occupy a prominent place in whatever sphere of life he might be
placed. He was about six feet two inches high, and of prodigious strength
in early manhood. He died (in) 1850, in the seventy-second year of his
age, leaving six children.¡¨
In his ¡§Retrospectives of an Active Life,¡¨ published in 1909, John,
Asa and Lucy¡¦s fourth child and youngest son, describes life in the Bigelow
Homestead and the community of Malden:
¡§My father...had a country store by the riverside and several sloops,
all of which were built on his premises and which plied between Malden
(as it came to be called instead of Bristol) and New York. He had besides
a farm of almost one hundred and fifty acres.
¡§In his store he kept supplies of every nature required by the people
living within travelling distances ¡V dry-goods, groceries, hardware,
tools, some medicines, stationery, molasses, vinegar, potatoes, in fact
everything for which there was a market in our neighborhood. He bought
in turn whatever the people had to sell, most of which he shipped to New
York for a market. Much of their produce his captains sold for his customers,
simply charging them the freight. In those days the chief articles he
shipped were bark, lumber, leather, wood, butter, hay and sometimes grain.
In return he brought supplies for the store, and hides which were sent
up to be tanned into leather in the Catskills Mountains...where there
was an abundance of hemlock forest, the bark of which, in those days,
was then used exclusively for tanning hides. These hides had to be transported
by land eight or ten miles to the tanneries, and when tanned the leather
had to be carried the same distance back to the wharf, and constituted
one of the most profitable articles of freight for our sloops. Soon after
the time of which I am speaking, and as the supply of hemlock bark was
nearly exhausted, a chemical process was discovered by which hides could
be tanned far more economically and expeditiously than by the use of bark.
Of course the tanneries were then soon abandoned, and bark had no longer
any market value. Almost simultaneously it was discovered that the Catskill
Mountains and their foot-hills were a pretty continuous and solid mass
of stone deposited in layers which adapted them for paving-stone. The
purchase and transportation of this stone at length supplanted pretty
much all other kinds of business at Malden.
¡§While my father conducted the business of his farm, store, and sloops,
he and his family lived almost exclusively upon the produce of his farm
and garden. He kept cows, horses, poultry, pigs, oxen and sheep, and he
raised all the fruit and vegetables and grain which were consumed in the
stables or in the house, beside raising quite a surplus for sale.
¡§There were no butchers in those days to bring us meat, nor shops from
which to buy it. It could only be had from a farmer here and there who
chanced to raise a little more stock than he required for his own use,
or was brought from New York.
¡§Our kitchen was the largest room in the house. (A house, by the way,
still standing - the Bigelow Homestead). The fireplace was so large that
it would take a log of a length and weight requiring at least two men
to lift. There was no stove coal used or even known to exist in the whole
United States, so far as I know, at that time. Wood and corn-cobs were
the only fuel which I had then ever seen used. Corn-cobs were used chiefly
by use for smoking the hams cut from our hogs; and for that service a
little house was built apart from the main building sufficiently large
to hang and smoke fifteen or twenty hams at a time, the smoke of burning
cobs being thought to give the hams a special flavor.
¡§Most of the bedclothing of the family was made in the house. My father
usually kept a flock of from thirty to fifty sheep. Their wool was spun
into yarn by the females of the household, and then sent out to be woven
into blankets and cloths. From the wool thus woven all our flannel underclothing
¡§The cellar was, as it were, the very stomach of the
house. In each corner was a large bin that was pretty usually filled with
potatoes taken from the garden; and these usually supplied the family
until the new potatoes came in, in the following July, but it also furnished
seed for planting three or four acres in the spring besides much most
welcome nourishment for the pigs....
¡§In another corner of the cellar was usually collected what to me seemed
a mountain of apples of various sorts, which occasionally we were told
to look over, to pick out any that were decaying. There were also stored
there four or five barrels of cider which had been made in September and
October, and two or three barrels of vinegar, and as many barrels of pickled
cucumbers, and of course two or three barrels of pork. In the garret,...
the floor for about one foot square was strewn with hickory nuts about
four inches deep, and beside them another square of the same dimensions
filled to the same thickness with butternuts, all collected from the farm.
On winter evenings when a visitor came in, whether for social or business
purposes, and often at other times, one of us boys or more were sent down
into the cellar to bring up a basket of apples, a capacious pitcher of
cider, and then to the garret for some nuts.¡¨
John talks about the village school ¡V ¡§I never had
such profitable instruction from any teachers as I received in this village
school. Our teacher ¡V his name was Woodburn ¡Vwas an enthusiast in his
profession; and no one, I think, ever sought more zealously to acquire
knowledge for himself than this man sought to put knowledge into the heads
of his pupils...¡¨
¡§Happily for us, the district schools in those days
received no aid from the State. The district raised the money among themselves
in some way, and selected their teacher and paid him according to the
number of pupils that they sent to the school. The position of teacher
had not yet become the footstool of politicians; and teachers were not
selected with a view of giving a living to a worthless dependent, but
exclusively with a view to securing the best instruction that the people
The principal gayety of the neighborhood was an occasional funeral;. John
and his brother David did get to go to a circus in Saugerties once ¡V
but that was rare. Christmas was not seen by Presbyterians in those days
as a proper holiday ¡V but there were always family gatherings ¡V and
stockings hung up on Christmas Eve. But,
¡§Thanksgiving was a feast-day. We always heard a sermon in church in
the morning, and then at dinner had all the family and as many of the
collateral relations in the neighborhood as could come, with the parson
and his family. Our dinner was uniformly of the standard New England Thanksgiving
dinner type, of which a turkey, mince, apple and pumpkin pies were as
sure to be there as was the parson and his family. Quilting-matches and
corn huskings for the young and tea fights for the elders were the nearest
to anything like systematic gayety that were considered good form in Malden.
A proposition to dance, or even to learn to dance, would have ruined the
reputation of the individual who propounded it.¡¨
Well, Asa¡¦s children all married, and, except for
brother David and younger sister Adeline, had children. John got to college
at Union in Schenectady, and went to New York where he read law, married,
became a writer and editor, made what he thought was a ¡§competence¡¨,
spent it as Lincoln¡¦s Consul and Ambassador to France during and after
the Civil War, and died at 94, widely known as ¡§The First Citizen of
The Bigelow sons who stayed at Malden suffered severe
financial reverses and ultimately were forced into bankruptcy. John bought
back at auction the Homestead and other properties, thus bailing out his
older brothers. He gave the Homestead to his son Poultney, the author
and student of colonialism who was known to some at this gathering. Poultney
is worth another book ¡V and one is being gradually written about him.
He died in his 99th year, leaving three daughters and a niece, my mother,
to whom he left his books, papers and the Homestead. I have it now.
The papers of both John and Poultney now reside at
The Public Library in New York City, which John Bigelow had presided over
as Chairman of its Board of Trustees from its inception until its dedication
just before his death.
Well, what are we to learn from all of this?
Obviously, the Bigelows had long-lived genes. I hope it continues! Obviously,
they all, like their neighbors and relations, had large families. They
were frugal, hard-working, God-fearing conservative folk who knew the
value of a dollar.
All of them worked hard ¡V and continued to work at
their chosen endeavors right through to their old age ¡V indeed John was
in his seventieth year when he began, as Samuel Tilden¡¦s executor, to
put together the Public Library .
And they were good stewards of this land of ours, this
Hudson Valley. They used its produce, enjoyed its bounty, and did not
despoil it. They knew the value of community and neighborhood. They were
not rapacious, and without ever having heard if the phrase, were exemplars
of the modern concepts of ¡§smart growth¡¨. They were truly ¡§conservative¡¨.
This is the story of one family, but your Society will study, collect
and preserve the history of Saugerties, of Malden, of the Dutch, English
and other early settlers, and of the Native Americans who preceded them.
We need to cherish our history, our ancestors¡¦ values
and our Valley. Change will always come, welcome or not ¡V but let us
with a sense of history be wise in choosing our future. I wish the Saugerties
Historical Society a long and successful future as the guardian of our