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Full text of "Memoir of George Tyler Bigelow, sometime Chief Justice of Massachusetts"




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MEMOIE 



OF 



GEORGE TYLER BIGELOW, 



SOMETIME 



CHIEF JUSTICE OF MASSACHUSETTS. 



BY 

GEORGE B. CHASE. 



[Reprinted from the Proceedings of the Massachusetts 
Historical Society.] 



BOSTON: 

JOHN WILSON AND SON. 
^antbcrsttg Press, 

1890. 



^^1 
^5^ 



IN EXCHANGE 



JULl - 1915 




MEMOIR. 



Hard by the Waltham boundary, and somewhat to the 
north of the old Sudbury road in the village of Watertown, 
there could be seen, down to the middle of this century, some 
traces of one of the- earliest dwellings in New England, To 
this spot on the last day of October, 1642, John Bigelow, 
whose marriage on that day is the first entered upon the rec- 
ords of Watertown, led his young wife Mary Warren. 

Of the early years of the bridegroom, from whom all of 
the name on this continent trace their descent, it would be 
interesting to have some knowledge ; but of his antecedents 
before he came to Massachusetts nothing has been ascertained. 
His name,^ variously spelled during his own life, does not seem 
to have been determined till a later generation. The care- 
ful investigations of an accomplished antiquary ^ have, how- 
ever, led many to believe that John Bigelow, of Watertown, 
was the offshoot of one of the English families of not dissimi- 
lar name from whom descend in England all who now bear, 
in various walks of life, the name of Baguley. Such a con- 
nection is at least possible ; and a certain probability is indeed 
given to it from the close resemblance between the occasional 
spellings of the English and American names two centuries 
ago. 

Born in 1617, John Bigelow was yet a very young man 
when he arrived in New England. But little is known of 
his long life save that he was the father of thirteen children, 

1 His name is otherwise spelled upon the early records as Bigulah, Bigullough, 
Biglo, Biglew, Begalow. 

2 The late H. G. Somerby. 



eleven of whom survived him. By the death of his wife, on 
the 2d of October, 1691, nearly half a century after his mar- 
riage, he was left alone at his fireside. On the same day of 
October three years later, at the ripe old age of seventy-seven, 
he was again married to Sarah the oldest child of his friend 
Joseph Bemis. She could scarcely in those days have been 
deemed too young to become his wife, for she was already in 
her fifty-third year ; she was older too than any of her rather 
late coming husband's children, several of whom had already 
founded families of their own in other and distant settlements. 
We may at any rate presume she made a good wife, for her 
husband lived fairly into the next century, dying in his eighty- 
seventh year on the 14th of July, 1703. 

Following the descendants of John Bigelow down to the 
third generation, the family line brings us to Daniel Bigelow, 
a soldier of the old French wars, who, dying at the great age 
of ninety-two years, lived to see his sons David and Timothy 
honorably distinguished in the revolutionary annals of Massa- 
chusetts. The elder, David Bigelow of Worcester, born in 
1730, was in the prime and vigor of life at the outbreak of the 
Revolution. Recalling his services eighty years later, in a 
letter written to the subject of this memoir, his son ^ said : "As 
a member of the Committee of Public Safety, upon whom you 
know devolved for the time nearly all the duties of civil gov- 
ernment, he devoted his days and nights to public service, — 
travelling for miles from his home, winter and summer, several 
times a week to attend this committee, with a family of seven 
young children (I, the youngest, born in 1778, in the very 
heat of the Revolution), just then settled on one hundred acres 
of very wild land." It is hardly necessary, in so brief a mention 
of his life, to add anything to his son's spirited words ; yet it 
is well to note that such was the confidence which the town 
of Worcester ever held in his discretion and steadfast purpose 
that, in addition to his service upon the Revolutionary Com- 
mittee, he was chosen her delegate to every convention within 
the county, and to the Province and State conventions at 
Concord, Cambridge, and Boston, from the first measures of 

1 The late Tyler Bigelow, Esq., of Watertown. 



defence in 1774 to the presidency of Washington in 1789. 
By his marriage with Deborah Heywood, he had seven chil- 
dren, the youngest of whom was the late Tyler Bigelow, long 
an eminent member of the Middlesex Bar. 

Born August 13, 1778, Tyler Bigelow was prepared for a 
collegiate education at the Worcester High School. He en- 
tered as freshman at Harvard College in 1797, and gradu- 
ated with honors in the class of 1801. He then studied law 
at Groton in the office of his cousin, Hon. Timothy Bigelow,^ 
a lawyer of extensive practice and large political influence. 
Casting about, after his admission to the bar in the spring of 
1804, for a " vacancy," as country lawyers in those days used 
to term a township where there was no lawyer, Mr. Bigelow 
was led to select Leominster, in the northern part of his native 
county. Though kindly received upon his coming, he found 
little employment there. Too energetic to remain idle, he 
organized a class for evening reading, which was maintained 
during the few months of his stay. His eager desire for em- 
ployment was impelled by his impatience to be married, for he 
was engaged — almost hopelessly it must then have seemed to 
him — to his cousin Clara, daughter of Col. Timothy Bigelow, 
of Worcester, whose monument on Worcester Common recalls 
his conspicuous service as Colonel of the Fifteenth Massachu- 
setts Regiment in the Revolutionary War. A rumor of a 

1 Hon. Timothy Bigelow, of Groton, born at Worcester, April 30, 1767 ; 
H. U. 1786. A prominent federalist, he served as representative from Groton, 
1792-1797; as Senator, 1798-1801; as Councillor, 1802; as representative from 
1804 to 1820 ; he was chosen Speaker in 1805, again in 1808 and 1809, and again 
from 1812 to 1819 inclusive. His memory was so retentive that when Speaker 
he was able to name any member in a house of six hundred representatives on 
the third day of the session. He was the last Speaker of the House before the 
separation of the District of Maine from the State of Massachusetts. As one of 
the four delegates from Massachusetts to the Hartford Convention, he was con- 
spicuous among all for courage and determination. A great capacity for labor 
united to talents of a high order well fitted him for a public career, while a 
buoyant disposition and pleasing manners contributed to his popularity. Fond 
of anecdote, humorous, and a good talker, he was everywhere a welcome guest 
in private life. He married Lucy, daughter of Hon. Oliver Prescott, of Groton. 
At the time of his death, May 18, 1821, he was a member of the Council, a 
Commissioner for settling the boundary between Massachusetts and Connecticut, 
and a Commissioner for the disposition of the pubhc lands. 



6 

vacancy at Watertown, by the death of William Hunt,^ at 
length reached Mr. Bigelow, followed by letters from his 
friends Loammi Baldwin ^ and Luther Lawrence,^ urging 
him " to come there forthwith and settle there to prevent 
interlopers." 

The briefless attorney at once acted upon his friend's 
advice, and in December, 1804, opened an ofiice in Water- 
town, at that time a thriving town of one thousand inhabi- 
tants. He succeeded at once to the practice of his predecessor, 
soon became a county magistrate, and rose to a high posi- 
tion at the Middlesex Bar. For nearly forty years he con- 
tinued in the faithful and energetic discharge of professional 
work, and is still remembered by some of the oldest lawyers 
of his circuit for the care with which he prepared his cases 
and the vigor with which he argued them. He was married 
to his. cousin Clara Bigelow on the 26th of November, 1806. 
In 1808 he purchased Riverside, then a retired spot on the 
north bank of Charles River, east of the village, where adding 
gradually to his estate, he lived for nearly fifty-seven years. 
Keen as was his interest in political affairs, the support and 
education of a large family prevented his acceptance of public 
honors, which more than once were offered to him. Beyond 
an occasional oration or Ij'ceum lecture, he neither sought nor 
cared for public distinction. His first duty was to his family, 
his next to the beautiful town — the old home of his race — 
in whose welfare he took a deep interest. 

1 William Hunt, H. U. 1768, a successful lawyer. His place at Watertown, 
together with the fine old house built by him on a hill overlooking Charles River, 
is held by the Stickneys. Mr. Hunt married a daughter of George Bethune, 
H. U. 1748, and left several children. 

2 The younger of the name ; H. U. 1800. 

3 The Hon. Luther Lawrence, born Sept. 28, 1778 ; H. U. 1801. A lawyer of 
Groton, Mass., which he represented for many years in the Legislature. A 
Speaker of the House, Member of the Constitutional Convention of 1820, after- 
wards Mayor of Lowell. He married, June 19, 1805, Lucy, daughter of Col. 
Timothy Bigelow, of Worcester. He was the eldest of several brothers, three of 
whom — Amos, William, and Abbott — are so well remembered by their benefi- 
cent use of great wealth, and by the deserved honors they obtained in public and 
private life. Mr. Luther Lawrence and Mr. Tyler Bigelow were classmates, and 
their marriage with sisters created a close and affectionate intimacy between the 
families at Groton and at Watertown. Mr. Lawrence died April 17, 1839. See 
also Groton Historical Series, vol. i. No. 17, pp. 2-6. 



By his first wife, who died in 1846, he had eight children, 
two of whom alone survived him. He married a second 
time, Dec. 15, 1847, Mrs. Harriet Lincoln Whitney, daughter 
of Abraham Lincoln, of Worcester. She died in 1853. Al- 
though he lived alone during the last twelve years of his life, 
he retained his interest both in people and affairs till the end. 
An amusing incident of his hold over the people of Water- 
town, and of the confidence they reposed in his judgment 
upon all matters concerning their common welfare, occurred 
in his eightieth year. At a meeting of the townspeople, to 
consider what action they should take upon a proposal that 
the town should incur new responsibilities in the maintenance 
of the old highway over the Hancock free bridge to Boston, 
Mr. Bigelow was induced to come out from his retirement 
and take part in the debate. So many years had then passed 
since he had last addressed his neighbors in town-meeting, 
that he was absolutely unknown to the larger part of the 
gathering. He had, however, long years before been thor- 
oughly familiar with the town's policy about highways, which 
he had himself done much to shape. Unable to hear a word 
of the discussion, or to know what was passing around him 
save from the occasional hints of a neighbor who sat next 
to him, Mr. Bigelow rose at length to oppose the plan which, 
with every prospect of success, had been urged upon the 
meeting by the eminent counsellor who had been brought 
there for the purpose. " Grasping the whole argument in 
such a wonderful way," as one of his opponents ^ remarked in 
recently describing the scene, Mr. Bigelow denounced the pro- 
ject on the ground of public economy, with such knowledge 
of the case, such earnestness and power of argument, that at 
the conclusion of his speech the town with one voice refused 
to consider the matter more. 

Mr. Bigelow's nervous and active disposition prevented any 
sudden rust upon or dimming of the brightness of his mind. 
He read much upon all subjects, both of books and news- 
papers ; and such had been the simple pleasures of his long 

1 Hon. E. Rockwood Hoar, to whom the author is indebted for this anecdote. 
The town subsequently reversed its action. 



8 

and temperate life that, when past fourscore, he got the same 
hearty enjoyment as in youth from a game of whist or back- 
gammon, from the last history or novel, or from a reckless 
drive about the country in his gig, heedless alike of the sharp 
but unheard whistle of the engine at railway-crossings, or of 
the roughness of the roads. 

So deaf that conversation with him even with the aid of 
an ear-trumpet was difficult, no one ever found him an indif- 
ferent listener. Quaint in illustration, and earnest in expres- 
sion, he was tenacious of opinion and fond of argument. Nor 
in discussion was he often overcome. Sometimes, however, 
when among his children and grandchildren he saw defeat 
impending, he would, with one last remark — a sharp and 
sudden thrust — stifle rejoinder by quickly removing his ear- 
trumpet, and gazing with complacent composure upon the 
baffled features of his antagonist. 

Few men of any age in the North during the late rebellion 
followed the progress of the hostile armies with greater inter- 
est than he. The doors of his library were covered with maps 
of the Border and Southern States, upon which pins of different 
colors of his own make always accurately marked the lines of 
hostile armies. Yet he was almost eighty-three when the war 
began. He lived, however, to see peace restored, dying when 
near the close of his eighty-seventh year. May 23, 1865. He 
left a considerable estate to his children, and founded, by a 
proviso of his will, the scholarships at Harvard which bear 
his name. So well did he retain his powers till the close, 
that, at the request of two young girls of the village who 
were occasional visitors at his house, he read aloud to them 
Collins's " Ode to the Passions " on the last evening he ever 
passed in his library. 

Of Tyler and Clara Bigelow's children, two were daughters ; 
of six sons, one died in infanc}'^ ; one, Charles Henry, a gradu- 
ate of West Point and a Captain of Engineers, after long 
experience in civil life, died in the military service of the 
Government at New Bedford, in 1862 ; four were graduates 
of Harvard, and of these the second, who alone outlived him, 
is the subject of this memoir. 



9 

George Tyler Bigelow, the seventh Chief Justice of Massa- 
chusetts since the independence of the United States, was 
born at Riverside, VVatertown, Oct. 6, 1810. He was only in 
his tenth year when he was sent to live with a relative in Bos- 
ton, that he might become a pupil of the Public Latin School, 
which he entered in the summer of 1819. 

"At his coming to school, where he was the youngest, or 
youngest but one, of the class," his life-long friend the late 
George W. Phillips wrote to the writer, " he was a slight, withy, 
active boy, of uncommon spirit, a bright expression of face, and 
quick, brilliant eyes. His manners were those of a well-bred 
bo}^ courteous and pleasing. All the time he remained at the 
school, he was diligent, studious, and ambitious to excel, — very 
quick to apprehend and interested in his school work. The 
same alertness of spirit that marked him all along till his 
health was broken, was a marked characteristic of him then. 
I recall, particularly, that he differed from most boys I have 
ever known, especially of such an age, in an intelligent inter- 
est in matters of public nature, in affairs of State. He knew 
about public men, politics, as few boys did. I always sup- 
posed he must have had some advantages in this respect. I 
judge his father must have made a companion of him more 
than most busy fathers do, for he certainly could have got his 
interest and information about the matters alluded to in no 
other way." The early interest Mr. Bigelow took in politics 
is here rightly attributed to the stimulating conversation and 
influence of his father. He encouraged his children to listen 
to the conversation of his visitors upon politics and questions 
of the times, and often, asked them afterwards about what 
they had heard. It was about the time George was first sent 
away from home, that he began to indicate a natural prefer- 
ence for the profession he was to follow in life. His childish 
imagination often led him to stop in the hall of the house at 
Riverside, and gaze with admiration upon an engraving of a 
certain Lord Chancellor in his robes, which as he looked up 
to it, hanging in its frame upon the wall, seemed to him to be 
the very embodiment of the majesty of Law. And so, when 
vacation came with midsummer, and the long evenings gave 

2 



10 

their hours of rest to the raen employed on the place, it was 
the delight of the future Chief Justice to organize a criminal 
court in the woodhouse, over which his father's farmer, a 
kind-hearted New Hampshire man, presided with silent dig- 
nity. Before this tribunal the young advocate, inspiied by 
the recollection of the Lord Chancellor's splendor, was accus- 
tomed to appear with as much magnificence as limited re- 
sources and the somewhat furtive character of the proceedings 
would permit. Robed for the judicial presence in his father's 
overcoat and driving-gloves, the rustle of the parental skirts 
announcing his approach, he would gravely enter the court- 
room to plead the cause of the accused. This part was 
assumed by his younger brother, who always satisfied the 
requirements of justice by a prompt appearance upon the 
empty barrel, which served as the prisoner's dock. Waving 
his arms half lost in heavy gauntlets, the slender voice of the 
young counsel could be heard at the neighboring windows as 
he piped forth his impassioned plea. This youthful amuse- 
ment, however, came to an untimely end. The head of the 
flour-barrel at length fell in, precipitating the accused with 
shins badly scraped to the bottom, where he cried lustily for 
help until lifted out by his nurse ; while Bench and Bar, sadly 
demoralized, stole silently away. 

" George was a good, spirited boy," says Mr. Phillips, "im- 
pulsive, quickly roused, but never long minded in his temper. 
He and I, then and afterwards more intimate with each other 
than with any other friends, had sometimes a little friction, — 
but he was always magnanimous, it never lasted, no matter 
where the fault lay. He was always generous in his treat- 
ment of others. I recall nothing low, vulgar, or coarse in him. 
I think a good judge of boy character would, at that early day, 
have foretold for him, if opportunity offered, distinction in 
future life." 

Such was the boy who, at the age of fourteen, was admitted 
in the summer of 1825 to the Freshman class of Harvard Col- 
lege. In this remarkable class, perhaps the most eminent in its 
after life of any that ever left the University, the " Class of 
1829," Bigelow attained a good place. " He stood well as a 



11 

scholar in all the college branches," Mr. Phillips wrote. " He 
was ambitious to improve himself; his life was a pure one. I 
do not think I ever knew a young man who seemed constitu- 
tionally more indifferent to the ordinary temptations that beset 
.young men. He had a decision and a healthy indifference to 
the opinions of others. In some college trouble, our class 
called and held a regularly organized meeting ; resolutions 
were passed, somewhat of the ' peaceably if we can, forcibly if 
we must ' sort. A member of the class had presided. The 
Faculty took the thing up and began calling on the members 
alphabetically, and examining them as to the meeting. The 
first one or two had managed to get off without much dis- 
closure of affairs, when suddenly they went to the other end 
of the alphabet and called up Y. He, taken by surprise, hon- 
estly told the whole simple truth. The consequence was our 
presiding man was summarily expelled, and the honest witness 
was as summarily put into Coventry. We thought it fine 
then ; but all, since and long ago, confessed we were shabbily 
wrong. The poor fellow was sorely damaged, and suffered 
through the remainder of college life, of which there were 
some three years. Only two members of the class stood up 
and manfully kept a friendly acquaintance with him. One 
was S. F. Smith, author of ' My Country, 't is of Thee ' ; and 
G. T. B., afterwards Chief Justice, was the other." 

"He was frank and ingenuous," continued Mr. Phillips, 
" without disguise. I recall somewhere in our college life, — it 
must have been in the Sophomore year, the winter of 1826- 
27, when he was sixteen years old, — the elder Beecher (Dr. 
Lyman Beecher, a distinguished preacher of that day) at- 
tracted great audiences. A number of our class went down 
to Cambridgeport one evening to hear him, and accepted the 
invitation given at the close of the services, to meet the Doctor 
in the vestry-room adjacent after the audience was dismissed. 
There were some six or more of us. B. and I sat next each 
other. Dr. Beecher came along and spoke to each of us, sepa- 
rately, a few words meant to be private ; but it was impossi- 
ble not to hear something that was said. One or two had 
made a sham of it and tried to quiz the old gentleman. When 



12 

B.'s turn came, — I can recall it all, as I have often done, as if 
it were but yesterday, — he said, ' I ought to tell you, Sir, that 
I came down to hear you preach, and from motives of curiosity 
came in here ; but my parents are Unitarians and think differ- 
ently from you. I have been taught to respect their senti- 
ments.' The old Doctor, evidently pleased with this honest 
avowal, especially after the foolish talk which had just preceded 
it from other quarters, said, ' My young friend, that is all well. 
I would not perplex myself with Unitarianism or Trinitarian- 
ism ; but put this question to yourself, with such views as you 
have and as your parents have taught you, Are you satisfied 
with your present relations to your Maker?' Bigelow ad- 
mitted that this was fair dealing. He always spoke of it with 
respect, and long years afterwards, after he was a judge, in 
some casual street meeting with me, something recalling that 
conversation, he would refer to it with interest and say, ' That 
question comes to me sometimes now.' " 

Graduated in the summer of 1829, at an age when young 
men nowadays are but preparing to enter college, young 
Bigelow had held respectable rank in his class. The place and 
nature of his Commencement part seems to show that he was 
twentieth in a class of fifty-eight. He knew, however, better 
than others, that he had not done his best work in college, and 
regret for lost opportunities was soon to come. Though des- 
tined for the law, he was deemed too young to begin the study 
of it. His father therefore determined to send him to the 
South for an absence of two years, there to find some situa- 
tion as a teacher of the classics, and summed up his views of 
the advantages to be gained by his son, in a letter to him in 
these words : — 

1. "To induce a more thorough and critical examination of the clas- 
sics, and other college studies, by spending some time in the business 
of instruction. This will be best effected in the highest schools. The 
more your pupils know, the better for you. 

2. " To introduce you into good society, and thus give you a practi- 
cal knowledge of men and things. You should therefore avail yourself 
of every opportunity to multiply and enlarge your acquaintance with 
business men, with literary, professional, and all the best classes of 
society. 



13 

3. "To acquire some means to enable you to go on and complete 
your study in some profession, at least to come in aid of those which I 
shall be able further to afford you. 

4. "These objects rank in importance in the order in which they 
stand, the whole, however, to be made subservient to the one chief and 
primary object of your life, — personal discipline, — the full development 
and high cultivation of your intellectual and moral powers, the improve- 
ment and salvation of your soul, that you may become a man, a gentle- 
man, and a Christian, and make yourself useful and felt as such in the 
world." 

It is a satisfaction to know that the father who thus sent 
his son five hundred miles from home at the age of eighteen 
to find his own way in Hfe, lived to see the boy, developing 
from that hour, become thirty years later Chief Justice of 
Massachusetts. 

The summer of 1829 rapidly passed in the young gradu- 
ate's preparation for the work of a teacher. His college in- 
structors, by all of whom he was liked, had given satisfactory 
certificates of his attainments in ancient and modern lan- 
guages. In October President Quincy, on behalf of Dr. Henry 
Howard, of Maryland, sent for the young graduate to offer 
him the position of master of the academy at Brookville in that 
State. Not deeming it best to accept the offer, but reluctant 
to decline it, he was soon equipped for a journey which had 
Washington for its ultimate destination. He had never been 
forty miles from home, when he set out for Philadelphia. 
Passing but one night in New York, where he arrived six 
hours late, " on account of the head winds and heavy seas 
which continued through the whole passage," he reached 
Philadelphia on the third day. Letters of introduction from 
Mr. Abbott Lawrence at once obtained for him a cordial 
welcome. Mr. Cresson, a wealthy Quaker, was especially kind. 
"He has done everything to make my visit delightful," writes 
the young traveller. " On Saturday I took tea with him, 
where, besides his own family, I was introduced to a gentle- 
man from South Carolina, and our justly celebrated artist, — 
Thomas Sully." 



14 

Several situations as teacher were soon found, but in all of 
them the small salary left no hope of any savings at the end 
of the year. He soon continued his journey to Baltimore, 
where, again disappointed, he at last applied by letter, and 
as a sort of forlorn hope, for Brookville Academy. Awaiting 
Dr. Howard's reply at Washington, he there passed several 
delightful days in company with his cousin, John Childe, then 
a young lieutenant of engineers. " I doubt whether any true 
patriot," writes the boy, just nineteen, " ever contemplates the 
vast pile of the Capitol without some swellings of natural 
pride ; the breast of a young man leaps with fond anticipa- 
tions." Andrew Jackson appeared to him " a feeble old man, 
with a resigned and still careworn expression on his strongly 
marked countenance." Receiving a favorable reply, he found 
himself installed as principal of Brookville Academy by the 
end of November. How the situation appeared to young 
Bigelow may be best judged by extracts from his letters to 
the family at Watertown : — 

" I have charge of a school of twenty pupils, and a fair prospect that 
I may earn four hundred dollars per annum. I board with Dr. Howard, 
decidedly the king of the place both as to education and property. He is 
very kind to me. His house is kept by a Mrs. Pleasants, his wife's 
mother, — a name you will recognize as one of some eminence in their na- 
tive State, Virginia. She is a Quaker, and one of the most kind and 
motherly old ladies I ever met with. But then I do not like the academy. 
I cannot improve myself while instructing a school so backward ; and 
lastly, the compensation is far too small for the labor required. I 
have the use of an excellent and well-selected library. It has one 
advantage which perhaps you cannot well estimate, but which has long 
been felt by me. It has no novels. I could tell you how much I have 
been injured by them ; they had more effect upon my college life than 
you or any one else could have imagined." 

" Mrs. Pleasants wishes me to tell my mother not to be anxious 
about me. 'Thee has a mother here. If thee is sick, thee shall be 
taken care of.' I must again repeat her praise. She is everything I 
could wish." 

Regret for misspent hours at college seems often to recur to 
his thoughts : — 



15 

" You were pleased to allude to my ambition. Alas ! I know not 
how you discovered that I had any at all. I have often looked back 
upon my college life and wondered where it had kept itself." 

His attempts to find a situation which would give him sufii- 
bient leisure for his own pursuits were rewarded, in the spring 
of 1830, by the offer and acceptance of a position of tutor to 
the children of Henry Vernon Somerville, a gentleman honor- 
ably prominent in public and private life, then living at his 
seat, Bloomsbury, about five miles from Baltimore. " Without 
the vexation and trouble of a petty school," he writes to his 
parents, "' I shall have . . . much leisure for my private pur- 
suits, and more than all, an opportunity of enjoying the society 
and advantages of a large city." 

Dr. Howard greatly regretted to lose his young principal, 
and generously wrote his father at Watertown in these 
words : — 

" I congratulate his parents in possessing a sou reflecting so much 
credit on his parentage ; who is justly entitled to make large drafts on 
their tenderest affection and confidence, who will never be a debtor in 
any society where virtue and intelligence prevail, and who, at no dis- 
tant period at the bar or in the councils of the Nation, will cause 
Watertown to exult in claiminor him as her native son." 



» 



Passages from Mr. Bigelow's letters give a pleasant glimpse 
of his life at Bloomsbury : — 

" A month's residence in Mr. Somerville's family has convinced me 
that I have much reason to congratulate myself on my good fortune. 
There is so much here to contribute to my improvement, as well as 
comfort and happiness, that I am persuaded no equally advantageous 
situation, all things considered, could have fallen to my lot. I have the 
charge of five children, to whom I devote about five hours per diem. 
Two of them are studying the languages ; Tiernan, the eldest, who is 
about fifteen years of age, was withdrawn from St. Mary's College to be 
placed under my care. He is considerably advanced in French and 
Latin, and consequently it is rather a pleasure to instruct him. . . . 
You will readily see that I have much time at my own disposal. I 
have the command of a library of two thousand volumes, collected in 
Europe, forming one of the most valuable sources of information ; and I 



16 

am confident that the society and conversation of Mr. Somerville will 
be of much use to me. 

" I find him ready and willing to communicate with me on all subjects. 
. . . The society which I meet here is all of the haut ton of Baltimore, 
among whom I felt sufficiently awkward until the Brookville rust was 
worn off. Literary and fashionable people — beaux, belles, and literati 
— all meet here. . . . Mr. Somerville I find to be a gentleman in 
every sense of the word. He is like all Southerners, warm and en- 
thusiastic in his feelings. He has led a life of comparative retirement, 
devoting himself to agriculture and literature, until the late electioneer- 
ing campaign, when as the Adams candidate for elector, he took the 
field and met his opponents at the hustings. 

" I am following your advice, and have commenced Blackstone. I 
find it easy to comprehend on account of the persjDicacity with which 
it is written, and amusing and interesting on account of the subject 
on which it treats. Whether I inherit it from you, or, as Natty 
Bumpo would express it, ' whether it is the nature of the beast,' or 
the result of education, I know not ; I always had an irresistible in- 
clination to become a lawyer. I remember that in the earliest day- 
dreams of childhood, I used to look forward to the time when I 
should sport the 'green bag,' and looh wise, give advice, and plead 
causes as the summit of my wishes. I cannot but think it is a glorious 
profession." 

" My situation here is still all I could wish," he writes to 
his mother ; " everything conduces to my happiness and im- 
provement, and I am confident I shall long have reason to 
remember with pleasure the time I spend at Bloomsbury." 

There were indeed few houses in the Southern country, 
sixty years ago, in which life was made more delightful than 
at Bloomsbury ; and as the year of Mr. Bigelow's stay there 
was of exceeding benefit to him, some sketch of that estate 
and of its amiable and scholarly owner may well find a place 
here. 

Henry Vernon Somerville, of Bloomsbury House, Catons- 
ville, was born in 1790, on the plantation of his father, William 
Somerville, a large land and slave owner in St. Mary's County, 
Maryland. Educated at Charlotte Hall, he inherited a large 
fortune upon the death of his father, in 1807, and soon after 
he attained his majority, purchased the fine estate of more 



17 

than a thousand acres, now in the possession of the LUrman 
family, and well known to visitors by its beautiful view of 
Baltimore with its neighborhood, the Patapsco River, and Chesa- 
peake Bay. In 1817 he was married to Rebecca Tiernan, the 
daughter of an Irish merchant long resident in Baltimore. A 
student and a wide reader, Mr. Somerville gradually formed 
the large library, at Bloomsbury which sixty years ago ranked 
as one of the best private collections in the country. Here 
among his books he wrote much for the magazines and news- 
papers, but principally upon political subjects, in which he 
took a deep interest, and concerning which he was always 
well informed. 

He never cared to mingle personally in politics, when it 
could be avoided, nor to seek public office ; but he was more 
than once honored by his party as candidate for elector, and 
in 1832, as a member of the Maryland Convention, di-afted the 
address to the people in favor of the nomination of Henry 
Clay. Like his elder brother William, author of a popular 
volume of letters from Paris on the French Revolution, and 
afterwards minister to Sweden, he was a stanch friend and 
supporter of John Quincy Adams ; and like him he enjoyed a 
wide acquaintance with the leaders of the Republican party, 
and often entertained them at his house. 

With both Mr. and Mrs. Somerville the young tutor soon 
became a great favorite. Very pleasing in manners and appear- 
ance, he had the peculiar good fortune for a lad of nineteen to 
see much of a society which, in those days less formal and 
restrained than that of New England, was not more conspicuous 
for hospitality than for beauty and gracious manners, the charm 
of which had already won for the women of Baltimore a repu- 
tation that had crossed the then difficult ocean. 

" The gay season has passed here," Mr. Bigelow writes at last 
to his mother on October 26, " and we have begun to settle 
down in the retirement of the country to a more quiet life for 
the winter. I shall have a fine opportunity for study and re- 
flection. I begin now to anticipate the time of my return to 
Massachusetts to pursue my studies, and I look forward with 
much anxiety to the time when they shall be completed." 



18 

The news of his elder sister's engagement to Mr. Theodore 
Chase, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the appointment 
of her marriage for the following April, soon brought his 
father's command to return to the North in season for that 
event. His approaching departure from Bloomsburj' revived 
his anxiety about his profession. He writes: — 

"It is of little consequence to me when I commence my profes- 
sional career, but it is of infinite importance to select a place where 
the talents of a young man can find encouragement, — where bis in- 
dustry and exertions can meet their reward, and where the hopes of a 
generous ambition can be satisfied. ... If my health is spared, and I 
am not kept back by the irresistible force of circumstances (or destiny, 
if you like it better), I have but little to fear for the future." 

In his last letter from Maryland to his mother, Mr. Bigelow 
wrote : — 

" I perceive by the tone of my father's letter that he cherishes great 
anticipations of witnessing on my return a vast increase in my mental 
attainments. I hope that he will be more moderate in his expectations. 
He should remember that my college life was squandered in idleness 
and folly ; that when I left Massachusetts for the South I was a mere boy, 
without any knowledge of books or men ; and that consequently I have 
had much to learn and everything good to gain. When I look back 
and recall the feelings and opinions with which I left you, I can with 
difficulty realize now that I ever cherished them." 

The end of March found him preparing for his journey 
home. He had some weeks before informed Mr. Somerville 
that his engagement must terminate at that time, and of the 
reasons why it could not be prolonged. He had been in inti- 
mate intercourse with this charming family for eleven months, 
and he received in parting the kindest assurances of their per- 
sonal interest in his future career. And now, more than fift}^ 
years since Mr. Bigelow left that happy household, never to 
see any member of it again, Mrs. Somerville's surviving brother 
sends to the author the pleasant message that he " well re- 
members Mr. Bigelow as a handsome young man; that the 
family were exceedingly fond of him, arid greatly regretted 
his departure, always holding him in the kindest remembrance 
and speaking of him with the highest regard." 



19 

On his return to Watertown his family were delighted with 
the improvement eighteen months of change had wrought in 
him. " He left home," wrote his sister, " a boy with the ways 
of a boy, and returned to it a man. I have never, I think, 
seen," she continued, " a young man so much improved by 
foreign study and travel as my brother Greorge seemed to be 
by his residence in Maryland." 

He was soon hard at work in his father's office, satisfying 
that stern parent by his industry ; his days were spent over 
law books, his evenings given to miscellaneous reading. It had 
been his practice at Bloomsburj^ to copy passages from authors 
he thought perfect in form and expression ; and this habit he 
now resumed, helping to form for himself that excellent style 
in composition which afterwards characterized his legal opin- 
ions. He accompanied his father to and from the terms of 
the county courts, and sat by his side as he fought his cases 
with a vehemence which is yet remembered at the Middlesex 
Bar. In close communion with that veteran lawyer, the young 
student perfected himself in the fundamental principles of 
law. Two years were thus spent with no holiday but the New 
England Sabbath, and with few hours of leisure save the short 
evenings of a quiet country household. 

Soon after he came of age he began an interesting corre- 
spondence with Mr. Somerville. His first letter to Maryland 
shows how rapid was his development: — 

Watertown, Mass., Jan. 28, 1832. 

My dear Sir, — I should have written to you shortly after ray re- 
turn to New England, according to the promise I made you when we 
parted, bad I not been prevented by the number and variety of the avo- 
cations and duties imposed upon me by the study of my profession. To 
be candid with you, too, I have felt not a little diffidence at the thought 
of commencing a correspondence with you, because I well know the ad- 
vantages and pleasure of an epistolary intercourse would be wholly 
in my favor, and that I should in some measure be subjecting you to 
an irksome and profitless task. 

I cannot forbear to avail myself of this opportunity to express to 
you the gratification with which I look back upon the year I passed in 
your family. Your own good humor and good taste gave zest and 



20 

enjoyment to your improving society ; your extensive library afforded 
delight and instruction to my desultory mind, and the amiability and 
intelligence of your children lightened the burdens and enlivened the 
dulness of ordinary tuition. The relation in which I stood to your 
family would necessarily render the situation, in some respects, un- 
pleasant and galling to any one who entertained a due and proper pride 
of character, for it can be said of private tutors, as Shylock said of 
his persecuted nation, that " sufferance is the badge of all our tribe " ; 
but I owe it to the kindness and friendship you manifested towards me to 
say that my situation was as little so as the circumstances of the case 
would permit. I had the pleasure of observing your name among the 
members of the National republican convention, who have placed Mr. 
Clay before the people, in an authoritative and direct manner, as a can- 
didate for the Presidency. The address, so unanimously adopted, seems 
to me to be intended rather for the enlightened and high-minded than 
for the prejudiced and uninformed part of our community. It is in too 
lofty a tone, too much in the spirit of a cold and calculating moralist, 
to be fully understood, comprehended, and felt by the great mass of 
the people. It is an old maxim with us that " an ounce of fact is worth 
a pound of preaching " ; and it would have been better, on this principle, 
to have dealt out one or two sturdy and undeniable realities, than to have 
published such a long and prosing homily under the sanction of the 
convention. The contest, however, is, I fear, a desperate one, and the 
only encouragement to further resistance is the satisfaction of finally 
dying with a better grace. . . . 

Mr. Somerville's reply was the first of a number of letters to 
Mr. Bigelow, extracts from several of which are here given : — 

Bloomsburt, Feb. 23, 1832. 

My deak Sir, — I received your letter in due season, and am quite 
gratified you have not forgotten us. It was only the evening before the 
arrival of your letter that we were speaking of you, and my whole fam- 
ily expressed surprise that you had not written. Had I known your 
post-office, I should have given you some intimation that we had not yet 
crossed the Stygian Lake, and that, in memory of you, we still have pork 
and beans. The truth is, you ought to have written sooner, it was your 
duty to have done so ; for you left a character with us that would do 
honor to any man, and besides, you ought to have known that I felt some 
interest in your future career. I write in candor and not in compliment. 
You have youth, health, talents, and ambition ; and if you exert all the 
attributes which God and nature have given you, you liave it in your 



21 

power to be distinguished. Nevertheless, in your course through life 
there are some evils which the vessel of your adventure must endeavor 
to avoid. The first of these impediments is the rock of extra modesty, 
which is not verj remote from that of mauvaise honte ; if your hopes 
are shipwrecked upon either, it will be doing injustice to your skill as a 
pilot. . . . The next obstruction which opposes itself to your prospect 
of distinction is your undaunted admiration of female beauty. This is 
a kind of ignis fatims in which there is no positive danger in itself ; 
but a student of law who wishes to become eminent in his profession 
should admit with great caution the distracting influence of that dear 
little divinity called woman. The transition is not very natural from 
love to politics, but it is of easy gradation from woman to addresses, of 
which I shall speak presently. 1 remember in one of our political 
talks you remarked to me that your opinion of General Jackson was 
by no means so unfavorable as mine. I think enough, and more than 
enough, has transpired since you left us to prove that my estimate of 
the hero's mind and character scarcely did justice to the ignorance of 
the one or the degradation of the other. 

John Randolph said in his speech at Richmond, which perhaps you 
have heard, that " he did not know whether the dissolution of the 
Cabinet was owing to Van Buren's head or to Margaret Eaton's ; 



but at any rate he was glad of it." 

I have been much engaged of late in preparing an address to the 
people of Maryland, in obedience to a resolution of the National Con- 
vention. ... I have, in every part of this appeal, endeavored to make 
facts the basis of the whole superstructure, simply throwing in here and 
there a little spice in the way of illustration. Your comment on the 
address of the convention is perfectly correct. It is a political 30th of 
January sermon. . . . 

Believe me, I greatly miss your society and our frequent intellectual 

chit-chats, and that you are respectfully remembered through my whole 

family. 

May 23. 

The Central Committee of Baltimore have ordered five thousand copies 
of my address, but whether it will produce much good effect in our 
State is a doubtful matter. We still enjoy good health and spirits, and 
at this very delightful season you will be pleased to see how much 
Bloomsbury has improved. My orchards have grown beyond my hopes ; 
and the cutting of trees, and particularly the antiquated chestnuts in 
the fields below, have opened to the view from my front door a pros- 
pect of nearly three thousand fruit trees. The bloom is magnificent, 
and exhibits every variety of hue. 



22 

Your successor continued with me till a few days since, and has now 
removed to Florida. He was amiable, but no companion for me ; how 
much of a long winter's evening I missed our agreeable and instructive 
conversations ! Believe me I shall ever remember with feelings of 
gratification your very kind and gentlemanlike deportment while a 
member of my household. . . . Let me know what you think of the 
address. 

Oct. 9, 1832. 

I have written you twice, and Tiernan once, since we received your 
first letter. How happens it that you have never since written ? Have 
you forgotten us, have our letters never reached you ; or is your time 
absorbed in law, politics, and love ? As you will have learned before 
this reaches you, our party was beaten in Baltimore by nearly five 
thousand votes. The Irish population controlled the vote. Mr. Tier- 
nan '■ was a candidate for the House of Assembly ; and while both friends 
and foes admitted the purity of his politics and the excellence of his 
character, and while all acknowledged that as president of the Hiber- 
nian Society, his time and his purse had ever been freely given in kind- 
ness to his emigrating countrymen for nearly forty years, yet still he 
was deserted by those whom he had most befriended, for the sake of 
striplings in politics of whom the people knew nothing save and except 
that they electioneered under the Jackson banner. This was not all ; 
the morning after the contest, the partisans of the hero shrouded the 
door of Mr. Tiernan's counting-house with black crepe and low verses 
in ridicule of his defeat. Such is Jacksonism in Baltimore ! . . . 

Miss Fanny Kemble is playing wonders in New York, and the Nulli- 
fiers the devil in South Carolina. There is one comfort, at any rate, 
— these Southern madcaps cannot nullify the graces of pretty women. 
For myself, unsought, unseen, I had rather be under the government 
of Miss Fanny and legislate in her own little capitol all the days of my 
life, than be subject to a Southern confederacy, headed by Calhoun or 
McDuffie, with the seat of government no man knows where, and the 
sort of government God only knows what. 

We walked through the peach orchard to-day which you helped to 
plant. You would be surprised at its wonderful growth. I could not 
refrain from laughing at the recollection of the planting scene ; 't was 
pretty much like running from post to pillar, - — you, with your lank 
roundabout, something like Peter Slimmel with his seven-league boots, 
and then my long, graceless flannel gown, the breeze of Boreas throw- 
ing it sky-high like Randolph's similes. 

1 Mrs. Somerville's father. 



23 

To obtain some knowledge of the practice of a city lawyer. 
Mr. Bigelow entered Mr, Charles G. Loring's office in the 
summer of 1833, and after six months of hard study was ad- 
mitted to the bar, -at the December term of the Court of Com- 
mon Pleas, held at East Cambridge, Jan. 9, 1834. Undecided 
as to his future home, he returned to Watertown, and got his 
first practice in his father's office. His correspondence with 
his friend Phillips, who was already practising law in Boston, 
was now a source of amusement to him. Phillips was imagi- 
native, spirited, and mirthful, and the two young men wrote 
to each other with a free pen. One of Phillips's letters to 
Bigelow was prophetic. Written June 27, 1834, and addressed 
to George T. Bigelow, Esq., Watertown, it was so folded as in 
opening to disclose apparently another letter, postmarked Jan. 1, 
1844, franked " G. W. Phillips, U. S. S., Free," and addressed 
to "Hon. G. T. Bigelow, Ch. Justice of S. J. C. of Mass. and 
commander in chief of the Watertown blues." Seven years 
afterward the recipient of that letter was colonel of the Bos- 
ton Regiment of Infantry, nine years later a judge of the 
Supreme Court, and after ten more years its Chief Justice. 

If the writer of it never attained political distinction, it may 
be truly said of Mr. Phillips that it was not for the want of 
superior abilities, but rather his preference for the quiet life 
of an advocate in which distinction awaited him. 

After nearly eighteen months of such country practice as 
his father turned over to him, making justice writs and trj'ing 
them, Mr. Bigelow opened an office in Boston, iu June, 1835, 
at No. 10 Court Street, in pleasing proximity to his friend 
Phillips, whose office was in the same entry. For a young 
stranger of twenty-four to obtain clients, it was first necessary 
he should be known. To this end Mr. Bigelow adopted a 
suggestion of the Hon. Abbott Lawrence, ^ and took lodgings 
at the Bromfield House, then a favorite old coaching-house in 
Bromfield Street ; and among his first clients were acquaint- 
ances here formed. 

^ Mr. Abbott Lawrence's wife, Katherine Bigelow, daughter of Hon. Timothy 
Bigelow, of Groton, and afterwards of Medford, was cousin to the subject of this 
memoir. 



24 

The nomination of General Harrison for President by the 
Whigs of Maryland induced the following letter to Mr. 
Somerville : — 

Jan. 23, 1836. 

I could hardly believe my own eyes, when I saw your name appended 
to an official account of the proceedings of the late Whig convention in 
your State, which nominated William H. Harrison as a candidate for 
the Presidency. I had supposed that you, at least, faithful among the 
faithless found, would have stood firm in the support of the only man, 
now before the people, fully worthy of the highest honors of the Consti- 
tution. So then, we are to have William H. Harrison for the next 
President, and why ? Because he gained a doubtful glory in a toma- 
hawk fight at Tippecanoe ? . , . The case is a plain one. It is not 
asked who is the best qualified for the office. . . . But the great question 
is, who is the most available candidate ; who can be run into office the 
most easily by dazzling the eyes of the people by the false glare of 
military glory : and thus it comes to pass that the clerk of a county 
court in Ohio, a man of defective education, limited capacity, and slight 
experience is preferred to a long-tried public servant, the ablest de- 
fender of the Constitution. ... It is a question beyond argument, 
and I leave it here. 

I am so negligent a correspondent that I fear you will think I have 
almost forgotten you, but it is not so. Scarcely a day passes by, with- 
out some moments being spent in recurring to my residence at Blooms- 
bury. If you knew how much pleasure I take in recalling the incidents 
of the year I passed with you, how strongly my character and feelings 
were influenced in that most important period of my life by your coun- 
sels and opinions and by the stores I gathered from your library, you 
would ask for no professions of remembrance nor exact special punctual- 
ity in correspondence. 

Mr. Bigelow's aptness in making friends, his industry and 
earnestness abont whatever business came to his office, at- 
tracted about a year later the attention of Bradford Sumner, a 
well-known lawyer of the day, who proposed to him a busi- 
ness association, which the young advocate's confidence in his 
own powers led him to decline. 

He was elected, in May, 1837, as ensign of the New England 
Guards, then a very popular company in the city militia, which 
survived till the late war between the States, and ended its 



25 

own existence in providing officers for several regiments of 
volunteers.^ 

High-spirited and naturally combative, he had a strong taste 
for military duty. He studied books of tactics, was constantly 
in evening attendance at the company's armory, and was de- 
lighted in the work there. But he had hardly got his uniform 
home, when on June 11, Mayor Eliot's summons of the Boston 
militia to quell the Broad Street riot found him the only officer 
of his company in town on that pleasant Sunday afternoon. 
Already aware of the disturbance, he went quickly to Faneuil 
Hall, and taking command of as many members of his company 
as were there gathered, marched at the head of the assembled 
infantry, as preceded by the Lancers it approached Broad 
Street. " There was a fixed determination in his face that the 
law should be enforced which communicated itself to others." ^ 
As the column came near the scene of the tumult, feathers 
from the beds, torn open by the rioters at the windows of the 
tenement houses, filled the air like snowflakes. The Lancers — 
a new organization, then making its first appearance — steadily 
cleared the street, but fighting still continued in the houses. 
Directed by the Mayor to clear a house on the right hand 
from whose windows the furniture was flying, Mr. Bigelow 
advanced at the head of his company, to find the entrance 
barred by a large man who stood across the narrow doorway 
with knees and arms braced to prevent intrusion. " Give 
way ! " shouted the young ensign, whose hot temper was in- 
stantly aroused. Grasping, upon the rioter's refusal, the heavy 
old-fashioned sword he carried, he brought it down with all 
his might upon the man's shoulder, and felled him to the 
ground. The act was seen at many windows by those who 
kept a lookout upon the troops, and instantly had its effect. 
Eioting soon after ceased in the neighborhood, and in a short 
time comparative quiet was restored. 

Military life in any form had a great charm for Mr. Bigelow ; 
and as it was much the custom of that day for the Boston 

1 The Twenty-fourth Regiment and Forty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts 
Volunteer Militia were largely officered from this Company. 

2 Hon. J. C. Park, speech at bar meeting, April 18, 1878. 

4 



26 

companies to elect their officers from the young members of 
the bar, he was enabled to find the amusements of his leisure 
hours in a pursuit which largely increased his acquaintances 
among the 3'oung men of the city, and which w^as thus a posi- 
tive advantage to him in his profession. The Guards soon 
found they had got an energetic young officer, who did his 
work thoroughly and as if his heart were in it. Though a firm 
disciplinarian, his cordial disposition and pleasant ways among 
his company, when not on duty, won for him rapid promotion ; 
and in January, 1839, he was chosen its captain. 

In the following November he was first elected as a Repre- 
sentative from the city of Boston, and entered the Legislature 
in January, 1840. Four times re-elected, he served in the 
Lower House five years. From the beginning alert and indus- 
trious, he worked hard in committee and spoke exceedingly well 
in debate. His pleasing manners won for him popularity, and 
his abilities influence. In his second year he v/as made chairman 
on the part of the House of the Joint Committee on Manufac- 
tures, then, in its importance, the second committee in the 
House, and from that hour maintained his rank as an earnest 
and active leader of the young Whigs. Though he did not 
neglect his profession in these years of political activity, he 
found time to gratify in some degree his strong military tastes. 
In the summer of 1840 he encamped his company at Woburn, 
and there thoroughly drilled them in artillery and infantry 
tactics, winning as the reward for his exertions a generous 
recognition of his military success throughout the regiment. 
With these congenial military duties, however, his law prac- 
tice began to interfere, and to the regret of his company and 
against their unanimous petition, he resigned his commission. 
Chosen, however, a year later colonel of the Boston regiment 
of infantry, " he infused into it an efficiency, promptness, and 
thoroughness which was never reached before." ^ By the sin- 
gular distinction of his appearance at the head of his regiment, 
and the ease and precision with which he handled it, Colonel 
Bigelow won the admiring regard of his soldiers, and attracted 
to himself the favorable notice of the community. He held 

1 Mr. R. H. Dana, speech at bar meeting, April 18, 1878. 



27 

this, to him, delightful command for three years, when again 
yielding to the increasing demands of his profession, he re- 
tired from military service, for which it seemed to so many 
Nature had designed him. He formed in 1843 a law part- 
nership with his friend Manlius S. Clarke, and, devoting him- 
self to the business of a jury advocate, soon acquired a lucrative 
practice. 

The murder of the warden of the State Prison, by Abner 
Rogers, a convict, in 1844, had painfully excited the public 
mind, and there was a widespread thirst for vengeance when 
he was arraigned for the crime. By a merciful provision of 
our courts, by which counsel are appointed for those who are 
destitute, Mr. Bigelow was appointed counsel for him, who 
proved to be as bereft of reason as of friends.^ 

The distinction he gained by his argument in defence of 
Rogers only served to fire Mr. Bigelow's ambition. Indefati- 
gable in the preparation of his cases, he fought them with 
courage, tenacity, and at times temper. It may be doubted 
if opposing counsel understood or altogether approved the 
general favor as an advocate in which he came to be held. 
" In the trial of a cause he meant business and a good deal 
of it ; he did not intend to lose anything by too much cour- 
tesy to his opponent or by too great deference to the court, or 
too little arrogance of manner in general." ^ But he was 
rapidly rising as an advocate. " He was quick in action," 
said Mr. Dana ; " he knew human nature. He could read 
character, and he balanced facts well. He exerted himself to 
the utmost. He never relied upon supposed powers to carry 
him through, which others might not have. Every one of 
his successes was deserved." 

He was chosen a Senator from Suffolk County for the year 
1847, and was again chosen in the autumn of that year. So 
successful was his political service that he seemed sure of fur- 
ther and higher distinction, when he resigned his seat in the 
Senate on his appointment by Governor Briggs as judge of 

1 Rogers was acquitted because of insanity, and was sentenced to confinement 
in the asylum at Worcester, where, leaping one day wildly from a window in an 
insane delusion, he was instantly killed. 

2 Hon. Peleg W. Chandler, at the bar meeting, April 18, 1878. 



28 

the old Court of Common Pleas in March, 1848. In those days 
the appointment to the bench of a man of thirty-seven, who 
had given so much time to military and political life, and 
whose record at the bar, though undoubted and full of merit, 
was yet coinparatively brief, and hardly such as to promise 
success in a place so different and responsible, provoked gen- 
eral criticism. " His military feeling, his executive faculties, 
his guardsman's air, forced his friends to meet the question 
whether his mind was sufficiently judicial." ^ 

It may be here said that Governor Biiggs, surprised at the 
criticism his nomination had occasioned, was from the first 
confident of the fitness of this appointment, which had been 
suggested to him by the Hon. P. W. Chandler, then City Solici- 
tor of Boston ; though Colonel Bigelow had served Governor 
Briggs for some years as his chief aide, and during his legislative 
service had come much in contact with him. Nor did he him- 
self feel a moment's doubt of his ability to justify his elevation 
to the bench. He had been long enough at the bar to know the 
measure of his own powers, and though conscious that other 
pursuits had interfered with his study of law, he felt sure of 
success. He subsequently told his old friend, Mr. J. C. Park, 
that the moment his appointment to the bench was confirmed, 
he took up every book on Evidence that he could find and 
mastered its contents ; and that in court, "as soon as a new 
question of law came up before him, he assumed all the cour- 
tesy in his power and said, '■ Gentlemen, I will hear you on 
that point,' and at the conclusion of the argument he would 
give an opinion in a manner which would lead people to be- 
lieve that he was perfectly familiar with the point at issue, 
whereas he had grasped every idea advanced, and had then 
been able to make up his mind at once. ' I do not call it tact,' 
said Judge Wilde when told of this ; 'it is talent to make 
other people do the work and appropriate the results yourself! ' 
He had the wonderful power of seizing every point presented ; 
he could eliminate every point of law from the facts with 
which it was surrounded." ^ 

1 Mr. Dana. 

2 Hon. John C. Park, speech at bar meeting, April 18, 1878. 



29 

The new judge held his first term " bravely " in Boston. 
" From the first day he took his seat," said Peleg Chandler, 
" he was every inch a judge. In the despatch of business, in 
the management of the docket, in his wonderfully clear and 
able charge to the jury, in his absolute impartiality, he won 
the applause and even the admiration of the bar." Even the 
juries, who at the end of their service were familiar with the 
talk his appointment had made, sympathizing in his success, 
sent him addresses of congratulation. He was now, perhaps, 
at the happiest period of his life. His ambition was for the 
time gratified, his success seemed assured, while the varied 
duties of the bench were peculiarly congenial to him. He 
liked to hold court in the shire towns ; it revived the recollec- 
tion of his first law practice with his father. He enjoyed the 
study of human nature which his position afforded him, and 
he attained in this way that exceeding insight and knowledge 
of the country people of Massachusetts, their ways, prejudices, 
and lines of thought, for which he was so long noted. 

The young Whigs were still planning to send Mr. Bigelow 
from Boston to Congress, and in the summer of 1850 a move- 
ment was made to bring him forward as a candidate at the 
convention, to be called in the following October, to nominate 
a representative. The first meeting of that convention ended 
in an informal ballot, when thirty-nine votes were thrown for 
Judge Bigelow, — a clear majority of ten over every other can- 
didate. To the surprise and disappointment of his supporters, 
led by Ezra Lincoln, afterwards Collector of the Port, Judge 
Bigelow, influenced wholly by family considerations, then 
withdrew his name ; but in this act he decided more wisely 
than he then knew to remain upon the bench, wliere pro- 
motion was soon to come, and its highest honors to follow. 

The Hon. Samuel Sumner Wilde, of Hallowell, had been 
appointed a judge of the Supreme Court as far back as 1815. 
He ended the longest judicial service in the history of the 
Commonwealth, by resignation, in November, 1850. Ap- 
pointed to succeed him. Judge Bigelow took the oath of office 
on the 21st of the same month, and his seat on the last day 
of the November term. He was only five years old when 



30 

his distinguished predecessor was appointed, and he was 
hardly forty when called to sit by the side of Chief Justice 
Shaw, by Dewey, Metcalf, and Fletcher, — all aged men. " In 
his new position," says the late Mr. Justice Foster,^ " he 
was very useful from the beginning ; he labored with constant 
assiduity to do each judicial duty as perfectly as possible, and 
coming to the bar myself about the time of his appointment, I 
well remember with what astonishment the older lawyers re- 
garded the excellent performances of this brisk young judge, 
somewhat of a martinet in his discipline, and his ways in such 
striking contrast to those of his venerable associates." If the 
new justice had already won by three laborious years a dis- 
tinction as wide as the Commonwealth in the court from which 
he came, it was yet feared that his professional study had 
been too brief and too interrupted for his success in the deter- 
mination of questions of law. But he worked hard as he had 
ever done to fulfil the duties of the hour ; and the days were 
but few in all the year, at this period of his life, in which he 
was not engaged in study of the ever-varying questions of law 
which came before him. The court-room was never dull 
when he was on the bench, for all the parties to the case at 
bar felt the spur of his vigorous nature. Quick and indus- 
trious, he expected counsel to be well prepared, and was some- 
times savage at anj'^ waste of time. He became unrivalled in 
the quickness and accuracy of his rulings upon evidence, and 
so increased his reputation in the trial of jury causes that it 
came to be said of him in his life, as was said of him after his 
death at the meeting of the Suffolk Bar by one of the most 
eminent among the jury advocates of that day, the late Mr. 
Somerby, that " sitting as a judge at nisi prius he has never 
had his equal, for he brought to his position a readiness, a 
vigilance, and an acuteness of comprehension, together with 
a perfect knowledge of the relations which every fact bears to 
every other fact, which placed him in the foremost rank of 
jurists." There was no judge of that day who had a stronger 
faculty of impressing himself upon a jury or who could get 
more out of one. " Indeed," said Mr. Sheriff Clarke, " I have 

1 Speech at bar meeting, April 18, 1878. 



31 

known many jurymen who counted it a pleasure to sit under 
him." 

" I was present," said the late Mr. Dana on the same oc- 
casion, " when Judge Bigelow appeared for the first time in 
East Cambridge as judge of the Supreme Court. He then 
did what had never been done before. He had prepared 
with labor and care a list of all the cases which had been de- 
cided, the names of the cases, the counsel, a short statement 
of the facts and points such as is now published as a rescript, 
and the conclusion reached by the courts. He had done it, 
without doubt, to do credit to himself. And why should not 
a man be desirous of securing credit for his best gifts ? He 
knew it would be useful to the bar. He took up the cases 
in order, named each counsel in the case, reviewed what was 
done at the time, called the attention of the bar to the points, 
stated the nature of the case and the results. He went 
through the list in order. Every member of the bar felt that 
it was an achievement. It was the first step to the rescript 
we now have. The bar was grateful for it. We all know 
that he was the first person who had ever done it. He was 
the first who was willing to give it the assiduous labor it 
required. 

" I had the honor," Mr. Dana continued, " of knowing 
pretty well the late Mr. Charles G. Loring. He was a great 
admirer of the class of minds which had preceded him by a 
generation at the Suffolk Bar. He said the best jury charge 
he had ever heard was made by a judge who, I hope, is still 
remembered for his rare merit. Judge Charles Jackson. He 
had always preserved it in his mind as a model jury charge. 
But in this place where I now stand, he said to me : ' You 
have heard what I have said about Judge Jackson's charge. 
The charge just given by Judge Bigelow was its equal in 
every respect, and I don't know which was the best.' " 

" His manner on the bench," said Mr. Chandler, " was dig- 
nified and courteous ; but he held to his prerogatives, was 
impatient of dulness and intolerant of prolixity, nor would 
he allow the least arrogance on the part of the bar. Some- 
times when tried in this respect, he reminded one of the West- 



32 

ern judge who threw out a signal-flag of warning to a young 
advocate who was going rather far, by the remark, ' This court 
is naturally quick-tempered.' " And Judge Bigelow was quick- 
tempered. Yet his temper was generous, and if quickly 
raised was quickly spent; while a nature inwardl}^ tender, 
united to peculiar graces of manner, compensated him who 
had felt its force ; so that, as has often and widely been said 
of him, few men ever left his court with wounded feelings, 
and none departed from it without feeling that full justice 
had been accorded them. 

He was most careful in the preparation of his opinions, but 
when his materials were ready to be put in permanent form, 
they were rapidly written ; yet he never finished an opinion 
without full and far-sighted consideration of the effect it 
might have upon the rights and interests of the people of 
Massachusetts. During the ten years Judge Bigelow was an 
associate justice of the court he wrote several opinions upon 
the most difficult and intricate questions of law. Of these 
perhaps the most generally remembered was his opinion in the 
so-called Brattle Street Church case, which was argued before 
the full bench in 1855. When the arguments were over, the 
court adjourned without any consultation upon the case, and 
as Judge Thomas,^ before his death, told the writer, without 
assigning the preparation of the opinion to any member of the 
court. Three days afterward Judge Bigelow read his opinion to 
the other judges, and it was at once adopted by them. " It was 
at a time," said Mr. Dana, " when a judge's written opinion was 
read before the assembled bar, — a good practice, but one which 
has been omitted in the accumulated business of the present 
day. Any student," he continued, " who is far enough ad- 
vanced in his studies to understand it should read it. He had 
the faculty of getting a bird's-eye view of the whole country 
in which the contest lay. He knew exactly what points were 
connected with the case, and had the power of marshalling 
facts and arranging principles. 

" While many men — or some men — who might be con- 
sidered his superiors in legal training might deliver an opinion 

1 Hon. Benjamin F. Thomas, Associate Justice, S.J. C, 1853-1859; died 1878. 



33 

which would attract little attention, Judge Bigelow had a 
capacit}' and clearness of mind, and a faculty of stating points 
so clearly that no one present who had the least knowledge 
of law but was delighted with the opinion, and went away 
thoroughly comprehending it." 

In that more difficult branch of law known as equity, Judge 
Bigelow achieved marked distinction. A court of equity 
brings before it all parties interested in a cause, however 
numerous they may be and however complicated the suit, 
and distributes justice to all by a decree (somewhat as water 
is distributed by a skilful fireman over every part of a burn- 
ing building). In January, 1859, arguments in appeal were 
made to the full court sitting in equity in the difficult case of 
Leach v. Fobes. At their close, a recess was taken by the 
court, and Judge Bigelow retired to the lobby. He returned 
in ten minutes with a finished decree which closed forever 
litigation on every branch of the subject. It was a remark- 
able feat,^ and made a strong impression upon all who wit- 
nessed it. '' 

And thus it came about when, toward the close of August, 
1860, that great and venerable judge, the Hon. Lemuel Shaw, 
resigned his commission as Chief Justice of the Supreme 
Court, which he had held for thirty years with not more 
honor to himself than renown to the Commonwealth, the 
weighty responsibility of appointing his successor devolved 
upon the then executive magistrate. Governor Banks. It has 
now long been known that after a deliberate survey of the 
bench and bar of Massachusetts the Governor sought the pres- 
ence of Judge Shaw to tell him that while his own conclusion 
— confirmed, as he believed, by sufficient indications of public 
sentiment — pointed to Judge Bigelow as his successor, he yet 
felt it due to him, whose resignation he had so reluctantly 
accepted, to consult him upon the general fitness of his choice. 
" I can only say," replied the " Old Chief," as Judge Shaw was 
then affectionately termed by the bar, "that Judge Bigelow 
has eminent qualifications for the place." 

1 The writer is indebted for this anecdote to the late Ellis Ames, a member of 
the Historical Society, who was of counsel in this case. 

6 



34 

On the 7th of September following, Judge Bigelow was 
appointed Chief Justice, and three days later took the oath 
of office. He was not yet fifty when the highest honor in the 
gift of Massachusetts came to him, heightened as it was by 
assurances from the bar of every county that he deserved his 
high office and the profession deemed him entirely competent 
to fill it. The rapid industrial growth of Massachusetts from 
1846 to 1860 had caused business in the courts to increase so 
rapidly that the old rules and customs were no longer toler- 
able. Chief Justice Bigelow, as the bar had hoped from their 
knowledge of his driving temper and executive powers, speed- 
ily reorganized the business methods of his court, and various 
improvements to shorten procedure were made. Lawyers 
were required to submit printed briefs, to be prompt and expe- 
ditious in all their doings with the court, and to make short 
arguments on points of law. The bench itself worked hard. 
Cases no longer accumulated, dockets were shortened, and the 
people at large felt that the law's delays were less vexatious 
and hard to bear. Patient, prompt, laborious, the Chief Jus- 
tice bore with ease the larger responsibilities of his position. 

Popular from the first, his kindness and urbanity to the pro- 
fession wherever he met them, whether in court, in the street, 
or at his home, was steadily maintained during the seven years 
he remained upon the bench. His regard for the character 
and good name of the profession was well indicated on the 
occasion when a young and gifted lawyer, whose early death 
was regretted by all who knew the brilliant qualities of his 
mind, came drunk into the court-room where he was to argue 
a case. As soon as the unfortunate young gentleman's condi- 
tion was seen, on his attempting to rise, the Chief Justice 
instantly leaned forward, and in a tone of great kindness re- 
marked, " Mr. , the court will, if you please, take up this 

ease to-morrow," and instantly adjourned the court. The 
young lawyer's condition, perceived only by the bench and by 
a few members of the bar, was thus not made public, and his 
ruin thereby averted. 

For a man whose mind was largely occupied with serious 
business he had a curious capacity for keen and quiet observa- 



35 

tion of what was going on around and about him. There 
never was any such abstracted occupation of mind that he 
could not turn readily to anything that would attract attention 
for its peculiarity,- humor, or interest. He could tell as well as 
any idler in his court-room what had happened in it outside of 
the trial of the case before him. 

His interest in the law as a practitioner and as a judge was 
peculiar. While some men delight in the law as a study or 
pursue it as a science, and others follow it for emoluments and 
honors, Judge Bigelow seemed rather to enjoy it as a splendid 
engine to be brought to bear upon abuses which required cor- 
rection, or upon men who needed its discipline. During the 
seven years he remained upon the bench he continued to per- 
fect and extend his judicial reputation ; but though his mind, 
like an exquisite machine, did its appointed work rapidly and 
without friction, the slow growth of certain infirmities, partly 
the result of long years of sedentary life, admonished him that 
he could not long continue upon the bench. Deafness and 
gout, alike the inheritance of his family, beset him. The fail- 
ure of his hearing entailed upon him a sustained and at last 
painful effort to lose no word of what was said in the trial of a 
cause before him. Recognizing that it was rather a question 
of months than years, when deafness would compel him to 
descend from the bench, as twenty-five years before it had 
forced his father to retire from the bar, the Chief Justice deter- 
mined, before the profession were even aware of the causes 
which influenced him, wholly to change his occupation, and 
in the autumn of 1867 he resigned his commission, to take 
effect on the last day of that year. 

The announcement of his intention to resign occasioned 
universal regret. The bar of Massachusetts were unwilling to 
lose at the early age of fifty-seven, and in the perfection of 
his judicial training, a chief justice whose term of office they 
had hoped might last as long as that of his great predecessor. 
Petitions, signed by three hundred members of the bar, urging 
him to remain in office and testifying that his " retirement at 
this time would be a loss which the profession and the public 
could ill bear," were followed by many personal and written 



36 

appeals of the same kind from all parts of the State, and from 
the Executive itself. These tributes were indeed sweet to him. 
Not twenty years had passed since, fresh from the political and 
military service of the State, he had been made a judge of 
Common Pleas, amid the general criticism of the profession as 
to his fitness for judicial life. Now he was retiring from the 
highest judicial post in the service of the Commonwealth, 
while the bar of every county was hastening to him its 
appeal to remain longer in his great office. 

Well might his professional career be termed, as it was, by 
a great advocate of that day,^ " a triumphal march of honor." 

As soon as his intention to resign became known, Chief 
Justice Bigelow was offered the position of Actuary to the 
Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company. He ac- 
cepted this position of dignity, responsibility, and ease, and 
held it till his last illness. For several years he had suffered 
at times acutely from the gout, and he died of this disease, 
Friday, April 12, 1878, at the age of sixty-seven years and six 
months. 

On the Sunday ensuing the bar assembled at his funeral at 
King's Chapel, to honor, as was afterward so fitl}^ said by 
Mr. Dana, " the memory of a patient, industrious, indefatigable, 
vigilant, prompt magistrate, and an honorable, generous, 
high-spirited, and public-spirited citizen." 

Others maj^ have adorned the courts of Massachusetts who 
exceeded him in research or who had a wider knowledge of 
cases ; but in his power of grasping the points of an action as 
they were successively presented, — whether of fact or of law, 
— of grouping them in their proper order, and of steadily hold- 
ing them in their true relation to the issues involved, no less 
than by the perfection of his art of stating them to a jury, or, 
through his surpassing faculty of legal literary expression, of 
embodying them in a written opinion, he has been equalled by 
few judges and excelled by none. As personal recollections 
of the late Chief Justice fade into the dim twilight of tradi- 
tion and pass slowly away, the opinion of his great classmate, 
Mr. Justice Curtis, formerly of the Supreme Court of the 

' Gustavus A. Somerby, speech at bar meeting, April 18, 1878. 



37 

United States, will surely be held by all who come hereafter 
to study the principles of law, as they are set forth with en- 
during wisdom in the Reports of Massachusetts. At a certain 
meeting of the " Class of '29 " the conversation turned upon 
the merits of several of the instructors at Harvard during the 
period of their student life, and there was some criticism 
of Prof. Edward T. Channing as a teacher of rhetoric and 
English composition, when Judge Curtis pointed out that 
Channing's pupils had no tendency to that florid style some- 
what common with students of other colleges, and continued 
as follows : " Take Bigelow ; he is not here to-night, and so I 
can say what I should not if he had been. You all know that 
much of my life has been so spent as to give me a large 
acquaintance with judicial style ; and I here express my opinion, 
which is not a new one, that for purity and clearness of style, 
I know of no living or modern judge who is Bigelow's 
superior." ^ 

Peculiarly genial and companionable in private life, Judge 
Bigelow was fond of society and became a great diner-out. 
Inclined to all kinds of reading, from newspapers to the last 
book upon law, he was especially fond of English and Ameri- 
can memoirs ; and his mind was thus stored with a fund of 
anecdote which a retentive memory enabled him to use most 
happily in conversation. An excellent discretion usually con- 
trolled a naturally impulsive disposition, and made him some- 
what shy of all public occasions where after-dinner speaking 
was a rule, and where his presence was often sought. Never 
but once after he attained distinction did he attend a public 
dinner ; and while they who were present, among their recol- 
lections of the hour, can recall the grace and animation of his 
manner and the force of his speech, his own deliberate judg- 
ment led him afterward to avoid all similar occasions. He 
was offered and held many positions of trust and honor, before 
and after he left the bench, and was a Fellow of Harvard Col- 
lege at his death. 

1 Mr. G. W. Phillips, in a letter to the writer of Feb. 10, 1879. See also " Life 
and Writings of B. R. Curtis," vol. i. p. 34, where the same anecdote is told in 
slightly different language. 



38 

His connection with the Massachusetts Historical Society- 
dated from his election to it, Feb. 10, 1859. 

Chief Justice Bigelow was married, Nov. 5, 1839, to 
Anna, daughter of Edward Miller, of Quincy. By this mar- 
riage, which brought him into pleasant relations with several 
families long prominent in the Old Colony, he had four chil- 
dren, all of whom survive him. 










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