Revolutionary War Veteran Dies in Prison

Timothy Bigelow Painting

Photograph of a painting of Colonel Timothy Bigelow. Location, age, and artist unknown.

WORCESTER, Mass. — Colonel Timothy Bigelow, 50, was found dead in his jail cell on Wednesday, March 31, 1790.

In regards to the discharge of Colonel Bigelow, the old jail book simply stated: “By Deth.” The Revolutionary War veteran had been imprisoned just six weeks earlier on February 15, 1790 for unpaid debts.

His friend Isaiah Thomas, editor of the Massachusetts Spy (and whose printing press was smuggled out of Boston by Bigelow and hidden in the cellar of the Patriot’s Worcester home just a few days before the Battle of Lexington) had only this to say about the Colonel’s death in the April 7, 1790 edition of the Spy: “DIED. — in this town, Col. Timothy Bigelow aged 50.”

His countenance is not known, save for an unsourced photograph of a painting that has been floating around the internet for many years, attributed to Bigelow but without reference to the artist or location. The painting was rumored to be last seen hanging in the old Worcester District Courthouse before it was boarded up in 2007. Those who remembered him described his “tall and erect, and commanding figure, his martial air, his grave and rather severe countenance, his dignified and earnest address.”

Early Years

Timothy was born in the Pakachoag Hill area of Worcester on August 12, 1739 to Daniel and Elizabeth (Whitney) Bigelow. Prior to his military career, Timothy was a successful blacksmith with a shop located near Lincoln Square, where “he blew the bellows, heated and hammered the iron, shod the horses and oxen, and mended the ploughs and chains for the farms of the country about him.”

tea kettle

Tea kettle made by Timothy Bigelow in his blacksmithing days. Gifted to the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1928 by his great-great granddaughter Louise Bigelow.

He fell in love with Anna Andrews, an orphaned heiress to her family’s fortune, and they eloped on July 2, 1762 in Hampton, New Hampshire, which was the “Gretna Green” of its day.

Military Career

Timothy was known for his eloquent speaking and steadfast convictions. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, a delegate to the Provincial Congress, and the organizer of the American Political Society. His military service was lengthy and his dedication unwavering. He trained the Worcester Minutemen on the Common and led them on the alarm of April 19, 1775. He took command of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment in 1776, witnessed Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga in 1777, and he suffered through the winter at Valley Forge in 1778. One of Col. Bigelow’s men stated that “Why, old Col. Tim was everywhere all the time, and you would have thought if you had been there, that there was nobody else in the struggle but Col. Bigelow and his regiment.”

Mistaken for George Washington

In her book Colonel Timothy Bigelow: A Historical Novel great-great granddaughter Louise Bigelow (who said that much of her book was based on old letters, diaries, and the tales of her grandfather) related this story of Colonel Bigelow’s capture in Quebec in 1777:

He was taken to a room with three British officers and repeatedly questioned about his identity. One officer took up the questioning and was so persistent that Timothy was soon greatly irritated.

‘Where did you come from?’ the man asked suspiciously.

‘Massachusetts,’ replied Timothy.

‘I think he came from Virginia,’ another officer interposed. Timothy looked at him witheringly.

‘I came from Worcester, Massachusetts,’ he said with much dignity.

‘Have you any children?’ the first officer continued.

‘Yes,’ Timothy answered proudly, ‘I have five.’

‘Washington hasn’t any children, has he?’ the man asked his companions in an undertone.

‘How tall are you?’ he asked abruptly.

‘Six foot three and a half,’ Timothy replied.

‘He’s taken off half an inch,’ the officer laughed sneeringly, ‘the last I heard, he was six foot four.’

‘Come on now, you might as well admit it, General,’ he demanded, suddenly curbing his laughter. ‘We know who you are. What’s the use in lying about it?’

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ Timothy said in bewilderment. ‘I am not lying. I have told you the truth in everything I have said.’

‘I could swear he is General Washington,’ the commanding officer said audibly enough for Timothy to overhear. ‘He is certainly tall and powerful enough to be. Well, let’s not take any chances. If he is Washington, we don’t want to put him in the Chateau.’

So Timothy was taken away to large pleasant room overlooking the river . . . excellent food was brought to him and this kindly treatment went on for about two weeks . . .”

According to Louise, once it was realized that he was not Washington,  he was thrown into an English prison ship. He was held for almost a year, a year which took a toll on his health from which he never fully recovered.

After the Revolution

Bigelow returned home from war a broken man, failing in both body and spirit. The government paid him for his years of service by granting him over 28,000 acres of Vermont wilderness, but that did nothing to offset his inability to successfully revive his blacksmithing business. The post-war inflation drove him heavily into debt, and he was subsequently thrown into prison where he died six weeks later.  He left behind his wife, Anna Andrews Bigelow (1747 – 1809) and six children: Nancy Bigelow Lincoln (1765 – 1839 ) Timothy Bigelow Jr. (1767 – 1821), Rufus Bigelow (1772 – 1813), Lucy Bigelow Lawrence (1774 – 1856) and Clarissa Bigelow (1781 – 1846) His son Andrew (b. 1769) predeceased him in 1787.

Bigelow Monument

Like most men of vision, Bigelow’s sacrifices went unrecognized for over 70 years, until his great-grandson Colonel Timothy Bigelow Lawrence erected a monument on the Common in his honor in 1861.

1861

Bigelow Monument in 1861.

WORCESTER SPY
10 APRIL 1861

THE BIGELOW MONUMENT — The remains of the late Col. Timothy Bigelow were on Monday exhumed from their burial place, in the northwest corner of the old cemetery on the Common. They were found in remarkable state of preservation. By direction of the committee having the matter of the monument in charge, they were encased in a metallic casket prepared for the purpose, and deposited in their last resting place, near the old spot, in the center of the lot in which the monument is to be erected.

WORCESTER SPY
17 APRIL 1861

THE BIGELOW MONUMENT — Friday noon, Mr. Hersey, in the presence of Col. T. B. Lawrence, Rev. Dr. Bigelow of Boston, a grandson of Col. Bigelow, Gov. Lincoln, and a large number of other gentlemen, deposited in the cavity made for them on the top of the first marble layer, two boxes full of documents prepared for the purpose of preservation there. The second layer of marble, a huge block weighing nine thousand pounds, suspended over it, was then let down and properly adjusted. The other layers were then put on, and the erection of the whole monument, with the exception of the putting in of the supporting pillars around the sides, completed about seven o’clock in the evening. The large crowd present celebrated the event by enthusiastic cheering.

Daughters of the American Revolution

In 1899, a Worcester chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was formed, and it was decided to name the chapter in honor of Colonel Timothy Bigelow. The mission of the DAR is to promote historic preservation, education, and patriotism.

“I have long since come to the conclusion, to stand by the American cause, come what will. I have enlisted for life. I have cheerfully left my home and family. All the friends I have, are the friends of my country. I expect to suffer with hunger, with cold, and with fatigue, and, if need be, I expect to lay down my life for the liberty of these colonies.” — Colonel Timothy Bigelow.

References:

The Story of Worcester, Massachusetts by Thomas F. O’Flynn c. 1910

The Celebration by the Inhabitants of Worcester, Mass of the Centennial Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence c.1876.

Colonel Timothy Bigelow: A Historical Novel by Louise Bigelow c. 1941

Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Bigelow Monument c. 1861

The Massachusetts/Worcester Spy c. 1790, 1861

Some Historic Houses of Worcester c. 1919

Reminisces of the Military Life and Sufferings of Col. Timothy Bigelow by Charles Hersey c. 1860

Meeting minutes from the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester c. 1898/1899

History of Worcester, Massachusetts by William Lincoln c. 1837

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The Musket That Fired the Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Munroe musket

Meeting Hall at the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester, Massachusetts,  home to Ebenezer Munroe’s musket.

When Ebenezer Munroe awoke on his 23rd birthday, he probably couldn’t have imagined that his musket would be the one to fire “the shot heard ‘round the world,” or that it would end up in the home of a Loyalist judge, under the care of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in a city whose claim to fame is that they effectively ended British rule without firing a single shot.

But it’s true.

On this particular day I was sitting alone in the meeting hall of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter house, looking up at Ebenezer’s musket.  I had just mounted it above the fireplace.  I stared at it in awed silence, as though I were viewing the painting of a master in some cathedral . . . but this was more than a work of art.

It had taken me a long time to realize the significance of this musket.   When I first saw it in our collection, I thought, “oh how nice.  We’ve got a musket from the Battle of Lexington.” At the time, I wasn’t yet familiar with the story of this unassumingly presented artifact, which had been stored out-of-sight in a wooden coffin, along with a 3-ring binder stuffed haphazardly with handwritten notes, pictures, and newspaper clippings.  Once I took the time to read through the jumbled binder, I realized that Ebenezer’s musket wasn’t just “a musket,”  it was “THE musket,” and the weight of that recognition both thrilled me and frightened me, and made my heart pound.

Ebenezer Munroe (19 Apr 1752 – 25 May 1825) of Lexington, later of Ashburnham, was a yeoman farmer and militia corporal who answered the call to arms on April 19, 1775.   The following is an excerpt from his Deposition, (given on April 2, 1825 less than two months before his death) regarding the events of that day:

“Some of our men went into the meeting-house, where the town’s powder was kept, for the purpose of replenishing their stock of ammunition. When the regulars had arrived within eighty or one hundred rods, they, hearing our drum beat, halted, charged their guns, and doubled their ranks, and marched up at quick step. Capt. Parker ordered his men to stand their ground, and not to molest the regulars, unless they meddled with us. The British troops came up directly in our front. The commanding officer advanced within a few rods of us, and exclaimed, ‘Disperse, you damned rebels! you dogs, run!—Rush on my boys!’ and fired his pistol. The fire from their front ranks soon followed. After the first fire, I received a wound in my arm, and then, as I turned to run, I discharged my gun into the main body of the enemy. As I fired, my face being toward them, one ball cut off a part of one of my ear-locks, which was then pinned up. Another ball passed between my arm and my body, and just marked my clothes. The first fire of the British was regular; after that, they fired promiscuously. . . . When I fired, I perfectly well recollect of taking aim at the regulars. The smoke, however, prevented my being able to see many of them . . . I did not hear Captain Parker’s orders to his company to disperse . . .the balls flew so thick, I thought that there was no chance for escape, and that I might as well fire my gun as stand still and do nothing . . .”

After Ebenezer’s death in 1825, his musket was passed down through the generations,  until eventually it was sold to antique gun collector Granville Rideout of Ashburnham in the summer of 1950 for four dollars.   According to Granville, the musket had been left untouched in the Munroe family attic for many, many years, and it was still loaded when he bought it.

Granville kept the musket safe for over 50 years, while still managing to give it “public appearances” at local historical societies and museums.   On April 19, 1975, he rode on horseback to the reenactment on the Battle Green in Lexington, where Ebenezer’s musket was fired once more.

Granville Rideout 1975.jpg

Granville Rideout with Ebenezer Munroe’s musket, riding to Lexington Battle Green on April 19, 1975.

As I read through the binder, I could tell that Granville agonized over finding a final resting place for Ebenezer’s musket. He was worried that it would fall into the hands of a private collector and never be seen again.  In 2003, two years before his death, he gifted the musket to the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, on the condition that it be displayed and publicized, and be used to educate the youth about the founding of the United States of America.

If you would like to view Ebenezer Munroe’s musket, you can visit the Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter House at 140 Lincoln Street in Worcester, Massachusetts during our summer tour season.   The dates are June 11, July 9, August 13, September 10, and October 8 and the hours are 1-4pm.  For more information or to schedule a group tour, you can contact us at col.timothybigelowchapter@gmail.com.  We are also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/col.timothybigelowdar/.

Postscript:  The title of this blog is in reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Concord Hymn,” in which he writes: 

“Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.”

The reference is not a claim to the literal first shot of that battle, but rather a symbol of the American spirit,  their willingness to stake their lives for freedom.  Was Emerson talking about a specific shot, or was it a metaphor for that moment when the colonists crossed the threshold from yearning into action?  As a farmer who was present and whose deposition (and the deposition of others) confirms that he was one of the first ones to return fire on that historic day, Ebenezer Munroe did indeed fire a “shot heard round the world.”  

 

Candidate Stamps

atticIn a house as old as the Oaks, where two hundred and forty-one years of history beckons mightily around every corner and calls resolutely from every aspect of every room,  sometimes the quiet lure of the attic can be the strongest of all.  I am still trying to get my bearings in my new role as “Curator” in a place that is just overflowing with undocumented, unlabelled artifacts, commanding my attention and begging to tell their tales.   When the sensory overload of the Oaks gets to me I often find myself retreating to the attic for a reprieve, where history resides in a softer tone under a layer of dust in the shadowy eaves.

On this day I was sitting in the office of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter house, shuffling unproductively through scrapbooks in search of a blog post.  I was feeling overwhelmed and getting ready to lock up and call it a day . . . and that’s when Deb emerged.  I gasped, realizing that I had completely forgotten about my Vice-Regent whom I had left in the attic.   Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was prone to getting sucked in, I thought to myself with amusement.  She was holding a thin, dirty chipboard in her hands with old newsprint glued to either side, and it was embellished on one corner with a splat of bird poo.  She had obviously found a treasure.

Candidate Stamps description

Candidate Stamp Company advertisement.

QUICK MONEY FOR HUSTLERS.

DEMOCRATS.                                                          REPUBLICANS.

SHOW  YOUR COLORS.

Put one of our Candidate Stamps upon either the front and back of every piece of mail, Letters, Envelopes and Post Cards, every package of goods, and upon everything to which they will stick that leaves your house or place of business, until Election Day.  Something entirely new, neat, and catchy, costs but a trifle, and lets the whole world know who are your favorite candidates.  A badge or button is only seen by a few, these stamps are seen by everybody.

Agents wanted everywhere, in the United States.  Men and women, boys and girls, you can make more money selling these stamps in three months, than you can in a whole year at anything else, but you must act quick.  “Make hay while the sun shines.”  Write at once for agents terms and territory.

                                                 CANDIDATE STAMP COMPANY,

                                                                              5  Park Square,

                                                                                              Boston, Mass.

Room 16.

Candidate Stamps

Roosevelt/Fairbanks campaign poster, 1904 election.

I took it for granted that I would be able to find something about “candidate stamps” or the Candidate Stamp Company but so far I have turned up nothing.  I am not even certain if the Candidate Stamp Company advertisement is even related to the small Roosevelt/Fairbanks 1904 campaign poster that is glued to the other side.   If anyone out there can shed some light on this curious bit of election ephemera, please share.

Why I Belong to a Lineage Society

Last year if you had asked me why I was joining the Daughters of the American Revolution, I would not have had a good answer for you.  Truth be told, I didn’t quite know myself.   I didn’t know much about the organization, and my perception was that women joined as a matter of pride or for bragging rights, or because their great-grandmother was a member.  I had a stereotypical image in my mind of older women who were very proper and had a lot of tea parties.

My own ancestry had been much of a mystery for many years.  I knew of my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents who left eastern Europe in the early part of the 20th century in search of a better life (family legend has it that when my grandfather left his little German town, six months of his salary couldn’t buy a pack of cigarettes in the post WWI economy), and I knew that my paternal great-grandmother was named Jennie . . . and that was pretty much it.

I don’t have much hope for being able to research my maternal side since WWII destroyed much of my grandfather’s home town, and what was left was absorbed by Poland.  However, in recent years I have been able to shed some light on my paternal side.  Years of genealogical digging and a DNA test led me to make a pivotal connection — a connection that has most definitely altered the trajectory of my life.  Making contact with my 7th cousin John Zafiris Jr. set into motion a whole series of events . . . and I often wonder with amusement where I would be today if I hadn’t spit in that test tube.

One night after comparing notes and looking through each other’s trees, John suggested to me that I join the DAR since I had Revolutionary ancestors in my tree.  I knew that he was a member of the SAR and very passionate about the community.  “Meh,” I thought.  I was a little doubtful.  Proper older women after all.  But what the heck.  Up until that point my life consisted of two things: taking care of the living at the hospital during the day and searching for dead relatives on my computer at night.  Maybe it was time to peel off the surgical gloves and get out from behind the computer.  At the very least I could get a snazzy certificate to hang up on my wall.

I went to the DAR national website and filled out a form for more information.  I don’t think more than 20 minutes had gone by since hitting the “send” button when my phone rang.   A local DAR woman in charge of membership talked to me for a few minutes, and then suggested I check out the Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter in Worcester, Massachusetts.    “You’ll really like it,” she told me.   “They are a really active, progressive group.”

Everything since that moment has been such a fantastic blur.  I spent the first few months in close contact with the chapter’s registrar Ginger, who was so sweet and encouraging,  and was truly instrumental in helping me prepare my application for Washington, and she prodded my wallflower self to engage in the chapter activities.  I met a number of wonderful women of all ages who welcomed me with open arms, and it didn’t take long before I fell in love with them and the 241 year-old chapter house affectionately known as “the Oaks.”

Looking back upon the last year (has it only been a year?) I think about all the ways I have become involved (and here are just a few):

Historian:  this was my first commission in the DAR, and a fun way to begin. I kept the scrapbook of our events, and I also helped organize in the newly designated office 100 years worth of scrapbooks and ephemera that had previously been stuffed into the narrow pantry at the Oaks.

How to Make an 18th Century Cockade Workshop:  Cockades have been popular throughout the centuries, and often denoted a person’s political allegiance or rank.  In the early days of the Revolution when the Patriots had no uniforms, they would wear different color cockades on their hats to delineate officers.  I led two workshops that first summer, teaching other members of the chapter how to make them.

Worcester Revolution 1774: this was a day long event to celebrate Worcester’s role in the American Revolution, in which over 3000 Patriots from all around Worcester county descended upon the courthouse on September 6, 1774 and forced the magistrates to walk the street and rescind their authority.  British rule in Worcester was effectively ended on that day without firing a single shot.  The Oaks was under construction that same year, 1774, and belonged to Loyalist judge Timothy Paine who was among those forced to recant. For the celebration my chapter dressed in costume and opened the doors of the Oaks to visitors and we entertained children with colonial games and crafts. I was also able to meet my 7th cousin John, (the man responsible for pointing me in the direction of DAR) in person on this day, who as it turns out descends from the same Revolutionary family as mine.  My Patriot was married to his Patriot’s sister.

Revolutionary cousins: meeting my 7th cousin John Zafiris Jr. for the first time.

Revolutionary cousins: meeting my 7th cousin John Zafiris Jr. for the first time.

Seamstress: As a result of wanting to dress up for the Worcester Revolution, I made my own costume (which is really amazing considering up until that point I had never done much sewing other than what my mother insisted I learn as a child, and the footless bald eagle that I made in 8th grade home-economics class).  Making my Revolutionary dress ignited my sewing gene after 40-something years, a talent and a love I didn’t know I had, and I have gone on to make more colonial outfits, each one a little better than the last.

Finance Committee:  Clearly, this is going to be good, practical life experience.  (“Join the finance committee!” they said.  “It’ll be fun!” they said.  Next thing I knew I was sitting in the financial advisor’s office signing my name on the line that said “Trustee.”  Eeep!)

Newspaper clipping from the May 23, 2015 issue of the Milford Daily News.

Newspaper clipping from the May 23, 2015 issue of the Milford Daily News.

Elementary school presentation on the American Revolution: This was Verne Thayer’s idea,  a charming and charismatic member of the Colonel William Henshaw chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution . . . and as it turns out, also a cousin.  The DAR and SAR joined forces to do a presentation at the Hopedale Memorial School school in Milford.  Public speaking was out of my comfort zone, but I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a try.  A little classroom of third graders can’t kill me, right?   (“Come join me!” he said.  “It’ll be fun!”  he said.  Before I knew it, the little classroom of third graders swelled to over two hundred students in the gymnasium.  Terrifying!)

Blogger:  Vice-Regent Linda Hart planted that seed in my head one day while we were organizing a century’s worth of chapter history in the office, and so “Revolutionary Oaks” was born.  I had always wanted to be a writer, but somehow ended up detouring through a degree in Biology instead.

Docent:  Almost as scary as talking to a gymnasium full of  little people,  but I have learned to love it.  Once a month I dress up in costume and give tours of our chapter house to the locals.

Preparing the historic Oaks for tours. A woman's work is never done, in any century.

Preparing the historic Oaks for tours. A woman’s work is never done, in any century.

Curator:  my most recent role for which as a Surgical Technologist I am most uniquely unqualified, but I am so grateful to have this opportunity that not many people get.   With the assistance of the current Historian and Librarian, we hope to have the Oaks take her permanent place in Worcester’s historical memory by becoming an effective museum house.

Even with the flurry of activity of the past year, and with all the practical life skills I am gaining by being a member of the DAR,  there is still and always a quiet place in my mind and in my heart for the lives that came before me, for all the roads that were traveled and all the souls that converge within me to bring me to this moment in time.  I can think as far back as my Patriot, Ephraim Warren, who at the age of 81 had buried most of his 13 children and was a destitute farmer . . . he applied for a pension from the government and was awarded 8 dollars a month.  Unfortunately he died four months later, and so was paid a grand total of 32 dollars for his service in the War of Independence . . . or I can think as recently as my German grandfather, who bravely came to this country at the age of seventeen, with no money and no family.  He was a truly a self made man, learning the language and working hard on construction projects like the Quabbin Reservoir.  Eventually he put himself through school, started his own welding business and raised a good family and became an American citizen.  Under similar circumstances would I have even half the strength or determination of either of these men from whom I descend?

Lineage societies keep history alive — the very act of taking the time to properly research and document your lineage reinforces the connection to the past.   It gives you the chance to look more intimately at your ancestors lives, and to consider what they went through.   Lineage societies also give you a chance to connect with others with a similar passion, and they give you an opportunity to take that passion out into the community and teach.   It doesn’t have to be DAR or SAR — there are a myriad of societies out there for everyone and anyone who wants to honor their heritage, whatever it may be.   You can do as little as hang your certificate on the wall, or you can get out there and engage the community.

If you ask me today why I am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution,  you will not hear me say, because I am proud . . . but rather, because I am humbled.

Paving Over History

Memorial stone erected by the Leominster Historical Society in 1912 to commemorate the location of Leominster's first burial ground.

Memorial stone commemorating the location of Leominster’s first and now extinct burial ground.

Last September my quest to find the graves of my 5th great grandfather Jonathan Willson, his wife Hepzebah Wilder and their son Caleb brought me to the corner of Route 13 and Day Street in Leominster.  I could barely look up at the cars racing past me as I aimed my camera at a tiny marker erected in 1912 by the Leominster Historical Society . . . it was the only peaceful space in this  traffic-laden neighborhood, and the only indication of Leominster’s first and now extinct burial ground. This was one of the more crushing genealogical discoveries I had ever made: my Revolutionary family was buried somewhere in the middle of route 13.

The brief entry from the book

The brief entry from the book “Inscriptions From Burial Grounds of Nashaway Towns” that describes the fate of Leominster’s first burial ground.

Since that day a thought has plagued me: at what point does the preservation of history become a burden?  How much do we hold on to, and how much should we release to be reshaped in the current of time?

View from the attic of the Oaks

View from the attic of the Oaks

That thought was with me last week on a beautiful May morning as I prowled through the attic of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter house of the Daughters of the American Revolution . . . more simply and affectionately known as “The Oaks.”  I pressed against the glass and looked out over Frederick Paine’s lost garden,  and through the trees I could just barely see the cars zipping by on I-290.  A lot of history has been seen from the windows of this 241 year old house, I mused.

As I stepped away from the window I tripped over an old bedsheet.  I knelt down to examine the dusty offender and unfurled a hand stitched quilt that had been rolled up underneath.  This doesn’t belong up here.  I carried the forgotten beauty down to the bedroom and carefully laid it out on the bed.  Who made it?  How old was it?  And why had it been relinquished to the attic?  The thought about “at what point does the preservation of history become a burden” continued to blare in my head.   Was this really an historic treasure, or was it just some dusty old quilt that had simply become too old for anyone to know the difference of when to hold on and when to let go?

Handstitched quilt . . . old treasure or just old?

Handstitched quilt . . . old treasure or just old?

I left the bedroom and wandered into the office. Focus.  You’re supposed to be tidying up the office today, not dredging through the attic. I sat on the floor and plunked a stack of old papers in my lap.  I never quite know what I am looking for when I enter the office, but the most appropriate things always seems to find me. Sure enough, not more than a few minutes had passed when I read the most startling letter:

A plea from 1957 to save the historic Oaks from the path of Interstate 290.

A plea from 1957 to save the historic Oaks from the path of Interstate 290.

The letter was  nearly sixty years old but still it made my heart pound.  I couldn’t believe it.  Were they talking about Interstate 290?  A six lane highway through the OAKS?!

A little further investigation revealed two newspaper clippings and a poem about the Oaks’ impending demise via eminent domain:

Letter to the Editor dated September 26, 1957 calling attention to the plight of the historic Oaks.

Letter to the Editor dated September 26, 1957 calling attention to the plight of the historic Oaks.

Newspaper article editorial from September 27, 1957 regarding the threat the Worcester Expressway project posed to the Oaks.

Newspaper article editorial from September 27, 1957 regarding the threat the Worcester Expressway project posed to the Oaks.

Poem written by Col. Timothy Bigelow chapter member Ethel St. John in 1957.

Poem written by Col. Timothy Bigelow chapter member Ethel St. John in 1957.

Obviously the Oaks did not get wiped out at the age of 183 since she just passed her 241st birthday, but there was no further indication in that pile of ephemera as to why the house had been spared, why the entire neighborhood had been spared at the expense of another.

I went back upstairs and looked out at 290 which was almost lost through the trees but so ominously close.  I was grateful for what had been saved, but somber for what had been lost.  How do we decide what to hold onto and what to let go?  My beloved Revolutionary Oaks could have ended up being reshaped in the current of time . . . but instead someone else’s history had been paved over.

The Romance of Colonel Timothy Bigelow

“One of the saddest entries made in any record in the city of Worcester is the note on March 31, 1790 in the old jail book, of the discharge of Colonel Timothy Bigelow: ‘By Deth.'” — Some Historic Houses of Worcester, c. 1919.

James Turner portrays Colonel Timothy Bigelow in James David Moran's play "The Chains of Liberty," which was performed on September 7, 2014 as part of the Worcester Revolution 1774 festivities.  Photo courtesy of Judy Jeon-Chapman.

Colonel Timothy Bigelow as portrayed by James Turner in James David Moran’s play “The Chains of Liberty,” which was performed on September 7, 2014 as part of the Worcester Revolution 1774 festivities. Photo courtesy of Judy Jeon-Chapman.

According to one of Colonel Timothy Bigelow’s men in Reminiscences of the Military Life and Sufferings of Col. Timothy Bigelow, “old Col. Tim was everywhere all the time, and you would thought if you had been there, that there was nobody else in the struggle but Col. Bigelow and his regiment.”  He was present at nearly every major battle during the Revolutionary War before succumbing to a premature death in debtor’s prison at the age of 50.   Yet before his military service in  Yorktown, Rhode Island and New Jersey . . . before suffering through the winter at Valley Forge in 1778 and witnessing Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga in 1777, before taking command of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment in 1776 and  leading Worcester Minutemen on the alarm of April 19, 1775 . . . and before serving on the Committee of Correspondence and spending his days in eloquent support of his fellow Patriots,  Revolutionary War hero Colonel Timothy Bigelow was simply “Tim Bigelow,” a successful blacksmith, and he was in love with a girl:

"Timothy Bigelow Romance" newspaper article from March 1909.

“Timothy Bigelow Romance” newspaper article from March 1909.

TIMOTHY BIGELOW ROMANCE

by Jeanette A. W. Ramsay, D.A.R.

March 9, 1909

“Among the Scotch settlers in Worcester, there came over an Irish family by the name of Rankin.  They had several daughters, the youngest of whom was Anna — beautiful Anna Rankin!

At that time there was a family here, very respectable for the times, by the name of Andrews. One of the boys was named Samuel, who was at the time an undergraduate in Harvard College.

Samuel came home to spend a vacation and while at home he saw Anna Rankin and taking a liking to “her neck,” which, like Kathleen Bawn’s, was “so soft and smooth without a freckle or speck,” he “fell in love,” as the novel-writers say.  He forthwith threw Latin and Greek to the dogs, mad love to Anna and in due time married, and purchasing a farm on the west side of Quinsigamond Lake, he settled down and became an industrious and frugal yeoman.

In that occupation he prospered so well that in a few years he quitted his farm and moved to the village, and built him a house on the very spot where the stone jail was subsequently erected (on the corner of Lincoln square and northwest corner of Summer Street).

Afterward he built him a larger and better house on the ground now occupied by the block of brick houses, opposite the Courthouse. (Please note the locality.  Lincoln in his History gives it so, page 281, also using the word “dwellings.”)

Father and mother both died, leaving an only daughter named Anna, after her mother Anna Rankin, with an estate that made her the principal heiress of Worcester in those times.

In the rear of the Andrews house, “Tim” Bigleow had a blacksmith’s shop where he blew the bellows, heated and hammered the iron, shod the horses and oxen, and mended the ploughs and chains for the farmers of the country about him.

Now Tim “was as bright as a button,” more than six feet high, straight and handsome, and walked upon the earth with a natural air and grace that was quite captivating.

Tim saw Anna and Anna saw Tim and they were well satisfied with each other.

But as he was then, nothing but Tim Bigelow, “the blacksmith,” the lady’s friends, whose ward she was would would not give their consent to a marriage.  So, watching for an opportunity, the lovers mounted fleet horses and rode a hundred miles to Hampton, in New Hampshire, which lies on the coast between Newburyport and Portsmouth, and was at that time the “Gretna Green” for all young men and maidens for whom true love did not run a smooth course in Massachusetts.

They came back to Worcester as Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Bigelow. He was a man of decided talent, and well fitted by nature for a popular leader.

All the leading men of the town at that time were tories.

He espoused the cause of the people, and soon had a party strong enough to control the town and being known as a Patriot, he was recognized by Hancock, Samuel Adams, Gen. Warren, James Otis and others of the Patriot party, throughout the province.

He was sent as a delegate from Worcester to the “provincial congress” and as a captain of the Minute Men, he led his company from Worcester to Cambridge, on the 19th of April 1775, at the summons of a messenger who rode swiftly into town that day, on a large white horse, announcing that the war had begun.

For a long time afterward that express man was always spoken of as “death on a pale horse.”

Timothy Bigelow soon rose to the rank of major, and afterward to that of colonel of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment, which was composed almost exclusively of Worcester countrymen.

He was at the storming of Quebec, at the taking of Burgoyne, in the terrible scenes of Valley Forge and on almost every other field made memorable by the fierce conflicts of the Revolution.

When the war was over, he returned to his home,  his constitution shattered by hard service for his country.  His occupation gone, his money matters in sad derangement, in consequence of that formidable depreciation of the currency, under which $40 was scarcely sufficient to pay for a pair of shoes.

He died at what was long known as the “Bigelow mansion,” formerly the Andrews house, just after he had passed the 50th year of his life.

And thus ended the “love affair” which produced a prodigious excitement in its day.

His direct descendants: —

First: Nancy, born January 2, 1765, married the Hon. Abraham Lincoln, long selectman, etc.

Second: Timothy, born April 30, 1767, married Lucy Precot, died at Medford, May 18, 1821, aged 54 years.

Third: Andrew, born March 30, 1769, died November, 1787.

Fourth: Rufus, born July 7, 1772, died in Baltimore, December 21, 1813, unmarried.

Fifth: Lucy, born May 13, 1774, married the Hon. Luther Lawrence of Groton.

Sixth: Clara, born December 29, 1781, married Tyler Bigelow, Esq. of Watertown.

A son of Col. Bigelow bore the name of his father and was for a long time a prominent lawyer at Groton, and afterwards at Medford in Middlesex county.  John P. Bigelow, formerly secretary of state — and some time mayor of Boston, was a son of Timothy Bigelow, 2nd.

Mrs. Abbott Lawrence (Katherine), a sister of John P. Bigelow and daughter of Timothy 2nd (and I am thinking that they have no occasion to be ashamed of their descent from the poor Irish emigrant).

Anna Rankin, the beautiful daughter of the Irish emigrant James Rankin, who married the young collegian Sam Andrews, whose daughter, Anna Andrews, was the wife of Col. Timothy Bigelow, the patriot blacksmith of the Revolution.

Thus by irresistible destiny, runs the chain of life’s changes, linking on generation after generation, and binding together the last and first of the human race.

First: The humble emigrant, James Rankin, born in Londonderry, Ireland, where his ancestors had lived for 200 years.

Second: His daughter Anna, who married Samuel Andrews, the young collegian.

Third: Their daughter, Anna Andrews, the heiress, who eloped with Tim Bigelow.

Fourth: Timothy Bigelow, the younger, the lawyer and statesman, and John P. Bigelow, his son, who was secretary of state and former mayor of Boston and his sister Katherine, who married the millionaire Lawrence, who represented the United States at the “Court of St. James.”

Fifth: The sons and daughters who, if not already known to fame, may be hereafter.

Note in Lincoln’s History: — After Timothy Bigelow returned from the army, the war being over, he erected a trip hammer and other iron works, on the site of the Court Mills, afterward owned by Stephen Salisbury, Esq.

From Wheelock’s memoirs and other sources.”

Mystery Door

The library at the Oaks, founded by Frederick William Paine.  The six matching floor-to-ceiling double door bookcases contain books on Massachusetts history, Worcester history, early American writings, genealogy, and the history of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The library at the Oaks, founded by Frederick William Paine (1788 – 1869). The six matching floor-to-ceiling double door bookcases contain books on Massachusetts history, Worcester history, early American writings, genealogy, and the history of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Three days after Christmas and three days before the New Year, I was standing in the middle of Frederick William Paine’s old library.  I had just ended an eight year relationship and I needed a distraction.  My eyes moved carefully around the room, surveying row after row of old, leather-bound books behind uneven glass.  Who was Frederick Paine anyway?  Look at all these books.  So peaceful.  Centuries of knowledge sitting quietly on these shelves, and yet my own mind was a restless blaze from a mere forty-something years of living.

Frederick William Paine (1788 - 1869)

Frederick William Paine (1788 – 1869)

I tugged at a drawer on Frederick’s desk and looked inside.  Paper and dust, and a pull knob that had come off  long ago and had never been repaired.   I sighed.  This house needed so much love.  She needed people.   Her potential had gone unattended for so long.  As I considered the long history of the “Oaks,” a house that had seen the Revolution, had been home to several generations of the prominent Worcester Paine family, and for the last hundred years had served as the chapter house for the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Daughters of the American Revolution, I understood that  I was truly at a crossroads.  I was  standing in the midsts of someone else’s life  as I contemplated my own path and the direction I was going to take next.

I turned to the other side of the library and looked with scrutiny at three white doors.   Two were slightly ajar, but the one in the middle was locked.   Why was it locked? How long had it been locked? What was behind that door?   It could be a million dollars.  It could be the answer to the universe!

Skeleton keys to the historic unknown.

Skeleton keys to the historic unknown.

I was a woman on a mission.   I scurried through the house to all the hidey-holes and returned to the library with a fistful of skeleton keys, some labeled, some not.  This one?  No.  How about this?  Fits but doesn’t turn.  Nope not this one either. I have to open that door.  I have to know what is inside.  Key after key after key . . . but still no prize.  I sat on the carpet and leaned against the unyielding white door in resignation, surrounded by keys.  What is it about this time of year that makes people want to clean out closets anyway?

. . . and that’s when I knew that we were a lot alike, the Oaks and me.  We had forgotten ourselves over the years.  It was time to remember where we were coming from, time to retrieve those dreams that had been left by the wayside and it was time to move forward with passion and purpose.    This wasn’t a journey for one, I mused.  It was time to reach out to our friends.

A few days later, armed with two Daughters, the caretaker, the skeleton key that fit but didn’t turn, a can of WD40 and a pocket knife, the mystery was revealed.

A locked door in the Paine library revealed a lost cubby of historic literary treasures.

A locked door in the Paine library revealed a lost cubby of historic literary treasures.

Behind the door was a shallow cubby of shelves filled with old books . . . and not just any old books.  While the library has continued to grow over the years with donations from chapter members and “on loan” collections from the Worcester Art Museum,  these particular books had been part of Frederick Paine’s (1788 – 1869) original library, a library that had been famous in its day for being one of the largest and best in the state.    Many of the title pages had been signed by Frederick and his family.

Frederick was the son of Dr. William “Billie” Paine (1750 – 1833), a respected Loyalist-turned-American Worcester resident, and one of the founders of the American Antiquarian Society.  Frederick was also an active member.  He served on its council and gave generously to their library.

Like his grandfather Judge Timothy Paine (1730 – 1793),  Frederick was also a public servant.  He was representative to the general court in 1829.  He served as selectman from 1827 – 1831 and again from 1838 – 1849. He also served his community as assessor from 1829 – 1848.

In addition to being a perpetual scholar and civic leader, Frederick Paine had a passion for horticulture.  He was an influential member of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, served as its treasurer, and his garden at the Oaks was renowned for the beauty and variety of its flowers and fruit.

The Daughters of the American Revolution Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter members Caroline and Linda examine autographed old books belonging to Frederick William Paine's (1788 - 1869) original library.

The Daughters of the American Revolution Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter members Caroline and Linda examine autographed old books belonging to Frederick William Paine’s (1788 – 1869) original library.

As I sat on the couch in the library contemplating my companions with my camera,  I realized how important the Paine family had been to Worcester.  Their love and devotion to the city was apparent through their public service and dedication to the preservation of antiquities.  I am still a fledgling member of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and I still have so much to learn about the hidden history of the Oaks, but I know one thing for certain: as the chapter historian I owe it to the Paine family to do everything in my power to ensure that the Oaks and her legacy survives.   Their love and devotion to the city Worcester deserves no less.