File 001 Ireland
Address of Judge Thomas M. Bigger
Upon landing, Thomas Bigger's party started at once for Chambersburg, PA, the home of his two older brothers, and the first winter of 1773-74 was spent with these older brothers at Chambersburg. In the spring of 1774, they crossed the mountains and came to the home of Thomas Bigger'sbrother Samuel, at the junction of the rivers Monogahela and Youghiogheny. It is not recalled that the old people ever said anything about the means of transportation from Chambersburg to the home of
Samuel Bigger, but it must have been an arduous undertaking in 1774 to cross the rugged range of mountains, densely wooded and without roads.
It is true that not long before that General Braddock, on his ill-fated expedition, had cut a rude trail over the mountains, but it is not known to the writer at what point it crossed the range, nor that they made use of it. Neither did we learn from the old people, so far as recalled, whether Thomas Bigger's mother and the unmarried sister, crossed the mountain with Thomas Bigger and his wife in the spring of 1774. From another circumstance often related by these old people, it is known that he did not have his mother or unmarried sister with him when he first established his home here. The story was often heard from the old folks that shortly after he came here information was brought to him that his mother had said that she had come all the way from Ireland expecting to live with her son, Thomas, but that it now appeared she would not be able to do so. When he heard this, he immediately went for her and brought her to his own home, where she lived the remainder of her life, as a member of his family. The old woman was afraid to ride on a horse across the streams, and when they came to a stream he located a fording place, then took her off the horse and carried her across on his back, returning for the horse or horses. From this, it seems reasonable to conclude that the mother and unmarried sister were left in the spring of 1774 with James and John at Chambersburg. But whether he had only his wife with him when they crossed the Alleghenies in the spring of 1774, or whether his mother and unmarried sister came to Samuel Bigger's home with them, it was a dangerous trip in 1774. They must have known of the danger that confronted them. They had lived a quiet, peaceful life in a densely settled community. They were, therefore, unfamiliar with life in the forests on the frontier, and the cries of wild beasts in the forests on the Alleghenies must have been weird music in the ears of those people from the pastoral hills and valleys of old Antrim. The truth about the dangers they confronted was bad enough but as the description of such dangers seldom loses anything in the telling it is easy to conceive that it required high courage on the part of these ancestors of ours to face them, as they sought a home in the trackless wilderness beyond the Alleghenies.
During the preceding winter, spent at Chambersburg, they had undoubtedly learned that General Braddock's army had been cut to pieces by the French and Indians, near the very spot where Samuel Bigger lived. They also doubtless heard that at Great Meadows George Washington and his band of Virginians had also been defeated by the same foe. Of course, they could not fail to have learned of lurking savages who, from ambush, shot the settlers in their dooryards. They must have known that no white man or woman could establish a home beyond that forbidding range of mountains and be safe for a single hour in 1774. Yet they faced these dangers unflinchingly. At the time of his marriage, Thomas was about thirty years of age, and his wife was nineteen years of age.
What must have been the motive of these ancestors of ours who were willing to face these dangers? Remember that they were not escaping from British rule, for the colonies were still under the rule of the British Crown. Two more years were to elapse before the Declaration of Independence was written. The impelling motive, as we learned it from their own children, was to secure a home for themselves which would really belong to them and their children. They had heard that in America fertile soil in prodigal abundance lay open to him who would take it and improve it. Compared to the land of promise beyond the sea, Ireland to them appeared to be a land of bondage. To a people of high spirit and imagination, their condition in the north of Ireland was deplorable and intolerable. It is difficult, if not impossible, for their descendants of today to realize and appreciate the land hunger of this Scotch-Irish race. The exactions of the landlords in Ireland left for them the barest subsistence and the dreary prospect of their dependence upon others in their old age. The frontier line in America, pushing back the forest and its savage inhabitants, was composed predominantly of this hardy race.
On arriving at his brother's home at the point where McKeesport now stands, Thomas Bigger borrowed a horse to carry him in his search for a location for his home west of the Monongahela River. How far he went in this search we do not know, or the circumstance that led to his decision to locate here we do not know from the statements of the old people in
our family. As he rode along the hillside above the site which afterward became his home, he said he observed that the soil which the horse's hoof's turned up seemed to be rich, and he further observed below him on the hillside what appeared to be an opening in the forest; that he rode down to it and discovered that some one had made a deadening in the forest, and erected a cabin of small logs to the square, but had not roofed it. That it appeared to him that whoever had made this improvement must have abandoned it.
While we do not know who made this improvement, we do know that no one ever appeared to claim it and the conclusion to which Thomas Bigger and his wife came was that he had either been frightened away by the Indians or perhaps killed by them.
On returning to his brother Samuel's home he reported to his wife what he had found, and she decided the question in favor of that place as the site of their future home, and to it, they came. There their children were all born. But not all in the same house. None of them were born in the present building, which was the third building erected at that point by Thomas Bigger. This rude cabin which was their first home was not occupied long until it was succeeded by a better log building, which was occupied until the present building was erected, which, as before stated, was in 1796 or 1797. All of the children were born either in the rude cabin, which he found in the forest without a roof, or in the second and more substantial cabin built sometime later. That Thomas was not much of a carpenter is indicated by the fact that when he put a roof on the rude cabin, he did not extend the roof beyond the logs, but abutted the clapboards against the logs on the inside, so that the water ran down inside the cabin when it rained.
The old people in the family often stated that their father and mother had told them that they never wanted for necessities of life, except during their first year here, when hunger was not an entire stranger to them. It would seem, with the forests full of wild game, bear, deer and wild turkey, that they should have had no difficulty in securing meat. From statements often heard from the old people it appears that their father had little skill with a rifle, and no taste for it. It is not at all certain that he even owned a gun when he first came here, and no gun said to have been his was left in the family, so far as known. He must, however, have had some sort of a gun, for he belonged to the militia and was called out for duty at times.
The statement was often made by these old people, in our hearing, that their father was enrolled in the militia, and that he was called out on one or more occasions to do patrol duty along the Ohio River. Each man was given a station and his beat along the river extended one mile each way until he met the next patrol. This duty it seems was performed at times when danger of Indian raids threatened the settlers.
The children in the family enjoyed pets as much as the children of this sophisticated age, we learn, especially from Aunt Ann. She stated that the boys often brought fawns, which they found in the forest, to the home, of which they made pets, and she spoke of the great beauty of these little animals, but also remarked that when the bucks attained their growth, and a set of antlers, they became vicious and had to be slaughtered. She also stated that the boys shot so many wild turkeys that she grew tired of plucking the feathers and for a time tried skinning them. In these days, when turkey has a money flavor, the descendents of these old Biggers and Donaldsons would do considerable plucking if that was all that stood between them and a turkey roast.
In 1774, there was no mill for grinding grain in these trackless forests of the West. The writer has the first mill, which was used by the Biggers to obtain flour or cornmeal. It is a simple iron mortar and pestle. It is impossible to say how long this mill was used. The next was a small mill closely resembling the old fashioned coffee mill, which would only produce a coarse flour or meal. This is in the possession of the writer's brother, A. D. Bigger. The third form of mill, which came some time later, was a horse mill, and a treadmill upon which a horse walked and furnished the motor power for the mill. Some
time later came the water mills, along the streams, which were in general use well within the recollection of the writer.