top of page

File 001 Ireland

Abandoned Home

Address of Judge Thomas M. Bigger


Thomas and Elizabeth Bigger and their children manufactured their own cloth for the wearing apparel of both the men and the women.  That they might have woolen clothing, they early acquired some sheep, and the writer remembers distinctly of Aunt Ann saying that to protect the sheep from the wolves it was necessary to drive them into an enclosure every night.  Among the heirlooms in the writer's possession is a ball of linen thread, spun in Ireland by Thomas Bigger and brought by him to this country.  The strands of this thread seem to be as strong today as when first manufactured.  From flax they obtained the fiber for linen thread and clothing.  It was in the manufacture of cloth that Thomas Bigger's knowledge as a weaver was valuable, especially in the manufacture of linen, which was his trade.  The whole family, however, learned from him the art of spinning and weaving, at least the female members of it.  The writer has the spinning wheel of his greatgrandmother Bigger.


   Photography was, of course, unknown in that day so that we have little knowledge of the physical appearance of these our common ancestors.  We, however, learned from the old people in our family that their father was of medium height and powerfully built, and that their mother was a large woman.  This we also heard from our father, who clearly remembered

seeing her in her old age.  The writer's brother, A. D. Bigger, has a corset worn by her, and a glance at that corset would lead to the conclusion that she must have been an Amazon.  The color of their hair is unknown, but their children presented striking contrasts, some being red haired and of a fair complexion, while others were black haired and of a somewhat swarthy complexion.  Old Uncle Tommy's hair, we were told, was red in his youth, as was also the hair of the grandfather of the

writer, Samuel; while Uncle Tommy Bigger and Aunt Betsy were blacked haired, their hair remaining black until old age.


       These ancestors of ours were a deeply religious people.  Being Scotch-Irish they were, of course, Presbyterians, and they believed implicitly in the theology of Calvin and Knox.  Their religion was no cloak in which to masquerade before the world, but a vital force in their everyday life.  The Holy Bible was indeed their rule of faith and practice.  It was read night and morning at family worship, and every one under the roof was not only expected, but required to be present. The Sabbath was a Holy Day, and observed as such, and even the children were restrained from any undue levity.  These Scotch-Irish seem to have carried with them from Scotland to the North of Ireland, and then across the sea to America the spirit of the Solemn League and Covenant of their Ancestors.  Of course, they were intolerant.  But as we scan the page of history, we are compelled to admit that some of the greatest reformers ever wrought in the world were carried forward by men of deep conviction who were intolerant.  The Catholic Church was anathema to them, and the Episcopal Church, the Established Church of England, which had relentlessly persecuted them, was in their eyes but little better.  But notwithstanding their sternness and their intolerance, the writer has yet to meet and individual, whose childhood and youth were molded and

shaped in such an atmosphere, who did not admit that it had a powerful influence for good throughout his entire life.  These Scotch-Irish ancestors of ours were stern but they were just.  If they did not find it possible, owing to the weakness of our common human nature to love their enemies, they at least did them no harm.  We who have in our veins the blood of both Donaldsons and Biggers have clearly stamped upon us the hallmark of the Scotch-Irish.

Of this Scotch-Irish race Theodore Roosevelt has this to say in his

"Winning of the West:"

"The backwoods men were Americans by birth and parentage and of mixed race.  But the dominant strain in the blood was that of the Presbyterian Irish - the Scotch-Irish as they were called.  Full credit has been awarded the Roundhead and the Cavalier for their leadership in our history.  Nor have we been blind to the deeds of the Hollander and the Huguenot; but it is doubtful if we have fully realized the importance of the part played by that  stern and virile people, the Irish, whose preachers taught the creed of Knox and Calvin.  These Irish representatives of the Covenanters were in the west almost what the

Puritans were in the Northeast, and more than the Cavaliers were in the Southeast.  Mingled with the descendants of many other races, they, nevertheless, formed the kernel of the distinctively American stock who were the pioneers of our people in their march westward, the vanguard of the army of fighting settlers who, with axe and rifle, won their way from the Alleghenies to the Rio Grande and the Pacific."


       In another place he says:

"That these Irish Presbyterians were a bold and hardy race is  proved at once by their boldly pushing past the settled regions and plunging into the wilderness as the leaders of the white advance.  They were the first and last set of emigrants to do this.  All others have merely followed in the wake of their predecessors."


       This is emphatically true of Thomas Bigger and his wife.  They passed at once through the old settled part of the country east of the mountains, and located their home on the extreme frontier, and being located remained.

Thomas Bigger was a man of peace, but he was a man with a vision and a purpose.  He had no desire for warlike deeds or military renown.  To a boy fond of reading of the exploits of Boone and Kenton and Brady, and the Poes, and others of like nature, there was a sort of feeling of disappointment that his parental ancestor had not also shouldered his rifle and gone gunning for Indians.  Upon more mature reflection, however, he has reached the conclusion that his quiet but indomitable

facing of known perils, which constantly surrounded him, furnishes evidence of courage, moral and physical, not surpassed by any of them.


The quiet and patient facing of possible death before the battle is more trying on a brave man's nerves than the heat of the contest.  Beginning in the spring of 1774 and continuing until the close of the Revolutionary War, these ancestors of ours were in constant fear of death at the hands of the savages, in its most cruel form.  And what shall we say of the partner of the joys and sorrows of Thomas Bigger who bravely stood at his side through all these terrible years?  Here mere words are inadequate.  No Spartan wife and mother, in the days when Greece was young, surpassed her in courage and supreme devotion.  Let those in whose veins runs the blood of this woman silently uncover beside her tomb, as you do when the flag of your country passes.  It is becoming in us, their descendants, at this late day, to pay some tribute to the memory of these our ancestors, Donaldsons and Biggers, and all that generation of pure Americans who laid deep and strong the

foundations of the heritage we now enjoy. 

Shortly after Thomas Bigger established his home here, his brother-in-law, John Anderson and his wife, who was a sister of Thomas Bigger, came to live with them.  That it was very shortly after they came here is evidenced by the following incident.  An alarm of an Indian raid came to them.  The two men started the women, with the children, to the east, while they went to find their horses, telling the women they would soon overtake them on the trail.  The children were two in number,

Matthew the older being large enough to walk, while Elizabeth carried the younger.  The Andersons at that time had no children.  After the women had gone some distance they heard an outcry behind them on the

trail.  Believing that their husbands were being murdered by the


       Indians, they struck off into the forest, at right angles to the trail.  Walking by this time had become irksome to Matthew, and he demanded to be carried, refusing with true Scotch stubbornness to travel further on his own feet.  Thereupon, Mrs. Anderson said to her sister-in-law, in the broad Scotch dialect, "Thraw him away," "Thraw him away."  That, however, was asking too much of a mother with reference to her first born son.  What Elizabeth's reply to this suggestion was, we do not know, but we did learn that it resulted in a feeling of dislike on the part of Elizabeth for his sister-in-law, which she never entirely overcame.  The men soon found the women and explained that, coming to a fork in the trail, they were unable to determine which one had been taken by the women and were calling to obtain an answering call.

Salt in bulk, during their early residence here, could not be obtained short of the eastern side of the Alleghenies, and a trip to Chambersburg required from two to three weeks, according to the weather, season of the year, etc.  When away, Elizabeth remained alone in the cabin, but before leaving he blazed a trail for her through the forest to the nearest neighbor, to enable her to go there for fire in case her fire should go out, as there were no friction matches in those days.  After he left she attempted to find this trail but failed.  She, however, kept her fire alive during his absence.

bottom of page