File 001 Ireland
Address of Judge Thomas M. Bigger
From what we learned from the old people, the first business engaged in by Thomas Bigger which brought in any considerable return in money was the growing of wheat. This wheat was hauled to the gristmill and converted into flour. The flour was barreled and hauled to Pittsburgh, where it was sold, to be floated down the Ohio River on flatboats to
New Orleans, where it was doubtless largely exported. The writer learned from his grandfather, Samuel, that he hauled the flour to Pittsburgh using six horses in a team. Wheat then grew luxuriantly, as the elements necessary to its growth were present in the virgin soil, which later were exhausted.
Another incident of that early period which should be made a matter of record is the following, which occurred shortly after Thomas Bigger came here, and probably the first year. Two young men were making an improvement for someone named Hollingsworth, at or near the place where James Witherspoon now resides. After the day's work was done, on a hot
summer day, these young men went down to Raccoon Creek for a swim, and one of them drowned. The other man, name unknown, went to his nearest neighbor, Thomas Bigger, and brought him to the spot, which was just below the mouth of Chamberlain's Run. The name of this young man who was drowned was Richard Dixon, and the writer's father often pointed out to him a large tree, at the foot of which Dixon's grave was located, but this tree has been long gone, as the land was afterward cleared. While the young man went to Washington for the coroner, Thomas Bigger remained beside the body, passing at least one night in that lonely vigil in the forest. It might be well for the descendants of Thomas Bigger to do what the writer's father said was his purpose, to place a large stone near the spot, with the name of Richard Dixon engraved thereon, to make the last resting place of this young man who was as early as our ancestor, and who was his nearest neighbor.
As to the long period of time covered by the lives of this family of children of Thomas and Elizabeth Bigger, attention is called to the fact that of the ten brothers and sisters of Aunt Betsy Bigger, seven of them were born more than a hundred years before her death, and one of them died one hundred and seven years before her death. The entire period from the birth of Matthew to the death of Aunt Betsy was a period of one hundred and thirteen years.
All of these children of Thomas and Elizabeth Bigger continued to reside during their lives in the immediate neighborhood of the ancestral home, except James. James Bigger established his home in 1816 or 1817 on a farm near Frankfort Springs, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and continued to reside there until his death, which occurred on October 15th, 1861. He is buried in the churchyard of Frankfurt Springs U. P. Church.
But this sketch must be brought to an end. The bridge across this chasm of the years, resulting from childhood and youth joining hands with old age, may seem to some to be a somewhat unstable structure for the passage of authentic records of events so far in the past; but as to the substance of the incidents related, it is believed by those who listened to the recital of them that they are an authentic statement of facts. Of the ten children of Thomas and Elizabeth Bigger, who grew to
manhood and womanhood, the writer knew six of them intimately. These were the three who lived in our family, Samuel, the writer's grandfather; Andrew, who lived on the adjoining farm in our boyhood; and Martha, the wife of Nathaniel McBride. All of them were of sound mind and memory. Aunt Ann in particular possessed a remarkable memory. These matters were stated as the truth by these old people, who were nearing the end of life; they were not addicted to the circulation of falsehoods. Whenever it has been possible to verify their statements, they have been verified. This is especially true of the incident, which brings the Father of his Country into the picture. It was many years after we heard the old people speak of Washington's visit before the writer learned that Washington's diary contained an account of it.
As to the Fort Dillow incident, the location of it was a matter of common knowledge in this neighborhood. It was always referred to as Fort Dillow, although the Fort had long ago disappeared, and was doubtless destroyed by the Indians.
It is believed that no one who has written of the history of this country has ever mentioned Fort Dillow and the tragic fate of its inmates. Of course, they had never heard of it. It required something more than a mere report of an Indian raid to drive these ancestors of ours from their home permanently, for they had fled before on the occasion of such rumors, but always returned again to it. The tragic fate of Fort Dillow, however, was a more serious matter, which impelled them to
desert the home and buy another, when they already had expended some years of labor on the one they had. No one who knew these children of Thomas and Elizabeth Bigger, would for a moment believe they fabricated this story, or that their parents fabricated it. We have often heard these old people say that their father insisted, as long as he lived, when the subject came up, that on the night before the massacre at Fort Dillow he was wide awake when he heard Quinn's voice. None of the inmates of the Fort were left to tell the tale except the Dillow boy, and according to our recollection, it was stated that he went back to live with the Indians.
Before closing this sketch the writer desires at this late day to say a few words of personal appreciation and acknowledge an obligation to one of these children of Thomas Bigger which was unusual in its nature. This obligation rests equally upon the writer and his brother and sister. We had the misfortune to lose our mother when the writer, the oldest of her children, was but seven years of age, and our sister but two years of age. Upon her deathbed, our mother committed her children
to Aunt Betsy and asked of her that she take the place of a mother to her motherless children. Aunt Betsy was then sixty-six years of age, and this was a weighty obligation for a woman of that age to assume but the promise was given. The three of us are living witnesses to the faithfulness with which that trust was discharged. Day and night, in sickness and in health, that benign influence surrounded us. The loss of a good mother is an irreparable loss, but no mother could have been
more solicitous for the welfare of her own children than was this aged woman for our welfare. The moral grandeur of this daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Bigger, her utter unselfishness, and her supreme devotion to the call of duty, glows more brightly with the passing of the years. Few now living knew her. Her life reflects light upon our common ancestors, which cannot be mistaken. We have often heard her say that God had prolonged her life, in order that she might carry out the trust reposed in her by our mother. She lived nearly a quarter of a century after she assumed that trust, dying at the age of ninety-one.
We, who are descendants of Thomas Bigger and James Donaldson, (for what I am saying applies equally to both) have no reason to be ashamed of our ancestors. They were plain, earnest, God-fearing people. In this highly commercial and industrial age, we are in some danger of losing some things, which they regarded of greater importance than the mere accumulation of wealth. We belong to a virile race, which has had no superior in great achievements in every field of human endeavor. Weare the bearers of the torch of the race. Let us carry it proudly and transmit it undimmed to future generations. Courage and integrity have been two of the outstanding characteristics of the race. These, our, ancestors stood ever ready to lend a helping hand to their neighbor in his time of need oftentimes to their financial loss, but to the everlasting gain of the memories we cherish. There was always the open door and a welcome to the board for the wayfarer. They perhaps did not possess many of the graces, which mark polite society; but they possessed the fundamental traits of character, which mark the highest types of manhood and womanhood, in all ages and under all conditions.
In the light of everything we know of these ancestors of ours, let us each one seriously ask ourselves, are we worthy descendants of Thomas Bigger and James Donaldson, and the heroic women who were their wives?
There is appended to this sketch the dates of the births and deaths of the children of Thomas Bigger and Elizabeth Moore, his wife.
Matthew Bigger, born March 9, 1774; died November 11, 1849
Jane Bigger, born March 1776; died August 30, 1851
John Bigger, born March 1778; died November 11, 1808
James Bigger, born March 1780; died October 1, 1780
Thomas Bigger, born March 1783; died February 8, 1870
Ann Bigger, born August 1785; died August 9, 1872
James Bigger, born March 1787; died October 15, 1881
Samuel Bigger, born March 1789; died March 17, 1873
Martha Bigger, born April 1791; died October 20, 1866
Andrew Bigger, born March 1793; died October 18, 1869
Elizabeth Bigger, born January 18, 1797; died September 11, 1887