File 001 Ireland
Address of Judge Thomas M. Bigger, of Columbus, Ohio
at the Donaldson/Bigger Reunion
Held August 24th, 1929
Robinson U. P. Church, Washington County, PA
"This is the address that was given at the 1929 reunion of the Bigger/Donaldson families. It is a very interesting account of the disputed Washington lands, as well as an account of the Massacre at Fort Dillow. A fairly detailed look at life in the wilderness of western PA in the late 1770s and beyond. Here is the first section - cover page through page 10."
This is a joint reunion of the Biggers and Donaldsons, who trace their descent to Thomas Bigger or James Donaldson, or both of them. The descendants of these two men, however, in the years gone by, did so much in the way of unions that to hold a reunion of either of them now would call out most of the others. So it was thought best not to attempt to unscramble what had become so thoroughly scrambled but to hold a joint reunion. The representative of those bearing the name of Donaldson, and the representative of those who bear the name of Bigger, who will on this occasion sketch the early history of these two men and their families, are each equally related to both of these two men. We are both grandsons of the same son of James Donaldson, while one of us is the grandson of one of the sons of Thomas Bigger, and the other the grandson of another son of Thomas Bigger. So that in our veins there flows an equal current of the blood of both of these our common ancestors. If therefore, either of us shall say anything about these ancestors which shall reflect credit upon their descendants, it will reflect credit equally upon both of us.
Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, some years ago, in a speech made in the Senate of the United States, had occasion to say something about the influence of heredity. He remarked that it was an interesting study but that it was attended by some danger. By way of illustration, he said that a friend of his had told him of his experience in tracing the history of his family. His friend said he had no difficulty at all until he came to his great grandfather, who was a cashier of a bank in New England, and that he had traced him as far as Borneo and there lost all trace of him. There seemed to be some connection between his position as cashier of a bank and the difficulty of tracing him beyond Borneo. We do not anticipate any such difficulty in our case.
The writer of this sketch has been assigned the task of bringing to your notice something of the early history of the Bigger family in America or rather that branch of it descended from Thomas Bigger and Elizabeth Moore, who became his wife shortly before they emigrated to America. This labor of love has been imposed upon him, he has no doubt, by reason of the fact that he, together with his brother and sister, enjoyed opportunities in their childhood and youth not possessed by many
others now living, to learn of the early life in this country of our branch of the Bigger Family. Of eleven children to Thomas and Elizabeth Bigger, three of them were members of our family, familiarly known as Uncle Tommy, Aunt Ann, and Aunt Betsy. This was the unmarried portion of the family still living when we appeared upon the scene, two others, Matthew the firstborn of the family, and Jean, who were also members of this unmarried portion of the family, having died before we were
born. Of this family of eleven children, only four were married. The children of Thomas and Elizabeth Bigger were all born before 1900, the first in 1774 and the last in 1797. Of the three who were members of our family, Uncle Tommy was born in 1783, Aunt Ann in 1785, and Aunt Betsy in 1797.
It is by reason of the date of the birth of Aunt Betsy, together with our recollection of a statement we have frequently heard her make, that we are able to fix the date of the building of the central part of the ancestral home, still in good state of preservation. This statement was that she had frequently heard her father and mother say that the house was built before she was born, but that they did not move into it until after that event. This fixes the date of the building as either 1796 or
1797, as Aunt Betsy was born in March 1798. This central part of the house is, of course, constructed of logs, but since our recollection, it has been covered by weatherboards.
These three old people in the long winter evenings, as we sat around the grate or log fire, for we had both, would sometimes grow reminiscent and would relate incidents of that early period which were of a character calculated to remain in the memory of boys and girls. It is by reason of this fact, and because there were three of them, all having knowledge of the facts about which they talked, that the writer and his brother and sister enjoyed peculiar opportunity to learn something of that early period.
It is the writer's purpose on this occasion to confine himself to the early period of the history of the family, leaving it to another occasion, and perhaps to another hand, to supplement it by sketching the later history of the family. To go beyond that would be impossible in a single paper on an occasion like this. Nor is it of such importance at this time, as that those who perhaps alone now living to possess the knowledge of these matters should set them down before it is too late, so that they may be preserved for present and future generations.
The Biggers were Scotch-Irish, that is they were Scotch but at some period now unknown, and for some reason or reasons, also unknown, but perhaps because of religious persecution had been transplanted in the north of Ireland, in the County of Antrim. The writer has often heard the old people in the family say that their father said his ancestors had been "Lairds", that is, Lords, in Scotland.
Lee Bigger, of Iowa, who was touring Scotland some years ago, in a letter to his cousin, Samuel Bigger, of Smithfield, Ohio, says that he obtained the information from Francis Joseph Bigger, Solicitor of Belfast, that the name "Bigger" had been traced back to Scotland in 1136, and that the records in Edinboro show that on April 26th, 1136, a Bigger, who was then High Chamberlain of Scotland, paid a visit to King William at Northumberland.
Mrs. Florence Bigger, of Pittsburgh, who visited Scotland and spent some time in tracing the family history says that one Walter Bigger held a high office in the Royal household when Scotland had her own kings, that of Lord High Chamberlain of the King's Household and that records are still in existence to establish this fact. This would be verification of the statement made by Thomas Bigger that his ancestors had belonged to the nobility of Scotland.
The family had a coat of arms which represents a pelican, with her young at her feet, vulning, that is wounding, her breast to feed her hungry brood from her own blood, according to the myth to that effect. The motto under the crest is "Giving and Forgiving". The ancient chiefs of the clan are said to have been retainers of the Royal clan of Scotland, the clan Stuart.
The father of Thomas Bigger was named Matthew. He died in Ireland before the emigration of his son Thomas to this country. The date of his death is not known. Thomas Bigger had three brothers who had emigrated to this country at some time prior to his coming. The names of these brothers were James, John, and Samuel, and according to recollection, this was the order of their ages, Thomas being the youngest. James and John, in 1773, were living at the junction of the rivers Monongahela and Youghiogheny, where McKeesport now stands.
Thomas Bigger and Elizabeth Moore were married shortly before they came to this country. It is reasonable to conclude that, before this marriage, his immediate family in Ireland, after the death of his father must have consisted of himself, his mother, and one unmarried sister, for when he came he brought his mother and one unmarried sister, and his wife. But he had at least one other sister, for he had in this country two married sisters. One of them was married to a man named Walker, and
the other to a man named Anderson. The date of the coming of Thomas Bigger, his wife, mother, and sister, was 1773. Of course, they came in a sailing vessel, and the port of departure was Londonderry. When the green hills of Erin faded from view it was the last sight of their native land, for they never returned.
This undoubtedly did not cause Thomas Bigger any great regret, for these old people in our family often told us that their father said that the last year he worked in the harvest. fields of Antrim, and after the last wheat had been cut, he threw his
sickle as far as he could, declaring that this was the last wheat he would ever reap for King George. They also stated that he informed them that he had delayed his departure to this country for some time because of the danger of being impressed, while on the high seas, into the service of his Majesty's Navy.
It seems the Biggers were members of the Presbyterian Church at Ballemony, and the writer of this paper has in his possession the certificate issued to them by the Session of the Church at Ballemony in 1773. This certificate includes Thomas, his wife, mother, and sister.
Thomas Bigger was a weaver by trade, but from what has just been stated, it would appear that he also worked, at least in the harvest season, in the field. Before leaving Ireland he had provided what he believed to be a sufficient supply of food for the four persons composing his immediate party. There were, however, long periods of calm, when the ship made little or no progress, and the voyage dragged out to a period of between two and three months. As a result, there was a serious famine on board. To meet this situation the captain of the vessel requisitioned all the goods on board, including that of our ancestors, and placed everyone on board on short rations drawn from that common food supply this created. Upon arriving at Baltimore, the termination of the voyage, the captain paid him in money for the food, which he requisitioned.
Thomas Bigger & Elizabeth Moore