The Bigelow Family
The Squirrels depicted in a watercolor
by Arthur Grey (1885)

The Bigelow correspondence file at Union College primarily consists of letters to John Bigelow himself, but family letters also abound. Bigelow and his wife Jane Tunis Poultney Bigelow had eight children, six of whom lived to adulthood, as well as extensive family connections. Letters passed frequently among them. The majority of the family letters are addressed to or from Bigelow’s immediate kin, particularly his father Asa, brothers Edward and David, sister Adeline, and his children and grandchildren. Many more distant relatives are also represented in the collection.

The dozens of letters in the file addressed simply to the “Bigelow family” also attest to the closeness of the Bigelow family unit, even though its members were often separated by travels or, later in life, by the children’s marriages. Bigelow maintained his homes in New York City and at The Squirrels in Highland Falls, New York throughout intermittent residencies abroad, however, and both were sources of stability. The rural, peaceful atmosphere at The Squirrels in particular provided a “sure anchorage” to Bigelow (Clapp, 197) and was beloved by the entire family, while the Bigelow home at 21 Gramercy Park in the city placed them at the center of society.

Jane Tunis Poultney Bigelow.

Several of Bigelow’s children were married more than once. In order to provide a common link to their letters over what was usually decades of correspondence, the latest form of their names has been used for indexing purposes in the database. The chosen name forms and a brief biographical note for Bigelow’s wife and each of their adult children is provided below.

Bigelow, Jane Tunis Poultney: Bigelow’s wife Jane (1829-1889) was a vivacious and spirited companion of enormous charm who particularly shone in social circles abroad. Although Bigelow himself sometimes found her behavior “audacious” (John Bigelow, diary entry for November 27, 1867), her boundless vitality endeared her not only to him but to many of his closest friends and associates.

Bigelow, Grace: Born 1852, the Bigelow’s eldest daughter never married but remained at the center of the family and was her father’s chief support and amanuensis in the latter part of his life. Fluent in several languages, she was an accomplished translator and supported various charitable and civic causes before her death at age 80. Next to her father, Grace is represented by the most number of letters in the correspondence file, which includes the condolence letters sent to her as the chief representative of the family at the time of John Bigelow’s death in 1911.

Bigelow, John, 1854-1936: The eldest surviving son, John Bigelow graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served for many years in the American West with the Buffalo Soldiers and in the Spanish-American War. He was briefly superintendent of Yosemite National Park, taught in the Modern Languages Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and authored a number of books on military history and strategy. He also completed the last two volumes of his father’s memoir, Retrospections of an Active Life. The correspondence file at Union College also includes a substantial number of letters addressed to and from his wife, Mary Braxton Dallam Bigelow.

Bigelow, Poultney: Poultney was the second son of that name born to John and Jane Bigelow. (The first died before he was two years old in 1853; this Poultney was born in 1855.) He graduated from Yale University and Columbia Law School. A journalist and writer, he wrote dispatches for a variety of newspapers and authored more than a dozen books. He was married twice; the correspondence file at Union College also includes a substantial number of letters addressed to and from his first wife, Edith Evelyn Jaffray Bigelow.

Tracy, Jenny Bigelow: Jenny, born in 1859, was educated both at home and abroad. She married New York attorney Charles Edward Tracy in 1886 and had two children. She lived to the age of 96 and was an early member of the Colony Club (the first social club in New York City founded by and for women, established in 1903) and was involved with a variety of civic and charitable causes.

Harding, Annie Bigelow: Annie, born in Europe in 1863, spent many of her childhood years in Paris and Berlin with her parents and siblings. She married Butler Kenning Harding in 1889. Numerous letters from their daughter Charlotte Kenner Harding are also included in the correspondence file at Union College.

Guest, Flora Bigelow Dodge: The Bigelow’s youngest child and daughter, born in 1868, was an author of several modest works including a World War I-era cookbook. She had two children, Lucy and John, from her first marriage to Charles Stuart Dodge, and after a divorce married Canadian civil engineer Lionel George William Guest in 1905.


Image Sources:
The Squirrels (1885): Union College Schaffer Library, Special Collections, John Bigelow Collection.
Jane Poultney Bigelow: Bigelow, John Retrospections of an Active Life, Vol. 3, 1909. Union College Schaffer Library.