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Archives & Special Collections: John Bigelow


John Bigelow, originally from Malden, NY, attended Washington College (Trinity) in Hartford, CT. Dissatisfied with his education there he transferred to Union College in 1834 and graduated in 1835. Bigelow then became a member of the Free-Soil Democrats in 1844 and then editor of the New York Post in 1848.  He and his partner William C. Bryant were anti-slavery and used the newspaper to promote this message.  Bigelow began to travel in the 1850s, making journeys to Jamaica and Haiti to study the culture of those islands.

A few years later, Bigelow traveled to Europe, where he made connections with foreign leaders and thinkers.  These friendships were a great help to him when he was named consul-general to Paris in 1861 and then minister to France in 1866.  Bigelow was a valuable asset to President Lincoln during the American Civil War as he helped sway pro-confederate sentiments that existed in Europe at the time.

There is no doubt that John Bigelow led a full life.  His five volume autobiography, Retrospections of an Active Life, chronicle his many travels and political ideology.  Union College Special Collections holds his correspondence, diaries and papers.  This remarkable collection spans almost a century, from 1816-1911, and touches on many facets of Bigelow's life.  A close examination of a ten year period of his life would be a fascinating way to investigate this man's life and times.

Primary Sources

The John Bigelow Papers are located in Special Collections

John Bigelow, Retrospections of an Active Life. New York: The Baker & Taylor Co., 1909.  CALL # E469.B59 1909 v.1-3 or UJ6 B592 v.1-3 (Only available in Special Collections)

The New York Public Library also has a digital collection of his papers.

Secondary Sources

Marie von Bunsen, The World I Used to Know, 1860-1912 (London: T. Butterworth ltd., 1930)  

Margaret Clapp, Forgotten first Citizen John Bigelow. Boston: Little Brown, 1947.

John M. Taylor, William Henry Seward: Lincoln's Right HandNew York: Harper Collins, 1991.