John Bigelow papers

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Collection Data

John Bigelow (1817-1911) was an American author, editor and diplomat. His papers consist of correspondence, diaries, writings, and other papers relating to his career as editor of the New York Evening Post, as inspector of prisons in New York State, as United States Consul and Chargé d'Affaires at Paris, France, as Minister to the Court of Napoleon III, as United States Commissioner to the Brussels International Exhibition (1888), and as friend and advisor to Philippe Bunau-Varilla on the selection of the Panama route and the construction of the Panama Canal. Includes correspondence and documents relating to prison reform in New York State, the construction in France and England of warships for the Confederate Navy, the movement of Confederate ships in European waters, Confederate activities in Europe, the establishment at the Académie française of the Botta Prize, and the fitness of John C. Frémont for the Republican presidential candidacy in 1856. Also, manuscripts and typescripts of Bigelow's writings on various subjects, and correspondence with William Cullen Bryant, John Hay, William H. Huntington, Samuel J. Tilden, and other notable persons.
Bigelow, John, 1817-1911 (Creator)
Bryant, William Cullen, 1794-1878 (Correspondent)
Hay, John, 1838-1905 (Correspondent)
Tilden, Samuel J. (Samuel Jones), 1814-1886 (Correspondent)
Bigelow, John, 1817-1911 (Author)
Bigelow, John, 1817-1911 (Addressee)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1839 - 1912
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 301
Awards -- France
Diplomatic and consular service, American -- France
Exhibitions -- Belgium -- Brussels
Journalism -- New York (State) -- New York
Navigation -- Europe
Presidential candidates -- United States
Prisons -- New York (State)
Shipbuilding -- England
Shipbuilding -- France
Warships -- Confederate States of America
Confederate States of America -- Foreign relations -- Europe
Confederate States of America -- History, Naval
Panama -- Politics and government -- 1821-1903
Panama Canal (Panama) -- History
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Naval operations
United States -- Politics and government -- 1853-1857
Evening post (New York, N.Y. : 1832)
Bunau-Varilla, Philippe, 1859-1940
Frémont, John Charles, 1813-1890
Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, 1808-1873
Académie française
Brussels International Exhibition (1888)
Confederate States of America. Navy
United States. Consulate (Paris, France)
Biographical/historical: John Bigelow was a newspaper editor, Civil War-era diplomat, and author. He was born in Bristol (now Malden), New York, and, when not in Europe, lived in New York City near Gramercy Park, or at his home, "The Squirrels," at Buttermilk Falls (now Highland Falls), New York. After a period of studying law, teaching, and writing for the newspapers, Bigelow was appointed an inspector at Sing Sing State Prison in 1845 with the help of then New York State Assemblyman Samuel J. Tilden. Bigelow, influenced by Tilden, had joined the Free-Soil Democrats in 1844. Leaving Sing Sing in 1848, Bigelow became co-owner and co-editor, with William Cullen Bryant, of the New York Evening Post. During his years at the Post, Bigelow married Jane Poultney (1850); traveled to Jamaica (1850), Haiti (1853), and Europe (1858-1860); began reading works of Emanuel Swedenborg in 1854; and campaigned for John C. Frémont, the Republican Party's first presidential candidate, in his 1856 race. From 1861-1864 Bigelow served as President Lincoln's consul to Paris where his efforts were aimed at influencing the French in favor of the Union cause. While in Paris Bigelow managed to stop the sale of ships being constructed in French shipyards to the Confederacy. In 1865 he was made chargé d'affaires to France, thus remaining there until 1867. After a two month period as editor of the New York Times in 1869, Bigelow returned to Europe, living in Germany from 1879 to 1873. In 1875, back in the United States, he was appointed by Tilden, now governor of New York, to be chairman of the Erie Canal Investigating Commission. The Commission was formed to investigate the activities of the "Canal Ring," a group of state officials and contractors who were diverting money meant for the maintenance of the Erie Canal. That same year, 1875, Bigelow, now a member of the Democratic Party, was elected New York Secretary of State. After the 1870s Bigelow spend most of his time writing and editing. His remaining public responsibilities included his role as an executor of the Tilden Trust and in the founding of The New York Public Library; traveling to Panama in 1886 to prepare a report of the progress of the Panama Canal as a guest of the Panama Canal Company and a representative of the New York Chamber of Commerce; in 1888 he was commissioner of the United States section of the Brussels International Exhibition; and in 1893 he was a delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention. Bigelow was the author of numerous books and articles. These included biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Samuel J. Tilden, William Cullen Bryant, and others; a campaign biography of John C. Frémont; an autobiography; books and articles about French and American history and foreign relations, Swedenborgianism, Haiti and Jamaica, and a variety of other topics.
Content: Five boxes contain general correspondence, 1849-1911, dating from early in Bigelow's career until his death. Correspondence is with colleagues, public figures, family members, and friends, and concerns professional and personal matters, and public affairs. The bulk of the letters were written by Bigelow. Major or prominent correspondents include: Charles Francis Adams; George Bancroft; William Cullen Bryant; Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a chief engineer of the Panama Canal, Panamanian representative to the United States during the Panama Revolution, and a friend (copies of Bunau-Varilla's letters to people other than Bigelow concerning the Canal are included); Samuel L. Clemens; J. Coppinger; Charles A. and Richard Henry Dana; John Dix; Anton Dohrn; Richard Watson Gilder; Parke Godwin; John Hay; J. Henderson; E.P. Hurlburt; Louis Kleke; Kohlisch, the gardener at "The Squirrels," reporting on house and garden matters and village news, M.D. Lasker; Henry Parry; Wilhelm Platenius; Isaac Seligman; William H. Seward; George T. Trimble; Martin Van Buren; John C. Fremont; Adele Granger; Herbert M. Hover. Recipients of Bigelow's letters include: Nelson M. Beckwith, an American living in Paris who advocated an improved railroad system in the United States; Anne and Vincenzo Botta; James Brooks; John Bright; William Cullen Bryant; Philippe Bunau-Varilla; Georg von Bunsen; Andrew Carnegie; Hamilton Fish, Parke Godwin; Lionel Guest, Bigelow's son-in-law; William Hargreaves; John Hay; George Hoadley; Herbert M. Hover; Kohlisch; J.P. Morgan; Frances Parker; L.V.F. Randolph; Whitelaw Reid; Theodore Roosevelt; William Russell; William H. Seward and others. A few letters are in French or German. Also included are significant groups of correspondence with his friends Charles and Fanny Campbell Eames, 1844-1906, relating chiefly to personal matters; William Henry Huntington, 1864-1885, concerning Huntington's collection of Benjamin Franklin material, book collecting, and general matters; Samuel J. Tilden, 1860-1887, concerning the public affairs; William H. Seward, 1856-1868; publishers of his books, 1862-1912, and related contracts, agreements, and accounts; and his sons John, Jr. and Poultney, daughters-in-law Mary and Edith, and grandson Braxton. Correspondence, reports, accounts, legal documents, notes, and memoranda dating from Bigelow's periods as consul and chargé d'affaires in Paris concern general consular matters. Some specific topics discussed include: European reactions to Lincoln's assassination; the death of James H. Dickson; the buring of the steamer William Nelson; Confederate activities in Europe; construction of ships in France for the Confederate navy. Also included are: correspondence, reports, and other documents, 1845-1855, concerning Sing Sing State Prison; correspondence with John C. Fremont and his wife, author Jessie B. Fremont, and others concerning Fremont's 1856 presidential campaign; correspondence with related accounts ad printed material, 1865-1894, concerning the United States Treasury Department's claim, made during the 1880s for funds owed Bigelow since his period as consul, Bigelow's vindication, and the claim against the government by the heirs of Joseph Binda (died 1864), who had been a United States Consul at Leghorn, for salary owed him; correspondence with Anne Botta, Vincenzo Botta, and others, 1871-1883, relating to the establishment of the Botta Prize, a prize awarded by the Académie Fran?aise to the author of the best work on the condition of women. Anne Botta provided the funds for the prize and Bigelow assisted them with the arrangements. Correspondence, accounts, and other documents, 1886-1889, relate to Bigelow's position as commissioner of the United States section of the Brussels International Exhibition in 1888. Bigelow's correspondence, printed and typescript addresses, speeches, articles, and other writings, 1886-1909, by Bigelow, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, Theodore Roosevelt, and others, concern the Panama Canal. Miscellaneous pocket diaries, appointment, address, and memoranda books, 1858-1911; notes, memorabilia; and bound material are included. John Bigelow's diaries form an important component of the collection. These 39 volumes cover the years 1843-1911, documenting his professional life, travels, personal and family matters, and public affairs. Separate travel journals describe Bigelow's trips to Jamaica (1850 January -March), and Haiti and St. Thomas (1853 November - 1954 February).
Acquisition: Donated by Grace Bigelow, 1924-1932; Grace Bigelow Cook, 1962; purchases from Rendell and Gilman's, 1972
Creation/production credits: Compiled by Richard Salvato. Finding aid revised by Julie Miller, 1987.
Physical Description
Extent: 22.9 linear feet (37 boxes, 76 volumes)
Type of Resource
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b12077733
MSS Unit ID: 301
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): ade6cf60-9a4a-0139-5029-0242ac110002
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