Bigelow, John P. (John Prescott), 1797-1872
John Prescott Bigelow was the son of Timothy Bigelow, who for eleven years was speaker of the House of Representatives, and was the grandson of Colonel Timothy Bigelow, the Revolutionary hero of Worcester. His birthplace was Groton, where he was born August 25, 1797. Mr. Bigelow graduated from Harvard in 1815.
He was admitted to the bar in 1818. In 1824, he went abroad, where he spent some years. His wife died in 1847, and his son also was taken from him. He turned to politics, in which he had early taken an interest.
He became a member of the Common Council for Ward 9, where he served nine years, being president of the council in 1832 and 1833. He was one of those who worked hardest to stay the cholera scourge which afflicted Boston. In 1828, the Whigs elected him to the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, to which he was reelected, with the exception of one year, until 1836. He was prominent in the movement to reduce the number of membership (which was then over 700), was active on many committees, and took a leading part in railroad legislation.
From 1836 to 1843, he served as Secretary of State with marked ability, and then became a member of the executive council under Governor Briggs, serving four years. He was elected mayor in 1848. During his tenure of office the Charles Street Jail was completed at a cost of $450,000. In the summer of 1849, Asiatic cholera caused the death of no less than 5,080 people out of a population of 130,000. An event that was fraught with trouble for Mayor Bigelow was a meeting in 1850 at Faneuil Hall to congratulate George Thompson, the abolitionist, upon his arrival in this country. Cheers for Daniel Webster, Jenny Lind, and the Union, which the police, acting under the orders of Mayor Bigelow, did nothing to stop, broke up the meeting. The next year the Board of Aldermen declined to allow the use of Faneuil Hall for a reception to Daniel Webster because of the fear of a disturbance. Webster and his friends were furious, and when the Common Council, with the concurrence of the mayor, later sent a committee to wait upon Webster at the Revere House and "tender him in the name of the City Council an invitation to meet and address his fellow citizens at Faneuil Hall," Webster curtly replied that it was not convenient for him to accept. At the next election the mayor and the council were all retired to private life.
In 1851, the last term of Mayor Bigelow, every section of Boston was supplied with pure water at a cost of $4,321,000; the new almshouse was built on Deer Island; a system of telegraphic fire alarms invented by Dr. William F. Channing was installed; and a great pageant was held to celebrate the completion of the railroads between Boston and Canada and the Great Lakes.
On Mayor Bigelow's retirement a number of friends wished to show him their appreciation by presenting him with a silver vase. He asked that the money be given to the Public Library, and this was the first gift that the public library received. Mr. Bigelow became one of the Board of Trustees of the Library. He died July 4, 1872.
Taken from "Boston's 45 Mayors from John Phillips to Kevin H. White," City Record, Boston, 1979.
Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:
Address of John Prescott Bigelow, Mayor of the City of Boston, to the Board of Aldermen, on the occasion of his retiring from office, 1853 January 3
Photographs and other images collected by the Boston Landmarks Commission for reference use and for publications as well as photographs taken by the Landmarks Commission documenting their work and city neighborhoods.