First Citizen Remembered: The Papers of John Bigelow and the Nation at Home and Abroad, 1833-1911

Material Description

The Papers of John Bigelow (Union College Class of 1835) were donated to the College by his descendants in the mid-20th century. They include over 21,000 letters, portions of his own and his eldest son’s diary, 16 volumes of his wife’s diary, 18 scrapbooks, working papers for selected professional projects, and approximately 4000 books from his personal library. All of these materials, with the exception of the books, will be digitized and made available through surrogates and metadata hosted on a variety of freely-accessible platforms. Already-complete catalog data for Bigelow’s library collection will also be made more widely accessible through this project. Collectively, these resources constitute the single largest record of Bigelow’s exceptionally broad range of interests and accomplishments during his seven decades of service to the nation. Particularly significant letters pertain to his activities as a newspaper editor in antebellum New York, his work as U.S. consul to France during the Civil War, his recovery of the manuscript materials for Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and his subsequent publications on Franklin as well as on many other topics, and his involvement in the establishment of the Panama Canal and a variety of cultural world-class cultural institutions in New York City including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, and the New York Public Library. His correspondents include numerous U.S. presidents, governors, and foreign dignitaries; associates and friends such as William Cullen Bryant and Andrew Carnegie; individuals involved in common social concerns such as the anti-slavery movement, prison reform, and the women’s rights movement; literary figures and artists such as Charles Dickens and Herbert Adams. Family correspondence and his wife’s diary contribute perspective to this social era, and the diary of his eldest son John, who commanded a unit of Buffalo soldiers, documents camp life during the Apache Wars.

Year Added:



Trustees of Union College


Ms. India Spartz
Union College

Ms. Annette
Librarian / Director of Collection and Technical Services


Date Range

1833 - 1911

Geographic Scope

Many areas of the United States and Central America are represented, as are materials from Bigelow’s appointments and his family’s travels in France, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, and other parts of Europe. John Bigelow’ Jr.’s diary covers his military service in Texas and the New Mexico territory.


  • 84 letters/correspondence
  • 17 diaries-bound
  • 1 diary-loose leaf
  • 1 Mixed Archival Collections
  • 18 scrapbooks-bound