Oliver Bigelow, Founder of Johnstown, Ohio
Observing 200 years since the death of
“The Lowdown on Bigelow”
by Terry A. Priest
Dr. Oliver Bigelow, surgeon in the American army during the Revolutionary War, left his mark in several states, and is founder of Johnstown, Licking County, Ohio.
Oliver is born December 23, 1759 in Colchester, New London County, Connecticut. He is the son of John (or Joshua) and Hannah (Douglass) Bigelow. He becomes a physician by the ancient method of apprenticing to an older physician. During the Revolution, he goes aboard the British prison ship Jersey as a volunteer prisoner in order to attend the captured American prisoners. Difficult to prove, Washington Irving in his multi-volume biography of George Washington does mention the presence of a surgeon on a prison-ship. Bigelow’s name does appear among Vermont military records from which he served. Today his name appears on his grave marker, on the stone noting “Bigelow Park”, and on the street marked “Bigelow Drive” at MacDonald’s. Once, Main Street was named Bigelow.
Oliver Bigelow after the War graduates from a medical course and for a short time he practices medicine in Goshen, New York. The Gardiners and other families had traveled there after the desolation of the Wyoming Valley, where they had lived before the War. Both families had been quite respected and patriotic in Connecticut.
After the War, Oliver Bigelow is one of a number of Connecticut residents who settle in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, where he is found on the 1790 and 1800 censuses. While in Pennsylvania, he at age twenty-six marries on January 25, 1786 Esther Gardiner, daughter of Stephen and Amy Gardiner, also Connecticut natives. Esther was born in Colchester County February 16, 1759.
Their six oldest children are born in Luzerne County. (Anna, called Nancy is born November 21, 1789; Esther is born Sept. 11, 1792; the only son Oliver Jr. is born May 1, 1794; Sabra is born January 20, 1797; Lydia is born Dec. 15, 1798; Eunice is born Apr. 25, 1801).
Shortly after 1800 the Oliver Bigelows settle in Tompkins County, New York, atLansing which is part of Cayuga County. Here their seventh child Harriet is born July 2, 1809 , ending Esther’s twenty years of childbearing at age fifty.
President John Adams had deeded land to John Brown in payment for military service during the American Revolution. Local history says on 1810 December 7, John Brown of Boone County, Kentucky, deeds a four thousand acre tract of land to Oliver Bigelow for $10,000 or $2.50 per acre; some of the money is in mortgaged payments. Since Oliver with his brother John holds large land claims in Ohio, they wish to locate their families to that new state. In 1811 Oliver Bigelow, a doctor and Revolution veteran, comes to the area. He plans to build a town and begins mapping streets, alleys, a town square and a cemetery.
In 1813 Oliver Bigelow finishes laying out this little village and decides to donate the streets and alleyways, the public square at the southwest corner of Columbus Rd. (62) and Newark Road (37), and property which would become a cemetery. This is the founding of Johnstown. All assume that he names the town after Johnstown, New York but more than likely he named it after his father and brother both named John.
Apparently Oliver and his family spend some time in Licking County, Ohio. Dr. Bigelow becomes the first practicing doctor of medicine in the village and even serves as mayor. His daughter Eunice, almost sixteen years old, dies in Johnstown April 16, 1816. In 1817 Old Colonial Cemetery is deeded to the village whose population is fewer than 100. On November 5, Oliver Bigelow, aged fifty-eight, dies and is buried. His nephew Elihu, son of Oliver’s brother Elihu, dies and is interred here in 1821.
Oliver’s widow and children return to their home in Lansing, New York, where they live for many years. Esther dies May 20, 1838. First born Anna marries Garrett Gibbs and dies June 20, 1870 in Lansing, New York. Esther marries Peter Welling and dies Mar 6, 1856 in Frederica, Bremer County, Iowa and is survived by two adult children. Oliver Jr. is listed as head of family in Lansing, New York in 1850. Sabra unmarried dies in Genoa,Cayuga County, New York May 10, 1817. Lydia unmarried dies June 20, 1874 at Lansing,New York. Harriet marries a man named Johnson and dies Owego, New York May 24, 1840.
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