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William E. Bigelow

Rev. W.E. Bigelow

The Rev. W.E. Bigelow died at Millington on Wednesday morning, October 8, 1890, of the same disease that proved fatal to the Rev. Dr. Bayliss — a virulent carbuncle. His health had previously been much impaired by a serious attack of the “grippe.”

William E. Bigelow was descended in the sixth generation from John Bigelow, or rather Bageley, who came from Wrentham, England, and settled at Watertown, near Boston, Massachusetts, as early as the year l636. The true form of the name was Bageley (more commonly Baguley), and so the English emigrant was called in early life at Watertown, though not always. The name was unfamiliar in America, and John Bageley was also called by his neighbors “John Bigeley,” “Bigulah,” and finally “Bigelow,” which last his children adopted and transmitted as the family name, sometimes leaving out the middle syllable. The family has led an honorable part in the history of our land from the first. John Bageley was a soldier in the war against the Pequot Indians in 1637, and his son Joshua, from whom also the subject of this sketch was descended, was a soldier in King Philip’s war in 1675-6.

Colonel Timothy Bigelow, of the Revolutionary War, was of the same family, as were also Timothy Bigelow, the famous lawyer and orator of Boston, and the late George Tyler Bigelow, Chief Justice of Massachusetts; so also is the Hon. John Bigelow, of New York, formerly American minister to the Court of France.

Brother Bigelow was born in New Lebanon, Columbia County, N.Y., May 3, 1820. At the age of thirteen he came to Michigan with his parents and settled in Milford, Oakland County.

He was converted March 9, 1837, being then sixteen years of age, at a meeting held by the late Samuel Bibbins in the Peck school house, and immediately connected himself with the Methodist Episcopal Church. He early felt a call to the ministry, and began studying for the same when eighteen years of age. He was licensed to exhort in the spring of 1889, and the following year he was licensed to preach at a quarterly meeting held at Howell, Rev. A. Billings, presiding elder.

In the fall of the same year he was employed by the Rev. George Smith, presiding elder of Detroit District, to supply Oakland Circuit. At the ensuing session of the Michigan Conference, held at Niles, he was received on probation and commenced his life as an itinerant Methodist preacher with all the ardor of his young manhood and with the highest hopes of success.

In 1843 he was received into full connection at Ann Arbor, and ordained deacon by Bishop Janes in Detroit. At the time of his death he had just completed fifty years continuous service (one year as a supply). He earnestly desired to live and complete the rounded period of fifty years in the traveling connection. The people that he served the last year of his life were delighted as well as edified under his ministry and earnestly desired his return, but the great head of the church called him from labor to rest and thereby put an end to their hopes and desires.

He spent thirteen years in circuits, twenty-five years in stations, and fourteen years as presiding elder, two years of which, when he was at the “Soo,” he was both pastor and presiding elder. His best friends think that in the presiding eldership his greatest work for the church was accomplished. He was a very earnest and faithful pastor, and on most of the charges that he served conversions occurred, and on several very large revivals. At Maple Grove, Saline, Court Street (Flint), Lapeer and Ishpeming, his labors were wonderfully blessed of the Lord, and more than a hundred new-born souls were added to each charge during his pastorate.

During all these years he was true to his high and holy calling, and to his solemn vows, turning aside neither to the right nor to the left however strong the temptations might have been. He cheerfully bore every burden that was put upon him, and successfully and honorably acquitted himself in every position in which the church placed him. He aided in raising funds to build twenty-five churches, and was very successful in raising money for troublesome debts on burdened churches. Perhaps his greatest achievement was at East Saginaw. When appointed to the Jefferson Avenue Church he found the property mortgaged, including cost and interest, for more than $15,000, which had been foreclosed in chancery and the day of sale fixed. The case seemed desperate, but after having looked the ground all over, with his accustomed energy and determination he set about the task of securing the funds and saving the church. With heroic will and with sleepless vigilance and perseverance he prosecuted his work until the whole amount was raised and the mortgage discharged sixteen days before the day of sale, and the church was saved to Methodism. He was twice a delegate to the General Conference, in 1860 and 1864. In 1860 he led the delegation. He was a member of the Western Book Committee for four years, and enjoyed nearly all the honors in the gift of an annual conference.

His scholarship was good, for he was a student all his life. As a preacher he was able and instructive; his sermons were solid rather than sensational; clear rather than showy, though he would often give play to the imagination and would touch the finer feelings of human nature. As a disciplinarian he had few equals. He was an able expounder of Methodist law and familiar with all the points of Methodist polity and usages. At the General Conference of 1864 the chairman of the committee introduced a resolution proposing to change the restrictive rule on slavery, which, after debate, was passed by a vote by ayes and noes of 207 for to nine against. The rule, as changed by that vote and subsequent action of the several annual Conferences, stands now in our Discipline in the exact language suggested by Bro. Bigelow in a series of articles published in The Northwestern Christian Advocate about the early part of 1860.

His first wife was daughter of Rev. Seth Mattison, of the Genesee Conference, to whom he was married March, 5, 1845. She died in Lapeer, May 3, 1878, leaving one son (Prof. Bigelow, of Boston University) and two daughters. Since her decease Metta Ernestine, the older of these girls, followed her mother to the spirit world.

Bro. Bigelow was married the second time to Mrs. Emma J. Shaw, at Saginaw, July 2, 1879, who is now bereaved. This good brother suffered greatly during the six weeks of his illness, remarking once to the writer, “I have suffered enough to die a hundred times.” He was wonderfully sustained during all his intense sufferings. The tenderness of his spirit was exhibited in his efforts to hide from his relatives the sight of how much he was called to endure. The religion of our Lord Christ, which he had so faithfully and ably preached to others, he found abundantly able to comfort and sustain in his own sore trial.

In prayer with him and his family his responses proved the truth of the prophet’s words, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.” The same grace that kept our dear brother in “perfect peace” enables his bereaved wife and children to look up through the mist of tears and say, “Thy will, dear Lord, be done.”

- Detroit Annual Conference minutes of 1891, pp. 59-61