Albert Bigelow (1848-1922)

Written By Benjamin R. Justesen


Born on August 1, 1848, in Caswell County, North Carolina, Albert Bigelow died in Guilford County, North Carolina, on June 18, 1922.


Bigelow served one term as a Republican member of the N. C. House of Representatives (1881).  A co-founder of the Yanceyville Colored Graded School, Bigelow also served for two years as Yanceyville’s postmaster, appointed to that post under the Grant administration in 1873. 


Son of a slave of Cherokee Indian ancestry named Betsy Bigelow, and her white owner, wealthy plantation owner Thomas Pattillo Bigelow, Albert Bigelow and his siblings were raised essentially as free children by their father, who publicly acknowledged them.  Educated in the common schools of Caswell County, Albert worked initially as a farmer.  In October 1873, he was appointed by President Ulysses Grant as postmaster at Yanceyville, a position he held until June 1875.  In that year, he resigned to pursue a classical education at Shaw University, a private Baptist school for African Americans in Raleigh, after the death of his father. 


As many as six of Betsy Bigelow’s children attended Shaw in the 1870s, all having received significant bequests in their father’s 1873 will.  Albert Bigelow received approximately 100 acres of land in the Yanceyville area. He farmed there for many years.  His sister Saluda Bigelow Hunt, later a well-known Virginia educator, served as an assistant teacher at Shaw, and began her career teaching at the old Hunt Town School in Yanceyville.


After completing his studies at Shaw, Albert Bigelow returned to Yanceyville to teach, and married Henrietta Delia Leath of Caswell County in 1876.  Their first daughter, Addie, was born in 1878, followed by four more children over the next 20 years: Ressie, Orvid, Hubert, and Herman.


Meanwhile he also entered politics as a Republican.  Caswell County’s population was predominantly African American, and the Republican Party largely dominated county politics during Reconstruction and for much of the remaining nineteenth century.  Despite Democratic intimidation and violence, the county regularly elected black legislators until the 1890s.  In 1880, Bigelow was the Republican nominee for one of Caswell’s two seats in the N.C. House of Representatives, and won election over his Democratic opponent, along with white Republican Thomas S. Harrison.


Bigelow was one of 18 African Americans to serve in the 1881 General Assembly, which met from January to March of that year.  It was his only attempt at public office; however, he remained active in Republican politics for the rest of his life.  He served as chairman of the party’s Caswell County executive committee as late as 1900.


In 1897 he and his brother Lewis were among a number of incorporators of the Yanceyville Colored Graded School, granted a charter by that year’s General Assembly.  Bigelow taught there until at least 1910.  The school, later renamed the Caswell County Training School, remained in operation well into the mid-20th century.


Bigelow died at his home in Brown’s Summit, Guilford County, in 1922.