Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bigler Graves, Mercer Co., PA

Marker Text: Jacob and Susan Bigler, parents of two governors, are buried here. Their son William was Governor of Pennsylvania, 1852-55; and their son John, Governor of California, 1852-56.

Location: On PA Route 58, Southeast of Greenville, PA.
Erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1946. Dedicated on 11/12/1946

   One reason that I began my interest in historical road markers was the rich history and amazing facts that often lie below the surface of the information found on these markers. Frequently, a person will discover another fascinating story within another. A case in point is the Bigler Graves marker located on PA Route 58 in Mercer Co., Pennsylvania just south of Greenville. Countless people drive by this marker without noticing the simple historical information on this marker. Nowadays people are not too much interested in the simple graves of a seemingly obscure couple. This marker is located in front of an old cemetery dating back to the early years of Mercer Co. PA.

   Jacob Bigler moved his large family to Mercer County about 1822 and five years later died leaving his wife, Susan with ten children to support alone. Susan Bigler lived until 1854 and at the time of her death her son William was governor of Pennsylvania and another son, John was governor of California.
   When Mrs. Bigler died her obituary stated, “She was a strict member of the Presbyterian Church, and died in the fullest confidence of the Christian...” When, “Mr. Bigler died, leaving her in that wild unsettled region, with ten children dependent upon her alone for support. She maintained them all, maintained them in knowledge, and impressed upon their minds lessons usefulness to guide them safely and with honor through subsequent life. During the 28 years of her widowhood, she resided upon the same old farm, about nine miles from Mercer, on which she died.”
   Susan Bigler's son William moved to Clearfield, PA and made his fortune in the timber business and from 1841 to 1847 served in the Pennsylvania State Senate. In 1851 he was elected Governor of Pennsylvania and served from Jan. 20, 1852 until Jan. 16, 1855. He later was elected to serve as Pennsylvania's U.S. Senator from 1856 to 1861. He worked with others during these years attempting to develop a compromise with the southern states in hopes of avoiding the coming Civil War. After his political life, he became the president of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad.

   William's older brother, John Bigler decided to go west during California's gold rush by driving an ox team west. John Bigler became know for his bravery in aiding the sick and burying the dead in Sacramento during a cholera epidemic, though it nearly killed him. John Bigler served as California's Third Governor from 1852-1856 and was the first governor to successfully complete an entire term and the first to win re-election. A couple of legends are connected with Governor Bigler. In 1852, State Senator James W. Denver and U.S. Representative and Alta California publisher Edward C. Gilbert rowed out to Angel Island to settle a dispute over Gilbert's attacks against Governor John Bigler on the field of honor. Only Denver returned alive. Also, while governor in 1854, it is said that Bigler rescued the portrait of George Washington from the Senate Chamber during a fire, the portrait still hangs in the Senate Chambers, today. The 1854, California legislature honored Governor Bigler by naming the state's largest lake after him. In 1870, Bigler Lake was renamed “Lake Tahoe.”

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