Thomas James Bigham
Born on February 12, 1810, abolitionist Thomas James Bigham, “the Sage of Mt. Washington,” was the son of Thomas and Sarah (Christy) Bigham, born near Hannastown, Westmoreland County. His father died before his birth and Thomas J. was reared by his maternal grandparents (Christy). He was educated in “district” schools” and by listening to sermons in the local Presbyterian Church each Sunday. Bigham graduated from Jefferson College at Canonsburg in 1834, earning the nickname “Thomas Jefferson” Bigham for his superior intelligence and debate prowess; the name stuck with him the rest of his life. He embarked on a teaching career at Harrisburg for one year, then at Pittsburgh where he taught and lectured while pursuing legal training. Bigham joined the Allegheny County Bar in 1837, organizing a number of partnerships throughout his early legal career. Despite losing his legal library in a fire, Thomas built an extensive practice, eventually accepting his son Joel in a father-son partnership. An early Whig, Bigham supported the fledgling Republican Party in 1856, as a self-professed abolitionist. He used his home on Mt. Washington as an “Underground Railway” depot for fugitive-slaves.
Bigham’s “superior memory” and his “exquisite and unfailing sense of humor” greatly aided his emergence in the Allegheny County political arena. From 1845 through 1848, he served in the State House of Representatives, repeating terms, 1851-1854, and 1862-1864. During his first stint in the House, he wrote the “married women’s act of 1848.”
The senator entered the journalism field as a founder of the Pittsburgh Commercial and proprietor of the Commercial Journal – both consolidated with the Pittsburgh Gazette. He was elected to the board of managers of the Pennsylvania Reform School in 1851 and to the state Senate in October 1864. In the state’s upper house, Bingham penned the “railroad law of 1867,” and the “Pittsburgh consolidation acts” of 1867 and 1869. From 1873 to 1875, Senator Bigham served as a Gov. Hartranft appointee as the Commissioner of Statistics for Pennsylvania, and from 1878 to 1882, was a member of the Pittsburgh Council. He was founder of the Grace Protestant Episcopal Church of Mount Washington, a church in which his wife, Maria Louisa Lewis, devoted a great deal of her life. Senator Bingham died November 9, 1884 at his home.
Jordan, Enc. of Pa. Biog., vol. I (NY: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1914 ) pp. 139-143