Bigelow, Charles Grafton (1805–1885)

By: Jo Collier

Type: Biography

Published: April 27, 2017

Charles Grafton Bigelow, businessman and fourth mayor of Houston, was born on July 15, 1805, in Northborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts. He left his home in Lancaster, Massachusetts, at sixteen and worked at a tannery in Northborough. Seven years later he moved to Detroit and started his own tannery. He eventually returned to Massachusetts. On May 25, 1829, he married Cynthia G. Warren in Northborough, Massachusetts. They had two daughters, both of whom were born in Massachusetts, Sarah W. Bigelow and Agnes L. Bigelow.

Charles Bigelow was in Houston by November 1838 when he advertised some land for sale in the Telegraph and Texas Register. He opened both a farm equipment store and an icehouse in Houston. In 1840 Bigelow ran for mayor and defeated incumbent George Lively by one vote. He served for one term which, at the time, was one year.

As Houston mayor he persuaded the Texas Congress to give the city of Houston authority to build wharves on Buffalo Bayou. Construction of a wharf extending 500 feet from Main Street to Fannin Street along the water was begun in the same year he was elected. Wharfage fees were used to fund the cleaning of the bayou of snags for five miles.

During Bigelow’s tenure as mayor, the city seal, designed by former mayor Francis Moore, was adopted. A supplement was added to the city charter to allow for the division of Houston into the initial four wards, each represented by two aldermen. Bigelow also improved public relations by sponsoring dinners to honor visiting dignitaries, such as James Pinckney Henderson.

After his time as mayor Bigelow remained in Houston as a businessman. In October 1842 his wife Cynthia was lost at sea on board the Cuba. The brig set sail from Galveston to New York and was destroyed in a hurricane off Key West. Bigelow served in the Mexican War and apparently took part in the battle of Palo Alto before returning to Massachusetts with his two daughters. His stance against slavery and his Unionist sentiments caused him to remain there.

Bigelow married Harriet C. Taft in December 1849. They had two children, Hattie C.and Charles Sam Houston, who in adulthood fashioned himself as “Texas Charley” and co-founded “the country’s largest remedy-selling entertainment chain, the New England-based Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company.”

Mayor Charles Bigelow died on October 27, 1885, in Grafton, Massachusetts, and is buried in Rural Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Louis F. Aulbach, Buffalo Bayou: An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (Houston: CreateSpace, 2011). Priscilla Benham, “Houston Mayors: Developing a City,” East Texas Historical Journal 36 (1998). Frederick Clifton Pierce, History of Grafton, Worcester County, Massachusetts (Worcester: Press of Chas. Hamilton, 1879). Telegraph and Texas Register, November 28, 1838. Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), October 29, 1885.

Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jo Collier, “Bigelow, Charles Grafton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

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April 27, 2017

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