Barnabas Bidwell

Barnabas Bidwell

Portrait by John Brewster, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 12th district
In office
March 4, 1805  March 3, 1807
Preceded by Simon Larned
Succeeded by Ezekiel Bacon
Attorney General of Massachusetts
In office
June 15, 1807  August 30, 1810
Preceded by James Sullivan
Succeeded by Perez Morton
Member of the
Massachusetts State Senate
In office
Member of the
Massachusetts House of Representatives
In office
Treasurer of Berkshire County, Massachusetts[1]
In office
September, 1791  August, 1810
Personal details
Born August 23, 1763
Township No. 1 now Monterey, Massachusetts
Died July 27, 1833(1833-07-27) (aged 69)
Bath, Upper Canada
Resting place Cataraqui Cemetery, Kingston, Ontario
Nationality American, Canadian
Political party Democratic-Republican
Children Marshall Spring Bidwell
Alma mater Yale College class of 1785, Brown University
Profession Attorney
Religion Presbyterian[2]

Barnabas Bidwell (August 23, 1763 – July 27, 1833) was an author, teacher, and politician of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, active in Massachusetts and Upper Canada. Educated at Yale, he practiced law in western Massachusetts and served as treasurer of Berkshire County. He served in the state legislature as representative and senator, in the United States Congress as spokesman for the administration of Thomas Jefferson where he was effective in defending administration positions and passing important legislation, and was the state attorney general from 1807 to 1810, when exaggerated press accounts of irregularities in the Berkshire County books halted his political career and prompted his flight to Upper Canada. Bidwell later paid the $63.18 plus fines that he attributed to a Berkshire County clerk while he was away on duties in Boston. Nonetheless, the controversy, exaggerated in the press by his Federalist Party enemies effectively scuppered his potential appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Canada he won a seat in the provincial assembly, but was denied on account that he had held office in the United States.


Bidwell was son of revolutionary war patriot the Reverend Adonijah Bidwell, Yale 1740 and Jemima Devotion in Township No. 1 (now Monterey, Massachusetts), and graduated from Yale College in 1785. Through his mother he was descended from John Haynes, 5th Governor of Massachusetts and 1st Governor of Connecticut, and George Wyllys, 4th Governor of Connecticut. He later attended the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now known as Brown University) in Providence, Rhode Island. He studied law under judge Theodore Sedgwick of Stockbridge, Mass. Sedgwick, a prominent member of the House of Representatives and later a senator, was an important spokesman for the Federalist party. He was admitted to the Massachusetts state bar in 1805 and commenced practice in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Bidwell broke with the Federalists and became the leading spokesman of the Democratic-Republican administration of President Thomas Jefferson in the United States Congress.

Bidwell was a Massachusetts State Senator from 1801 to 1804, Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1805 to 1807. Bidwell was elected as a Democratic-Republican and served in the Ninth and Tenth Congresses (March 4, 1805 – July 13, 1807). In the House of Representatives, Bidwell displaced John Randolph of Roanoke as administration leader and become the leading spokesman of President Thomas Jefferson. In this capacity, he successfully defended the president’s policy of imposing economic sanctions in response to British violations of neutral rights at sea. He also directed the campaign to purchase Florida and was the leading advocate for passage of the bill that abolished the slave trade in the United States which took effect in 1808. He was Attorney General of Massachusetts (June 15, 1807 – August 30, 1810) when his political opponents found in a minor discrepancy in the Berkshire County books, an opening in which to make exaggerated allegations of corruption.

Accused of embezzling money while Berkshire County treasurer, he and his family fled to Canada in 1810 and settled in Kingston, Upper Canada (now Ontario) until an investigation could determine what if any liability he held. The charge was forwarded by his political enemies in the Federalist Party, apparently to halt his rise as a Democratic-Republican and trusted confidant of President Thomas Jefferson. At the time the charges were levelled in the press he has been under consideration by President James Madison for a position on the U.S. Supreme Court. The final judgement of the Berkshire court against him, which he paid in 1817, amounted to only $330.64 damages and a paltry $63.18 costs. Since Bidwell was promptly able to pay both amounts, he did not flee on that account. There is little reason, moreover, to doubt his assertion that, because his public offices required his presence elsewhere in the United States, he employed clerks to handle his duties in Berkshire, one of whom, dead at the time of financial exposure, had been responsible. He fled, he claimed, from fear of his political enemies who were exaggerating his personal responsibility and indebtedness.

Bidwell won a seat in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada for Lennox and Addington, but failed to take his seat because his election was petitioned against on the grounds that he was a fugitive from justice, a person of immoral character and had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States.[3] After an unusually long debate Bidwell was expelled from the House by a vote of seventeen to sixteen.[4]

Bidwell remained an American patriot until his death.

Bidwell died in Bath, Upper Canada, and his remains are interred in Kingston's Cataraqui Cemetery.


His son Marshall Spring Bidwell successfully sat in the same seat from 1824 to 1836. Marshall Spring Bidwell later left for the United States. Bidwell's sister Theodosia Bidwell Brewer, was the grandmother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer, who sat on the court from 1889–1910 with his uncle Stephen J. Field.


  1. Dexter, Franklin Bowditch (1907), Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale college with annals of the College History Volume IV, New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, p. 388
  2. De Lancey, Edward Floyd (1890), Marshall S. Bidwell, a memoir, historical and biographical, New York, NY: Edward Floyd De Lancey, p. 5
  3. McMullen, John Mercier (1891), The history of Canada: from its first discovery to the present time, Volume 1, Brockville, Ont.: McMullen & Co., p. 450
  4. McMullen, John Mercier (1891), The history of Canada: from its first discovery to the present time, Volume 1, Brockville, Ont.: McMullen & Co., p. 451

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Simon Larned
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 12th congressional district

March 4, 1805 – July 13, 1807
Succeeded by
Ezekiel Bacon
Legal offices
Preceded by
James Sullivan
Massachusetts Attorney General
June 15, 1807 – August 30, 1810
Succeeded by
Perez Morton
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/19/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.