Wills House Virtual Identity: Basil Biggs

Basil Biggs and Wife Mary stand in front of their stone home along a dirt road. A barn is in background, and several other individuals are also in photograph.
Basil and Mary Biggs, in center of photograph, stand along the Taneytown Road in front of their post-war home south of Gettysburg.

Adams County Historical Society

You have selected to discover the story of Basil Biggs.

To Begin. . .
Read the “Before the War” section below and then proceed to the next room in the Wills House and return to page when prompted.


Before the War

Basil Biggs was a prominent member of Gettysburg’s African American community. He was born a free person near Union Bridge, in Carroll County in the slave state of Maryland in either 1819 or 1820. However, his mother died when he was just four years old and shortly after her death, young Basil Biggs was “bound out” to work for the next thirteen years. Afterward he moved to Baltimore but in 1858, he and wife, Mary, moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, so that their children could go to school and receive an education and grow up on free soil. Biggs and his family lived as tenant farmers on the Crawford Farm, to the west of Seminary Ridge. In addition to farming, Basil was also a veterinarian and during the years leading up to the Civil War was, reportedly, an active local agent or conductor on the Underground Railroad, helping freedom seekers find their way north. While Biggs certainly knew of the attorney who lived in the large house on the town diamond (square), their worlds were completely separate… until after the battle of Gettysburg.

From Here:
You can return to Basil Biggs story here once you enter David Wills’s law office and the broadside (poster) located in the case next to the exit door in that room.


During the War

Seeking to avoid the danger of battle and fearful of the very real possibility of being kidnapped by Confederate soldiers and sold into slavery, Basil Biggs and his family fled their home on the Crawford Farm when the Confederate army advanced toward Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. When they returned following the battle, they discovered utter ruin. In addition to the damage done to the property by the battle, the Biggs family lost eight cows, seven steers, ten hogs, eight tons of hay, ten crocks of apple butter, sixteen chairs, six beds, and ninety-two acres of crops. In addition, there were 45 dead Confederates buried in his fields there. Biggs would later receive more than $1,300 from the government for the damage done during the battle. After the battle, he played a leading role in the creation of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, answering the call for help from the broadsides like the one on display that David Wills had posted around the county. Biggs helped to oversee the disinterment and removal of the dead Union soldiers from their battlefield graves and their reburial in the newly created cemetery. In all, Biggs helped in the reburial of more than 3,000 bodies.

From Here:
You can return to the story of Basil Biggs after you tour the second floor of the house.


After The War

After the war, Basil Biggs purchased a large home and farm immediately east of Cemetery Ridge and in late 1864 helped form the Sons of Goodwill, a benevolent society designed to help the black community of Gettysburg, especially its Civil War veterans, and which was instrumental in creating the Lincoln Cemetery, located just two blocks from this house. Biggs continued to be a leader in Gettysburg’s African American community until his death, in 1906, at age 86. He was laid to rest in the Lincoln Cemetery, leaving behind five children, fifteen grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Last updated: October 19, 2021

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