Biglin Brothers

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The Biglin Brothers: John (died April 19, 1886[1]), James (1851–1917[2]) and Bernard (Barney) (1840–1924) were brothers from New York active in professional rowing during the decade following the American Civil War, when rowing was one of America’s most popular spectator sports. John and Barney were the subject of a series of eleven paintings by Thomas Eakins.

John Biglin in a Single Scull, Eakins

Famous races

Poughkeepsie - 1865

In July 1865 the American Championships took place in Poughkeepsie, New York. A crowd of more than 20,000 lined the riverbanks, and more than 10,000 people wagered an estimated $100,000 on the race. The trouble started when the Biglin Brothers’ four man team (consisting of the brothers and Dennis Leary) defeated a local crew consisting of William Stevens, Homer Wooden, William Burger, and Ezekiel Beneway. The losing boat protested that it was cut off at the finish. The referee and judges were rushed to the Poughkeepsie Hotel to rule on the race. The officials gave the race to the Biglin Brothers, and barely escaped with their lives. Because of the results the city descended into a riot as fights between broke out between supporters of the rival crews. Detectives from New York City brought in to keep the peace had little impact.[3] [4]

Ward v Biglin - 1865

The Biglin Brothers were quickly challenged to a race on a five-mile course at Sing Sing by Josh Ward, who had organized four man team from his brothers, Gil, Charles, and Hank. [5] On September 25 the Ward Brothers (rowers) beat the Biglin brothers for the professional four-oared championship of America.[6]

Schuylkill River - 1872

The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake-Boat, Eakins

In 1872 John and Barney challenge any English rowing pair to a race. No English team stepped forward but a team from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of Henry Coulter and Lewis Cavitt accepted the challenge. The five mile, Schuylkill River course started at the Columbia Bridge and went to the Girard Ave. Bridge and back. One of Thomas Eakins' many paintings of the brothers, “The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake-Boat”, was of the midpoint of the race. The brothers were victorious by one minute, and were proclaimed world champions. This race was covered by numerous newspapers and magazines including The New York Times and brought the brothers great notoriety.[7]

Political career

Bernard Biglin was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 18th D.) in 1873 and 1874.


  1. ^ Clipper Annual 1887
  2. ^ Painted Valley Cemetery
  3. ^ Gaynor, Joshua. "A Hudson River Heritage". Retrieved 2007-07-07. [dead link]
  4. ^ Halley, Patrick. "Poughkeepsie: The Rowing Capital of the World". Archived from the original on September 4, 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  5. ^ Crowther, Samuel; Arthur Brown Ruhl (1905). Rowing and Track Athletics - The American sportsman's library. The MacMillan Company. pp. 155 [1]. OCLC: 11412971. 
  6. ^ Weil, Thomas E. (2000–2005). "Brief Time Line 1850-1899 (with images)". Friends of Rowing History. Archived from the original on 26 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  7. ^ Berger, Martin A. (2000). Man Made: Thomas Eakins and the Construction of Gilded Age Manhood (Men and Masculinity). University of California Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-520-22208-3. 
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