Famous Families


To: June Cross
Fr: Mario Valdes
Dt: April 25th, 1996

As I explained earlier with my first pass at the Gibson genealogy completed, I am not at all sure that President Clinton is a descendant of the black Gibsons. And here's why.

Having at last seen what is probably the only work attempting to differentiate the three or four Gibson families who immigrated to South Carolina in the 18th century, patterns in first names lead me to suspect that Clinton is descended from a white Rev. Jacob Gibson who became pastor of the Broad River Baptist Church, Fairfield Co. in 1771. The names Jacob and Joseph show up among his children and grandchildren and since Clinton's Gibson ancestor is a Joseph (who, in the 1850 census also lists a Jacob as a son) there is a fifty-fifty chance that he is a member of this particular line of Gibsons.

I said fifty-fifty because, on the other hand, from the system the enumerators employed, it might also be that Joseph Gibson who would have been thirty at the time of the 1820 census, was living in the household of a Jordan Gibson. That year there were only two Gibson males of that age group not yet heading their own households. With the help of an extant will one can be identified.

It is quite possible therefore that the other unnamed male Gibson living with Jordan Gibson in Marion Co. is Joseph. Not only because Jordan was a traditional first name of the African American Gibsons but because documentation available proves it, there can be no doubt about which Gibson family he belonged to. If it is, indeed, Joseph who was enumerated along with Jordan Gibson in the 1820 census then we could safely assume that he too was a descendant of the inter-racial clan that Winthrop Jordan first pointed out in "White Over Black." What could add to this specific possibility is that in the genealogical work I refered to, there are both a Jacob and a Joseph who are identified respectively as a son and a grandson of one Randal Gibson, another first name especially associated with those Gibsons of colour who would migrate to Mississippi and Kentucky.

Furthermore, given the clues to names provided by the work of Virginia Demarce and Paul Heinegg, and the racial description of the individuals enumerated, a look at the 1850 census of South Carolina where this particular branch of the Gibsons and their relatives hailed from, reveals that part of the state could well have qualified as a tri-racial community.

What About President Carter?

Although President Clinton's descent from the African American Gibsons is, at least for the time being, an open ended question, President Carter's, on the other hand, is, comparitively, less problematic. Because of the work on the Gibsons that now serves as my guide, I am fairly confident that the Gibson Dawson the New England Historical Genealogical Society identified as his great, great, great grand father was the son of a Gibson woman who, considering her location in Edgefield Co. during the latter quarter of the 18th century, appears to be related to the Gibsons we are researching.

As I also mentioned, in Salt Lake City I came across a partial Wallace genealogy with a South Carolina Gibson in it. Will try following that line to see if it is the Alabama Governor's.

The Gibsons' Prominence and Influence

Despite the vague idea I initially had of the kind of social prominence the Gibsons once enjoyed, it was not until I was able to compare the bare genealogical data retrieved on the trip with the state histories, biographical dictionaries, Who's Whos , etc. etc. here at Harvard that I got a much clearer picture of just how close to the axis of power this family has been able to position itself.

Besides maintaining their own place in southern politics for over two centuries, on the diplomatic marriage market they were able to ally themselves with families like the Harrisons of Virginia who produced a signer of the Declaration of Independence and two US Presidents. Louisiana State Senator Randal Gibson's aunt, for example, was married to Robert Trimble of Mississippi, two of whose cousins, William and William Allen Trimble, were Senators of Kentucky and Ohio respectively while a third, Allen Trimble became Governor of Ohio. A sister of his mother's was the wife of a Supreme Court Justice, Judge White. I should point out here that John Gibson, either an uncle or a cousin of Senator Randal's, had also been appointed Governor of Louisiana but declined because of his health. Mentioned, didn't I, that the Senator's son married Marshall Field's niece?

The first transcontinental railway magnate Thomas Butler King was the brother in law of Mary Gibson Fort, a great, great, grand daughter of black Gideon Gibson, the Regulator. When she married Stephen Clay King in 1823, this Georgia heiress brought him a dowery of land and slaves just as large as the one Thomas' wife, an heiress like herself, had provided her husband to fund his enteprises with. In point of fact, Stephen Clay was not only Thomas Butler King's partner but his major financier, as well, even though he is hardly mentioned in the history of his brother's contribution to this development in transportation. (Incidentally, Mary's daughter, Martha, married John H. Hull, the brother of the Governor of Florida.)

Until I provide you with more details on some of the other families we have been following, would like you to take a look at the attached so that you can see from these "primary sources"(the bio was taken from a history of Kentucky published in the 20s.) just how eminently the Gibsons were once regarded. From the description of Duncan Gibson's race horses to the almost breathless adulation with which his branch of the Gibson family are written up, it is quite obvious that they were perceived as nothing less than the very epitome of Kentucky Blue Blood society.

Captain Isaac Ross is a prominent Gibson descendent who lived in the first half of the 19th century. But by describing Captain Ross as the child instead of the grandchild of Isaac Ross and Jane Brown, the author of an article from the Journal of Mississippi History conveniently glossed over the fact that Captain Isaac was in fact the son of a Gibson woman (Mary Gibson who was married to Isaac.) Interestingly enough though, he did mention that one of the family weddings had been performed by Rev. Randall Gibson (a name that identifies him as a black Gibson.) Besides the biographical perspective this article offered, I thought you might be able to use the first few lines as an example of how passing is achieved at even this chronological distance. What I could not help but find even more intriguing was the Afro-Am content of the piece and its possible historical context vis a vis the Ross family's Gibson descent.

"Captain Isaac Ross provided in his will that his slaves should be sent to Liberia, if they elected to go, through the American Colonization Society, and his entire fortune was to care for them, except about $10,000, given to his granddaughter. The inventory made under the order of the Court gave one hundred and sixty slaves, 5,000 acres of well improved land and personal property valued at around $100,000....It was not to be expected that the heirs of Captain Ross would quietly permit this valuable estate to pass out of their hands as an expected inheritance without protest. The will was contested, and after twelve years of litigation conducted by some of the ablest talent in Mississippi,...the Supreme Courts sustained the validity of the will."
From "Captain Isaac Ross and Some of His Descendants" by Thomas M. Wade in The Journal of Mississippi History, Vol. 9, 1947

The piece goes on to describe how as a result of this long litigation which began in 1838, the slaves thought that if they could get rid of Isaac Ross Wade, the acting executor and general manager of the estate, they could at last get to Africa. It was supposedly at the urgings of the American Colonization Society in Port Gibson that the slaves, unable to tolerate the interminable delays, rose up and burnt the mansion while Wade was entertaining. Because most of the estate had been spent defraying court costs, it was not until 1849, after they had worked for another two years to cover their transportation that these former slaves were finally allowed to embark for Liberia. While waiting for a ship in New Orleans, however, twenty five died of cholera. Only ninety reached their destination and having arrived in such dramatically reduced fiscal circumstances, this colonization attempt proved a "complete failure."

Besides the fact that their "passing" has, fortuitously, been well documented, do not forget that even while still recognizable as people of colour, the Gibsons began making an impact on the political life of the nation. Indeed, Rachel Kline in "Unification of a Slave State", a monograph I came across at the University of South Carolina published in 1990, pointed out that as the leader of the Regulators, Gideon Gibson's race was undoubtedly a problem for the colonial government especially since he was so successfully able to defy it. And even though I am hoping that you use Brown's work on the South Carolina Regulators as an example of how Gibson's ethnic background was ignored for other political reasons, it was he who drew attention to the fact that the alliance of planters Gideon led began chanting "no taxation without representation" a number of years before we threw our tea party here in Boston harbour.

Click here for a Gibson family tree ........

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