Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Finding the Gibson Family - A Mixed Racial History

This week, I decided to seriously search for the evasive Gibson family connection. But first I decided to review, once again, the information that I already have. For actual documents, all I really have are two U.S. Census records and a marriage certificate.

But what I have found written in other sources is so much more.

When I first started this search, I had little to go on. My father didn't know his grandmother's maiden name, so that led to the request for information to the Social Security Administration. Please keep in mind the only reason I received this information is that my great-grandmother, Margaret Susanna Meriwether Porter just happened to be old enough to be eligible for Medicare when the law was passed about 1960. She was too old to be eligible for Social Security payments, however, so she had to apply for a Social Security number before she could be eligible for Medicare benefits.


But that request made a world of difference in my research, because the copy of her application for a Social Security number provided me with the maiden name of my great-greatgrandmother, Malverda Gibson, and this bit of information unlocked the door to the past. My initial reaction was "Malverda won't be difficult to find, and I was right about that, but finding the Gibson family proved to be much more difficult.

I found Malverda Gibson the first time I searched U. S. Census records for persons living in Mississippi. According to the U. S. Census of 1860, taken in Calhoun County, Mississippi, Malverda Gibson was living with her family in the Cherry Hill community. Her father and her mother were shown to be "J. P. Gibson" and "Margaret J. Gibson." J. P. Gibson's occupation was shown as "blacksmith." Other children in the household were sisters named Elvira, Mary, Martha, and Becky. Other male household members were brothers named Asberry and Francis. When I saw the names of Malverda's two brothers, I decided on the spot the family must have been Methodists, since it appeared they had named two sons for the well-known early Bishop of the Methodist Church, Francis Asbury. I also found the family enumerated again on the U. S. Census of 1870, this time in Carroll County, in the Duck Hill community.

During the same timeframe that I located the census records, the LDS church had posted all their family history records online at
www.familysearch.org. One search on the new LDS website, and I had the marriage date for a John P. Gibson and Martha J. Williams. They were married on January 3, 1843, in Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi. Now I had something that might reveal names for the next generation back, parents' names for John and Margaret.


The next day, I called the Monroe County, Mississippi County Clerk in Aberdeen, Mississippi and requested a copy of the marriage record. A very friendly and helpful person in the clerk's office there located the document, and about a week later, I received a copy of the marriage license and a marriage bond posted in the amount of $500 by someone named "Joseph Gibson." My first thought was that Joseph must have been John's father, but that would have been too good to be true, and as it turned out, it was not true. Sometime later, I located a copy of Joseph Gibson's will, probated in Monroe County, Mississippi, and that information, combined with some recent research efforts, has established that Joseph and John were likely not brothers, but possibly cousins, instead.

The next source of information came to me entirely by accident. I was doing some online searching for the name Gibson and South Carolina and happened across a reference to a PBS Frontline presentation entitled "Blurred Racial Lines." One of the families profiled was the Gibson Family of South Carolina, along with a short list of other names with similar racial backgrounds. This information is available at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/secret/famous/

Accidentally, I had stumbled onto something that paved the way to further research about the Gibson family and other persons like them who were called at that time "free persons of color." Some of these individuals, including Gideon Gibson, were specifically referred to as "mullatos."

About that same time, I found that Winthrop Jordan had written a book, entitled "White Over Black" that included similar information about the racial background of the Gibson family in South Carolina.
Recently, I have read other references to the Gibson family's history in several historical publications, including "Children of Perdition: Melungeons and the Struggle for Mixed America" by Tim Hershaw, "Unification of a Slave State" by Rachel Klein, and "Black Slaveowners - Free Black Slave Masters in SC, 1790 - 1860", by Larry Koger. All three publications include numerous references to the Gibson Family, as well as some of their South Carolina relatives and neighbors, the Bunch, Sweat(t) and Murph families. Previews of these books are available online at
www.books.google.com.

Several members of the Gibson Family in Mississippi and Louisiana have been well-chronicled. Port Gibson, Mississippi, one of Mississippi's historic towns, was named for Samuel Gibson, an early settler in the old Natchez District, before Mississippi attained statehood. The old Presbyterian Church, with its steeple containing a hand pointing toward Heaven, is a landmark in Port Gibson, along with Chamberlain-Hunt Military Academy, and several houses and other buildings with historical significance. Tobias Gibson was born near Warrenton, Mississippi, and his involvement with the Methodist Church in Mississippi is documented in a book written about the history of Methodism in the state. Randall Lee Gibson, son of Tobias, is well-known for his rise from a private to Brigadier General during his service in the Civil War, and later for his service to the State of Louisiana during several terms in Congress. Randall Lee Gibson is also particularly remembered for his support of the founding of Tulane University by Paul Tulane, a former resident of Louisiana. Information about Randall Lee Gibson can be found at
http://www.tulanelink.com.

Earlier this week, I located copies of the transcriptions of two letters written in the late 1800's. One is from a daughter of Randall Lee Gibson's, living near her mother's family in Kentucky at the time, and another from a minister in Adams Co., MS, who had known the Gibson Family well. Both individuals shared personal information about Gibson family members and how their family could be traced back to Gideon Gibson and the Gibson Family of South Carolina.

Ironically, nothing is mentioned in either letter about the mixed racial background of the Gibson family.

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