Eighteenth century visitors to Virginia noticed that the slaves often had the brown skin of mulattoes rather than the dark skin of Africans. Despite laws and publications preaching a stark dichotomy of black and white, the Virginians had bred an intermediate population of brown people. John Hartwell Cocke reported that Virginia's mulattoes “would be found by the hundreds. Nor is it to be wondered at when Mr. Jefferson's notorious example is considered.” As one of Jefferson's closest friends, Cocke was well informed. After Jefferson's wife died in 1782, he never remarried but instead kept a slave mistress, Sally Hemings, who bore him six children. As the daughter of a mulatto woman by Jefferson's father-in-law, Hemings was the enslaved half-sister of Jefferson's late wife. George Tucker marveled after reading Jefferson's insistence that blacks lacked physical beauty: “I own I was a little surprised at his derision after the stories I have heard of him.”
No law punished masters who raped slave women or kept them as concubines. Neighbors did little more than gossip so long the master kept a low profile and did not marry a slave partner: a model of discretion set by Jefferson. White wives hated the interracial sex of their husbands, but pride kept most from pressing the issue on those who pretended to keep it secret. Instead, humiliated wives sought to punish the black women involved. Despite the risks, some enslaved women pursued white gentlemen as lovers in a bid for better treatment, small favors, and perhaps, the manumission of their children.
In Virginia, status followed the mother, consigning her children to slavery. William Grimes lamented that he was kept enslaved although he was “three parts white,” the son “ of the most wealthy planters in Virginia” and raised “in a land boasting [of] its freedom, and under a government whose motto is Liberty and Equality.” The wife of Grimes master was also the cousin of the boy’s father. Apparently she hated him as a reminder of her cousins betrayal of his white wife, for Grimes recalled, “She would beat me until I could hardly stand . . . She is dead, thank God.”
After four generations of mixing, some slaves were virtually white, to the shock of travelers. At Monticello in 1796, a French visitor noted several slaves “as white as I am.” At Norfolk in 1808, a Scottish traveler noted a leading man whose slaves were “mostly his own Children,” including one favored daughter, of especially light complexion: “She sleeps in the same bed with them [and] calls them father and mother while her Uncles and Aunts, &c. are serving the table . . . So much for Virginia Manners!”1
And so much for the idea of America as a white nation.
Virginian’s worried that a mass emancipation would reverse the sexual power dynamic: instead of white men impregnating enslaved women, free black men would breed with white women to accelerate the making of a mixed race, a “mongrel nation”. With my 0.4% sub-Sahara African blood, you can count me a part of that “mongrel nation,” as my 5th Great-Grandfather, Gideon Gibson, was, who was described in contemporaneous documents as a “mulatto.”2
About twenty Africans arrived in the Chesapeake in August 1619, more than a year before the Mayflower's landing and about 13 years after the founding of Jamestown. These twenty or so captives were the first Africans to immigrate to what would become the United States. A first batch was unloaded at Point Comfort at the mouth of the James River on the Chesapeake Bay and a second batch at Jamestown. Shortly thereafter, the second privateer ship landed with more Africans. Was the progenitor of my 7th Great-Grandfather one of these Africans? The paucity of records makes this an unanswerable question.
Late in 1606, English colonists had set sail with a charter from the Virginia Company of London to establish a colony in the New World. They were following the Spanish and French then exploiting the riches of the North American continent. The investors, London merchants and speculators, were seeking quick profits from their investments in the shape of gold or a northwest passage to the Orient. Although initially disappointed, the discovery of tobacco and its cultivation came close to achieving the initial aims of the Virginia Company.
Within a decade of settlement, Virginia colonists were growing tobacco, which the English used more than any other Europeans, and getting good prices for its export. The tobacco that the English settlers first encountered in Virginia—the Native Americans' Nicotiana rustica—tasted dark and bitter to the English palate. It was John Rolfe who in 1612 obtained Spanish seeds—seeds that, when planted in the relatively rich bottom land of the James River, produced a milder, yet still dark leaf that soon became the European standard.
Over the next 160 years, until after the American Revolution, tobacco production spread from the Tidewater area to the Blue Ridge Mountains, especially dominating the agriculture of the Chesapeake region. And there was more land for the claiming—so long as colonists could control the Native Americans who lived on it—and opportunity seemed boundless. As tobacco boomed, demand for laborers grew beyond the expectations of the early colonial planters. Still, England had plenty of poor men wanting work, so it was primarily these young men (median age sixteen) who came to the colonies in the early decades to work the tobacco fields. Unable to afford their own passage, the laborers arranged with recruiters to repay their fare through work in the new lands. Thus, they came mostly as servants, some as tenants working for shares of their crop, some as bond-servants, and some as apprentices. All had fairly long (five to seven years) terms of servitude, or “indenture.”
Unfortunately life expectancy for these young men was short.
Early colonial planters were not tied solely to English servants, however. For a time, there was hope that Native Americans would work in the fields, benefit from “English civilizing tendencies,” and develop a
harmonious relationship with the colonists. This vision never panned out for a variety of reasons, but
largely, it seems, because the Native-American lifestyle was not that of a regimented cultivator. They balked at the work and ran off or literally died under the strain of it.
Sometime in 1619, the Portuguese slave ship São João Bautista left a Portuguese military outpost in west central Africa and sailed for Vera Cruz, New Spain (present-day Mexico). The captain, Manuel Mendes da Cunha, carried with him 350 enslaved Africans, 200 of whom had embarked under a license, or asiento, held by investors in Seville to sell them in New Spain. When da Cunha arrived at Vera Cruz on August 30, however, he delivered only 147 slaves, including, according to Spanish records, twenty-four African boys whom he at some point sold in Jamaica. Those same records indicate that da Cunha had been robbed off the coast of Campeche (along present-day Mexico's Gulf Coast) by “English corsairs,” or privateers.
Those privateers were likely two ships. The White Lion sailed out of the Netherlands, and its captain bore a Dutch letter of marque, paperwork that allowed him, as a civilian, to attack and plunder Spanish ships. The English Treasurer also sailed out of the Netherlands and was partly owned by Virginia's deputy governor. Working as a “consort,” the two ships attacked the São João Bautista late in July or early in August 1619 and apparently robbed da Cunha of about 50 of his African slaves. (A large portion of the ship's Africans, perhaps as many as 150, probably died during the Atlantic crossing.)
The White Lion and the Treasurer immediately set sail for Virginia, where they hoped to sell their cargo. The White Lion arrived first and landed at Point Comfort sometime late in August, having lost its “consort ship” on the passage from the West Indies. “He brought not anything but 20 and odd Negroes,” Rolfe wrote, which the governor, Argall's successor Sir George Yardley, and the cape merchant, Abraham Peirsey, “bought for victualle [food] … at the best and easyest rate they could.” Some (or perhaps all) of the Africans were then transported to Jamestown and sold.
By 1628, the African population in Virginia jumped dramatically when the ship Fortune, out of Massachusetts Bay, captured a Portuguese slaver carrying about 100 Angolans, whom the captain sold in Virginia for tobacco. This was however an aberration. For the most part only ten or so Africans were delivered to the Chesapeake at a time and, according to Maryland's governor, “before 1680 what negroes were brought to Virginia were imported generally from Barbados for it was very rare to have a Negro ship come to this Country directly from Africa.”
Africans seemed to fit the colonial ideal better than the Native Americans, especially creoles that had previous experience in the West Indies.
Although their precise status is not clear, these early African arrivals were bound laborers in somewhat the same sense as their white counterparts. Most were probably closer to slaves than to indentured servants, and on the whole, they seemed to have served for longer stints than did whites. Still, their condition was hardly that of the chattel slaves of the tidewater plantations a century later. By most accounts their lives were not significantly different from those of English servants in the same place at the same time. Being mostly Atlantic creoles familiar with the English language and the workings of commerce around the Atlantic rim, the early-seventeenth-century Virginians and Marylanders of African descent were not at a disadvantage to the white workers with whom they lived and interacted.
That black people could, and on rare occasions did, hold slaves and servants themselves suggested that race--like linage and religion--was just one of many markers in the social order that Atlantic creoles understood well.
By 1650, there were about 300 Africans living in Virginia, about 1% of an estimated 30,000 population of people of English and European ancestry. Many Africans had earned their freedom, and they were each granted 50 acres of land when freed from their indentures, so they could raise their own tobacco or other crops. Some black indentured servants patented and bought land after gaining freedom. The transition of status from indentured servant to lifelong slave was a gradual process. Some historians believe that some of the first blacks who arrived in Virginia were already slaves, while others say they were taken into the colony as indentured servants. Historians generally believe slavery did not begin as an institution until the 1660s.
Through the first fifty years of English and African settlement in the Chesapeake, black and white workers lived and worked together in ways that blurred racial lines. The small number of people of African descent (never more than 5 percent of the region’s population during this period) combined with the peculiar demands of the tobacco colony to strengthen the bargaining position of black people, whose status as slaves remained undefined in law although not in practice. Many escaped bondage and secured modest prosperity. Reviled and disparaged, black America’s charter generations nevertheless found a place in the society with slaves that emerged around the Chesapeake during the middle years of the seventeenth century.
Some black slaves, through diligence and hard work, earned enough in their spare time to purchase their freedom and the freedom of their families. In this period slaves were allowed a surprising amount of freedom to farm their own plots. According to a seventeenth-century guide to the Chesapeake, the planter customarily permitted “his Servant a parcel of clear ground to plant some Tobacco in for himself, which he may husband at those idle moments he hath allowed him.” As this guide suggested, some servants and slaves also gained access to provision grounds where they raised not only corn and vegetables to subsist themselves and their families but also tobacco, which they sold in conjunction with their owner’s crop, and occasionally in competition with it. They also kept hogs and cattle, which they, like their owner—pastured on the region’s open-range forests and swamps. In Virginia, an inventory for a plantation taken in 1658 revealed that two black slaves independently cultivated some 1,220 pounds of tobacco. The following year, their harvest almost doubled.
The independent economic activities of Chesapeake slaves expanded during the middle years of the seventeenth century, taking a multiplicity of forms, as the Chesapeake's economy grew. Some slaves turned to handicrafts--shoemaking and carpentering seemed the favored trades--to complement agricultural production. Others bartered their free time for wages-in-kind or occasionally tobacco (the region's proxy for cash), and still others became partners with their owners, ceding them a portion of the produce for the right the right to labor independently. Slaves thus entered into the growing network of exchange, buying and selling goods and services and lending and borrowing small sums from their owners, their neighbors, and one another. Such transactions required that they move freely about the countryside.
Without question, there was opposition by some slaveholders to the independence that flowed from the slave's economic activity. However, those same slaveholders often contradicted themselves, allowing their own slaves some independence when it served them.
Unrestrained by the confines of plantation life, slaves had the opportunity to connect with men and women of all social standing. Aided by a knowledge of the Chesapeake's economy, black men and women developed strategies and schemes to secure their freedom. Small communities of free blacks sprouted up all around the perimeter of the Chesapeake Bay, with the largest concentration on the eastern shores of Virginia and Maryland. In Northampton County, free people of African descent made up about one-fifth of the black population at mid century, rising to nearly 30 percent in 1668.3
Although a minority, these free men and women defined the boundaries of black life and the character of race relations in the Chesapeake during the first fifty years of English and African settlement. Unlike those who would follow them into slavery in the plantation era, these first arrivals were not denigrated by diminutives, labeled with names more appropriate to barnyard animals, or derided with the appellations of ancient notables. Instead their names provided concrete evidence that they carried their dignity and a good deal more with them to the New World.
They were creoles who had gained a familiarity with economic exchange, Christian religion, and slavery along the littoral of Africa. For the most part, they entered the Chesapeake in small groups, as prizes of privateers or pirates, as unsalable portions of larger shipments to Barbados or other islands under English control. A few even immigrated freely. At every opportunity free blacks had their property and debts recorded in the courthouse and wills notarized. Such occasions afforded them an opportunity to certify their Christian belief; they had their children baptized and selected godparents.
Like their white neighbors, free people of color were a litigious people. Throughout the seventeenth century they sued and were sued with great frequency, testifying and petitioning as to their rights.
Atlantic creoles--like ambitious white men and women--strove to own their own land. Only a handful succeeded. Cattle traders and artisans loomed large among the most successful free blacks in the seventeenth century Chesapeake. Independence allowed black men and women a range of expressions that others termed arrogance--the traditional charge against Atlantic creoles. Those men and women who had crossed the Atlantic and scaled the barrier between slavery and freedom were not easily intimidated.
Many blacks and whites appeared to enjoy one another's company, perhaps because they shared so much. Behind closed doors, far from eyes of suspicious slaveholders, black and white joined together to drink, gamble, frolic, and fight, Indeed, it was the violence that followed long bouts of “drinking and carrousinge” that time and again revealed the extent of interracial conviviality.
Bastardy lists suggest that the largest source of mixed-raced children in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake was not the imposition of white planter men on black slave women but the relations of black slaves and white servants. Fragmentary evidence from various parts of Maryland and Virginia affirms that approximately one-quarter to one-third of the illegitimate children born to white women had fathers of African descent.
Throughout the seventeenth-century, black and white ran away together, joined in petty conspiracies, and upon occasion, stood shoulder-to-shoulder against weighty champions of established authority.
A register of births and marriages for 17th century Somerset County in Maryland, a county on the Chesapeake just north-west of Northampton, shows that the daughter of an immigrant marries at a younger age than her mother, in most cases because the daughter does not have a period of servitude that delays marriage. Most immigrant women married in their middle twenties, while their daughters were much younger at marriage. Some girls married at age twelve; the the mean age at marriage for those born before 1670 was sixteen and a half years. Not only did native girls marry early, but many of them were pregnant before the ceremony.4
The early experience of white servants in the American colonies was neither a pleasant nor rewarding one. Most wanted to come to the colonies, complete their periods of service, work a few years for wages, and then obtain land, acquire their own servants, and gradually enter the wealthier, planter class. Some were able to achieve their goal. Many did not. Servitude in the colonies was not what they expected, not at all like servitude in England. In order to make the most of the tobacco boom, planters extracted from their servants all the labor they could, far more than young Englishmen were used to doing. As a consequence, discipline grew harsh and servants soon became, in the eyes of those who worked them, less human and more a commodity. If their status was better than that of African slaves on the larger sugar plantations on Caribbean islands at the same time, the difference was not marked. Daniel Defoe, writing with hyperbole, described indentured servants in the early 1700s, as “more properly called slaves.” Whatever the conditions of a servant were, they were held for a finite period of time and not hereditary.
There was a direct relationship between the changing proportion of blacks to whites in a colony and the sense of need a colonial government felt to develop laws regulating the slave population. Tidewater
legislators had not bothered to codify slavery until the number of slaves there swelled and problems with their control arose. Before this time, at least some blacks and whites shared escapades and punishments. In 1649, for instance, William Watts, a white man, and Mary, a black servant, performed the same penance for fornication as would any white couple: they had to stand before the congregation in church at Elizabeth River in Virginia, dressed in a white sheet and holding a white wand.
The process of black debasement and degradation was not linear and foreordained. The possibility of a genuinely multiracial society became a reality in the years before Bacon's Rebellion in 1767. For a brief moment it seemed, in one county, as if black Virginians would form a free peasantry capable of holding its own in a developing plantation society. Property made the difference. The black peasants of mid-century Northampton owned sizable tracts of land and competed with neighbors in the marketplace. A free person of color, known as Anthony the Negro, later as Anthony Johnson, went with Capt. Philip Taylor to view a cornfield in which they both held an interest. Upon their return, the county clerk asked Anthony what had occurred, and the black farmer replied, “Mr. Taylor and I have divided our Corne And I am glad of it [for] now I know what is myne owne ground and I will work when I please and play when I please.”
But beginning around the middle of the seventeenth century, colonial judges and lawmakers started stripping away the rights of African immigrants. When the erosion of blacks' legal status took place differs by location. In some places courts were treating individual blacks differently from whites by 1640. Both Virginia and Maryland meted out stiff punishment for fornication between individuals of the two races. (Maryland decreed in 1664 that all “English women forgetful of their free Condition and to the disgrace of our Nation do intermarry with Negro Slaves… shall Serve the master of such slaves during the life of her husband.”) Recognizing that masters must make slaves fear for their lives—their liberty already lost—to get necessary work from them, and realizing that this required a level of brutality that easily could result in the slaves' death, Virginia in 1669 passed “An act about the casual killing of slaves”:
In 1662 Virginia declared that “if any Christian shall commit Fornication with a Negro man or woman, hee or shee soe offending” should pay double the usual fine. Two years later Maryland banned interracial marriages: “forasmuch as divers freeborne English women forgetful of their free Condicion and to the disgrace of our Nation doe intermarry with Negro Slaves by which alsoe divers suites may arise touching the Issue of such woemen and a great damage doth befall the Masters of such Negros for prevention whereof for deterring such freeborne women from such shameful Matches.” A Maryland act of 1681 described marriages of white women with Negroes as, among other things, “always to the Satisfaction of theire Lascivious and Lustfull desires, and to the disgrace not only of the English butt allso of many other Christian Nations.” When Virginia finally prohibited all interracial liaisons in 1691, the Assembly vigorously denounced miscegenation and its fruits as “that abominable mixture and spurious issue.”
Bacon's Rebellion was an armed rebellion in 1676 by Virginia settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon against the rule of Governor William Berkeley. The colony's dismissive policy as it related to the political challenges of its western frontier, along with other challenges including leaving Bacon out of his inner circle, refusing to allow Bacon to be a part of his fur trade with the Indians, and Doeg American Indian attacks, helped to motivate a popular uprising against Berkeley, who had failed to address the demands of the colonists regarding their safety.
A thousand Virginians of all classes and races rose up in arms against Berkeley, attacking Indians, chasing Berkeley from Jamestown, Virginia, and ultimately torching the capital. It was the first rebellion in the American colonies in which discontented frontiersmen took part. A somewhat similar uprising in Maryland involving John Coode and Josias Fendall took place shortly afterwards. The alliance between indentured servants and Africans (most enslaved until death or freed), united by their bond-servitude, disturbed the ruling class, who responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.
It sought to codify slavery, secure the labor force, and prevent slaves from forming rebellious alliances with servants. Among the enactments was a low mandating that the children of a union between a slave and free person would follow the status of the mother. Although this rule of maternal status-“birth follows the belly”-resulted in widespread rape and generations of light-skinned slaves, it also formed the basis for the first communities of free people of color. English servant women had children with African men in such numbers that continually alarmed Virginia’s lawmakers, In certain courts, practically the only record that existed consisted of cases of “mulatto bastards” born to English women.
Be it enacted and declared by this grand assembly, if any slave resist his
master (or other by his masters order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be
accompted Felony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the
master to punish him) be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be
prepensed malice (which alone makes murther Felony) should induce
any man to destroy his own estate.
Social practice did not always follow the law, so some free blacks, remaining descendants of the Atlantic creole population that arrived during the first half-century of the colonies' existence, continued to be viable and respected members of Chesapeake communities and had all manner of relations with whites into the 1670s. But whatever dike held back the flood of legislation and social practice condemning blacks to slavery and ostracism broke with the importation of large numbers of African men and women after the 1680s. In short order, blacks in the Chesapeake lost most of their remaining rights and found themselves completely set apart from whites on all levels of colonial society.
A FREE PERSON OF COLOR
If sexual relations outside marriage were more widespread in Virginia and Maryland than England, attitudes toward sex and marriage did not necessarily differ radically. Such behavior can be largely attributed to the peculiar demographic pressures of the early Chesapeake, the huge numbers of servants, and the lack of ministers and churches. In these conditions settlers adopted popular forms of courtship and marriage prevalent in the parent society, which frequently brought them into conflict with colonial authorities attempting to enforce the letter of English law.
The fact that servants were not allowed to marry without the consent of their masters or mistresses posed an especially thorny problem in view of the relative shortage of women and the length of service involved. "Secret marriages" between servants (probably in the form of an exchange of vows in front of witnesses without reference to masters, the church, or local magistrates) were outlawed by the Virginia Assembly in 1643. Elopement was another option for lovesick swains not prepared to wait until the end of their own or their partner's period of service.
clandestine or irregular unions, ministers were instructed to conduct all marriages “according to the laws of England” and “book of common prayer”: banns were to be published in the parish (or parishes), o( the couple's usual abode on three successive Sundays, and the ceren1ony was to be conducted “only betweene the howers of eight and twelve in the forenoone.” An act of 1662 spelled out the consequences for disobedience. Any “pretended marriage hereafter made by any other than a minister be reputed null, and the children borne out of such marriage of the parents, be esteemed illegitimate and the parents suffer such punishment as by the laws prohibiting fornication ought to be inflicted." Nevertheless, the problem of clandestine marriages persisted.”5
A female servant paid dearly for the fault of unmarried pregnancy. She was heavily fined, and if no one would pay her fine, she was whipped. Furthermore, she served and extra twelve to twenty-four months to repay her master for the “trouble of his house” and labor lost, and the fathers often did not share in this payment of damages. On top of all, she might lose the child after weaning unless by then she had become free, for the courts bound out bastard children at a very early age.
Women servants in the Chesapeake were more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than their English counterparts (although studies of Somerset and Essex, England, reveal that female servants were also often the victims of the unwanted sexual attention of their masters). A risk for the woman who came as a servant was the possibility of bearing a bastard. At least 20 percent of the female servants who came to Charles County between 1658 and 1705 were presented to the county court for this cause.6 Not uncommonly, masters married their servants-an arrangement that may have suited both parties - and sometimes a planter might buy a woman's remaining time, again, with her consent. In these cases, as in England, the crucial point was that consent was freely given. No one could be forced into marriage. Since many women servants doubtless arrived with an intention to marry sooner or later, if a suitable match could be made with a free man who was willing to buy her freedom, she may have considered the opportunity too good to miss. The high incidence of premarital sex reflects not only illicit relations between servants but also betrothals between servant women and free men.
Elizabeth Chavis, a servant in a household near Jamestown, Virginia, served under the harsh conditions of servant to master. Early Virginia was a society divided between master and white servant - a society with such contempt for white servants that masters were not punished for beating their servants to death. The Africans joined the same households with white servants - working, eating, sleeping, getting drunk, and running away together. It is not known what environment Elizabeth was in but it is known from court records that in about 1660, Elizabeth had a child by _____ Gibson, an African or man of African descent. Her child was bound by Berr. Mercer to Thomas Barber, who had gone to England leaving the boy with Samuel Austin.7
In 1672 Elizabeth made a successful petition to the General Court of Virginia to release her son Gibson Gibson. The law at that time was that the status of a child was determined by the status of the mother. As the mother was a free person, so was the child. Gibson Gibson, who called himself “Gibby,” gained his freedom and began acquiring land and even slaves which he gifted to family members.8
Gibby had a brother Hubbard, ten years younger, born 1670, who was also free. He began acquiring land in Prince George County, Virginia, about 50 miles south of present day Richmond.9 Like all immigrants at that time, they acquired land primarily through head-right, a legal grant of land to settlers based on the number of “heads.” Most head-rights were for 1 to 1,000 acres of land and were given to anyone willing to cross the Atlantic Ocean and help populate the colonies. Head-rights were granted to anyone who would pay for the transportation costs of a laborer or slave. These land grants consisted of 50 acres for someone newly moving to the area and 100 acres for people previously living in the area. It should be kept in mind that “despite all precautions fraud and deception were by no means uncommon.”10 By giving the land to the landowning masters the indentured servants had little or no chance to procure their own land. This kept many colonials poor and led to strife between the poor servants and wealthy landowners.
After paying for the passage of an individual to go it to the colonies, one needed to obtain a patent for the land. First, the governor or local county court had to provide a certificate that certified the validity of the importation of a person. One would then select the land one desired and have an official survey made.
The patent’s claimant would then take the description of this land to the colony’s secretary, who created the patent to be approved by the governor. Once a head-right was obtained, it was treated as a commodity and could be bought, sold, or traded. It also could be saved indefinitely and used later.
Hubbard Gibson and his wife Mary had a son, Gideon Gibson, born about 1695 near Jamestown.9 The son of Hubbard will be referred to as Gideon or Gideon Sr. Gideon married a 14 or 15-year-old white adolescent girl, Mary Brown, sometime around 1720. She had their first child at 15. Their second child, and first son, was named Gideon; he was born around 1720.10 He referred to himself as Gideon Jr. and will be noted as such. Many of the well-to-do Gibson families married whites and were considered white after a few generations; a phenomena known as “passing.”11
COUNTER-THEORIES OF PARENTAGE
The first Gibson in Virginia was Thomas Gibson. He came over on the second supply ship, the Mary Margaret in 1608. However, he appears not to be in the ancestry of Gideon Gibson. I include this because I spent a lot of timee researching Thomas Gibson and there are some really interesting stories I had wanted to include but DNA has ruled him out of our ancestry. So that is that.
The above narative of Gideon comes from the work of Paul Heinegg. It must be kept in mind there are some antagonists to the findings of Paul Heinegg. Here are some alternative Gibson ancestry theories.
Some contend that Gideon’s father was John Jordan Gibson, son of John Gibson, a Scot, who arrived in Virginia in 165512 from Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England when he was in his twenties. Maybe ten years or so after arriving in America, he married Dorothy Havird, who was also from Northumberland. Their son John Jordan was born in 1673. Gideon was born around 1695. John Jordan married Eliza Willcocks in 1708.13.
Now this seems quite plausilbe, even after discovering Gideon was a mulatto.
However, upon looking further at the source for this information, ancestry.com seems to say it comes from family sources. According to Daniel J. Sharfstein, author of The Invisible Line, the Gibson family began inventing a family history to cover up their bi-racial ancestry after their move to Mississippi. Given what's known about Mississippi, this is quite understandable.
However, the above paragraph is in conflict with Paul Heinegg’s data. He shows that ______ Gibson is the grandfather to Gideon, and _____ Gibson was born in 1638, seventeen years before John Gibson's arrival. According to Heinegg, Hubbard Gibson, born 1670, was Gideon’s father and they indeed seemed to move together before Hubbard’s death, in the Cheraw district, which will be looked at in depth shortly. Heinegg did qualify Hubbard’s and Gideon’s place in the tree as “based on best available data.”
According to Heinegg, there was a Jane Gibson, born 1641, who was the sister of _____ Gibson. A deposition given as evidence that two or three generations of her descendants were unlawfully bound, stated, in part, “. . . that many of them [descendants] are black, some nearly white and others dark mulattoes . . . ” which the deponent believed proceeded from promiscuity.14 Thomas Gibson, also known as Mingo Jackson, was the plaintiff and won his freedom along with the other descendants of Jane.
Heinegg states that ______ Gibson conceived a child with Elizabeth Chavis, free woman. That child was held in bondage until Elizabeth brought suit for his freedom. She won her child’s freedom. Some believe Elizabeth was identified as the daughter of Thomas Chevers and was born 1648-1650, too young to be the mother of Gibby Gibson, born 1660. However, it is not certain that the mother was daughter of Thomas Chevers and if she was we have seen daughters of immigrants were as young as twelve, presumably having sex.
Which is all to say there is no consensus or conclusive evidence of Gideon’s parentage, especially his African ancestry. In fact, there are some who deny he had African ancestry, but was of Native American ancestry. However, there is sufficient contemporaneous evidence to believe he was what was called in his time as a mulatto. My DNA analyzed by two separate companies both show I have sub-Sahara African ancestry: 23andMe at .04% and ancestry.com between 0-1%.