The Life and Times of the Mulatto
Gideon Gibson

“Virginian Luxuries,” from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.

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


Arrival of the first Africans in 1619

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.

The taking of the São João Bautista

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.

Many free persons of color were able to establish community prior to the third quarter of the 17th century

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

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.

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.”

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

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 brought disenfanchised white settlers together with person's of color, free and slave, to protest and rebel against the English gentry

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.


Elizabeth Chavis makes a successful petition to the General Court of Virginia to release her son Gibson Gibson from bondage

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.

To prevent 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


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.

Berwick townscape behind the River Tweed, where Thomas Gibson lived before immigrating to Virginia. Berwick-upon-Tweed sits at the most northerly tip of Northumberland, just 3 miles from the Scottish Border.

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.

John Smith “Honest to God Hero”'s Generall Historie of Virginia . . . showing Thomas Gibson (no relation) on 2nd ship, 1608.

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.

This is saying John Jordan Gibsonis the father of Gidion Gibson

Now this seems quite plausilbe, even after discovering Gideon was a mulatto.

However, upon looking further at the source for this information, 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.

Lynching for being black in Mississippi

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 between 0-1%.


Gibson's 1721 Migration Route

In about 1721 Gideon began acquiring land about a hundred miles south of Jamestown in North Carolina. The land was on the coastal plain bordering both sides of the Roanoke River, an area known as Albemarle (see Gibson's 1721 Migration Route). Gideon and John Gibson, and George Rawlinson ("Bertie Precinct planters") were sued for debts they contracted in Prince George County, Virginia, at the store of Francis Lightfoot. Gideon's debt was contracted on 13 November 1726 for 16 pounds, 4 shillings. The debts were certified in James City County court on 8 March 1730, and in April 1731. J. George Alleyn, a physician, was bondsman for Gideon for 50 pounds to appear at the General Court in Edenton. However, none of the defendants appeared . Gideon sold 108 acres of his land on the south side of the Roanoke River in the first few months of 1730 in what was then Bertie County before moving to South Carolina with several of his relatives who were living on the other side of the Roanoke River in present-day Northampton County15, as mentioned previously, a county with a historical large minority population of free people of African descent.16

Most in this area of North Carolina were displaced former indentured servants from the Chesapeake. They had small tobacco farms and it is assumed Gideon did too. Slavery existed here, but in smaller numbers than in the neighboring Chesapeake. Land was plentiful, but travel was difficult. There were no navigable rivers and the coastline was dangerous to ships because of the shoal waters around the barrier islands. Settlers had to haul their goods overland to the Chesapeake on poor or non-existent roads. The inhabitants felt as if the aristocrats from Virginia and the Charles Town area looked down their noses on them, feelings quite justified, as the attitude of a Virginia commissioner shows:

Captain Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard operated around the West Indies and the East coast of British North America

The commissioner was partaking the settling the border line between Virginia and North Carolina and patronized the Carolinian commissioners and treated them like poor relations. After planting a cedar post in the ground, on which one side was engraved with “NC” and “V” on the other, they came upon a hermit who lived with a woman in a bark-covered hut like Native Americans. They did not sow or plant, the stuffy commissioner noted, but lived on oysters and milk from the neighbor’s cows. He observed the borderers, who he thought a rough and ready lot who had a reputation for sheltering runway slaves and criminals; “the men were loafers, and the women did all the work.” He thought of North Carolina as “lubberland,” where all the people were “intolerably lazy.”

Just three years before the Gibson made North Carolina home, the nearby coastal waters had been a refuge for Edward “Blackbeard” Teach; he was believed to have home a in Ocracoke Village not ninety miles from Bertie. He felt safe behind the treacherous Outer Banks; plus, it was widely rumored the North Carolina governor turned a blind eye to his presence for a share of the take. The governor of Virginia, tired of his preying on shipping, sent the British Navy to bring an end to it. After a fierce battle the British sailed out of Remarkable Sound with Blackbeard’s head hanging from the bowsprit.

By 1727 Gideon owned over 1,300 acres in the Albemarle. They acquired another 150 acres from Mary’s father, who left 150 acres to each of his six children when he died.


Early American board table

In contrast to England, where there was too little work for too many people, the Chesapeake demanded too much work from too few people. During nine months of the year, from early spring to late fall, tobacco required attention and diligence to sow, transplant, weed, trim, eliminate worms, cut, cure, pack, and ship. The planters also needed regularly to clear new fields with axes, for after three years of cropping, the cultivated lands lost their fertility, and the planter had to clear another field to allow the old to lie fallow. The result was shoddy, carelessly managed, almost disgustingly shabby farms. In defence of the dilapidated landscape of the Chesapeake, they had to move on and abandon the buildings when the soil was exhausted.

In a mobile agricultural system, the deterioration of buildings and land was integral to the functioning of the system. Unkempt fields restored fertility. In stump-littered tobacco fields, laborers hoed around hulks and thus saved the expense of rooting them out. Tobacco houses were semi-permanent facilities relocated with shifting fields. The planters either abandoned the old tobacco house or dismantled it for reconstruction near a new field…Tidewater landscapes, atrophied and in disarray, sacrificed aesthetics for economy and ecology.

The planters eagerness to produce a large cash crop left him little time for other sides of farm life. His house remained a hovel. He tended to neglect the orchard and sometimes even the kitchen garden. The to tobacco and corn planting seasons coincided, which often meant that he failed to plant enough corn to carry the family through the year. He knew that tobacco wore out the soil in three or four years, yet he failed to fertilize his fields; not out of ignorance, however, but because his livestock grazed in the woods, and more important, because merchants told him that fertilized fields produced a leaf that tasted of manure. Those who charged him with laziness because of the condition of his farm failed to note that he grew the most demanding crop produced in the colonial America.

The first houses were not much better than the original shelters, still little more than huts, still “decidedly substandard housing.” Those “ramshackle hovels” persisted well into the second half of the seventeenth century. A few of the better-off citizens eventually built with brick, “but everyone else still lived in the rotting wooden affairs that lay about the landscape like so many landlocked ships.”

The huts were small, say twenty feet by twenty feet and seldom rose over a story and a half high. A ladder or ladder-like stair led to a loft if there was one. Construction was simple four posts or logs pounded into the ground with siding of clapboard, roofed with thatch or sod. The fireplace and chimney might be made of stone but more likely were built of logs plastered with clay. The fireplaces were placed at the end of the house to “dissipate the heat generated in the summer by the constant reed for cooking fires.” Light seeped in through slits of varying sizes, perhaps covered with glazed paper, waxed cloth, or pieces of animal horn scraped thin enough to be translucent. Shutters, a practical necessity then, not an ornament as now, helped keep winter winds out. Doorways were often small, forcing a visitor to stoop as he entered, he arrived headfirst, bent double, and if unfriendly was easy to disarm. What the early settler wanted was an inward-focused house, a sure defense against human and animal enemies.

There were no rooms with assigned functions, no bedroom, as such, no dining room, no bathroom. (Indeed, down to the end of the seventeenth century few houses had even a chamber pot, or “looking glass,” as it was called. Members of the family, regardless of age or sex or weather, relieved themselves in the privy outside. The loft was for sleeping but also served as storage space. There were no closets, the few garments were packed in chests or hung from pegs scattered about the house.

The average seventeenth-century farmhouse might look cluttered yet was sparsely furnished by modern standards. More than half the households contained personal belongings worth less than sixty pounds. About a third of the families had chairs or benches but only one house in seven had both. If the husband was adept at carpentry, the hall might hold a corner cupboard to store eating utensils and other small items. Beds for many years were a rarity. A bedroll or “shake-down” that could be rolled up during the day was common at least in the early days of settlement. The family ate from a long board or pair of boards nailed together, which stood on trestles close to the fireplace. No one called it a dining table. It was, instead, the board table, and the cloth that covered it, if the family had one, was the board cloth. To sit “at the board” was to eat, and a hired hand expected both “room and board” as part of his pay. The family sat on benches, stools, or chests pushed up to the board. Chairs were not then common. If the family had one it was reserved for the head of he house-thus the word chairman.

The table setting was simple. In the center lay the salt cellar. Adults and guests sat “above the salt,” children and servants below. Most of the tableware was unbreakable and until a family could afford pewter more likely than not made of wood. There were no individual settings. Diners paired up and, sharing a common trencher- a wooden tray about ten inches square and depressed in center like a modern soup bowl. Trencher mates drank from shared wooden or leather noggins. Spoons were the essential utensil at the table. Knives, if they turned up, were pointed and used to spear food from the common serving dish. Forks did not appear until the eighteenth century. There were those who held that forks were a “diabolical luxury,” and that “God would not have given us fingers if He had wished us to use such an instrument.” The arrival of the fork in England led to a change in the table knife, the pointed end became curved. Americans imported their knives and thus got the new version before they got the fork. They now used the spoon, with the curved end held down, to anchor food while cutting with knife, reversing the spoon to carry the food from plate to mouth. When the fork finally arrived they used it as they had the spoon. “Which is precisely the way we use it today. This distinctive way of using the knife, fork, and spoon came into existence during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and thus is one more American idiosyncrasy arising from isolation during that period.”

Within this small, crowded space, day in and day out, lived a family that might number up to a dozen members, varying in age from a year or less up to seventy or more years. Artifacts that have survived from seventeenth-century America have been passed down from those who prospered. They bequeathed an impression of a comfortable if not sumptuous way of life. The everyday life of the plain people of the time shared little in this easy existence.


A planter and his wife and slave in Barbados

The colony of Carolina was the inspiration of a Royalist who had fled to the island of Barbados after Oliver Cromwell’s victory and the execution of Charles I. Ten years later he returned to England seeking reward upon the reinstatement of Charles II. During his exile in Barbados, he became a planter and witnessed first-hand the fortunes made from sugar. He had the ear of Charles’ closest friends and advisors when he received a knighthood and a seat on the Counsel of Foreign Plantations. Together with handful of powerful men who all had a claim on Charles II, they obtained a charter from the King for a Proprietary Colony, granting them absolute power over a colony to be between Virginia and Spanish Florida.

They fashioned a quite liberal constitution attractive to almost anyone looking for a new beginning; with such provisions as guaranteeing religious toleration, Roman Catholics excluded, naturalized citizenship for aliens, property rights, land grants and “titles of honor” and participatory government. They eventually established Charles Town in honor of their benefactor and recruited settlers from the British Isles and Barbados. Attractive to planters and would-be-planters was a provision that gave every free-man “absolute power and authority over his Negro slaves.”

Colonial Map of the Carolinas
By 1690 over half of the settlers came from Barbados and additional immigrants from other English West Indies. The Barbadians knew what was requited to prosper in a colonial environment. They brought with them the Barbadian cultural model, not that of colonial Virginia or New England. The Atlantic Coast of north of Charles Town was lowland and ideal for producing rice.

One the eve of the American Revolution, South Carolina was the wealthiest colony in British North America and Charles Town was the social, economic, and political capital of the colony. The aggregate wealth of inventoried estates in Charles Town was six times that of Philadelphia. Charles Town was one of the five great cities of colonial America. The Comparative Private Wealth Table shows how astounding South Carolina's wealth was compared to the other colonies.

Once called White Point because of the oyster shells left by the local Native Americans, the peninsula was the site of more than fifty hangings of pirates under the beautiful oaks. During the war of 1812, when the British blockaded Charleston Harbor, large caliber guns were placed along White Point, and the name “The Battery” was officially coined. But by about 1770, stunning mansions were erected that still draws spectators even now, and the ugly history of the area is overshadowed by the beauty that surrounds it today.
The elite who controlled South Carolina owed their wealth to the labor of thousands of black slaves. In 1775 there were 104,000 black Carolinians, but only 70,000 whites. Of these whites, nearly two-thirds lived in what was called the backcountry. The white residents in the lowcountry were primarily rice planters. They lived in fear of slave uprisings and "savage" attacks. They wanted the backcountry settled to act as a buffer between the Cherokee in the foothills and themselves. The governor planned five townships and offered generous land grants under the head-right system to attract settlers.


Southerners referred to the land more than fifty miles inland from the coast as the backcountry. It is connected to the coast by several great river systems. South Carolina’s extensive backcountry remained forbidding to Europeans until the colonial victory in the Yamasee War of 1715-1719. By that time, white hunters and Native American traders were making their way to the inland reaches of the colony.

As families grew in number and more Europeans immigrated, the frontier was pushed back, especially in the backcountry of the Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolina colonies. In 1730 the governor of South Carolina began a policy of frontier settlement. He reasoned that a backcountry population would act as a buffer between the elites with their rice plantations and cities on the coast and the Cherokee Generous head-rights were given and no religious requirements. In 1731, the Gibsons, Hubbard, Gideon , their families and others relocated to the backcountry of South Carolina in what was then Craven Parish (later called Cheraw Precinct, St. David’s Precinct, and today Florence County and Marion County) . (See Gibson's 1731 Migration Route) They settled on the edge of a bluff on the Great Pee Dee River at a place most frequently referred to as Mars Bluff.

Gibson's 1731 Migration Route
Mars Bluff is seven miles east of the present-day junction-city of Florence, South Carolina. Rev. Alexander Gregg, former rector of St. David’s Church in Cheraw, South Carolina and a descendant of the Gregg family who received 1,350-acre grant in 1752, wrote extensively on the region in The History of the Old Cheraws, published in 1867. He writes:

. . . the Gibsons’ settlement was made at a point on the east bank of the river, called Sandy Bluff, two and a half miles above Mars Bluff. A few traces of it are yet to be seen at several points, immediately on the high bank of the river. The families of Crawford, Saunders, Murfee, Crosby, Keighly, Berry, and shortly after, the Gibson’s, made up this community. Sandy Bluff extended up the river about three miles. With the fertile uplands running out for some distance, and a rich swamp on the opposite side, supplied, too, with numerous springs of good water, this locality was in many respects admirably adapted to the wants of the infant colony.17

The Great Pee Dee River

The chief drawback was its growing unhealthfulness, until the long process was passed through, of clearing the lands and draining the contiguous bottoms. The settlers built their houses, as did the Welsh above, immediately on the river, and in close proximity to each other, for the convenience of water, of social intercourse, and their mutual protection against Native American. It was also more healthy than locations further out from the river, as experience has proved.18

Compared to the Tidewater, the Piedmont had a lower incidence of malaria, a major cause of the death in the Tidewater. The mortality rate in Jamestown after 1630 was 40-50 per thousand, compared to 24-26 per thousand in New England in the same period.

They erected a building for public worship, according to the rites of the Established Church. Faint traces of this early structure were to be seen a few years since. The bricks used for the foundation were brought up the river in boats (the settlers transporting themselves and their stores), and were of a most superior quality.19

The Piedmont is a plateau between the Tidewater and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Pee Dee River’s southeast flow empties into the barrier lagoon. At this junction lies George Town. It lies about 75 miles north of Charleston (then called Charles Town). The name Pee Dee comes from the name of the tribe of Native Americans indigenous to the area. The River and the rich lands bordering it are the prominent geographical features of the region. It is the second-largest river basin drainage area on the eastern coast of the United States, ranked directly behind the Susqehanna. The river is broad and serpentine in appearance. It has a width of 245 to 400 feet, and at its lowest stage the river has a depth of one to two feet. The river is navigable from Georgetown, at the coast, to the fall line directly above the town of Cheraw, a distance of 172 miles. Above the fall line the rapids extend for about seventy miles. Once beyond the rocky falls above Blewett Falls Lake, small river craft can easily navigate the river.

The Great Pee Dee River

The Rev. Wm. Turberville came with the colony and was their pastor. He was a well-educated man, and had a high reputation as a preacher.

An English visitor to the Pee Dee River in 1784 described it as being “a very large stream of water, at least three times as wide as the Thames at Putney, it runs through a rich and extensive country . . . passing through the Chawraws [sic], having a vast body of low grounds and rich rice and indigo lands on each side.” Besides having ample water resources, land was also plentiful. The terrain along the river banks of Marlboro, Darlington, and Chesterfield counties resembles the lowcountry, having low-lying swamp lands varying in width from one to five miles. These swamps, however, are narrower than those in the lowcountry. This region had abundant fish, birds, and game. “The shad, in season, are caught in the Pedee River, besides the trout, bream, cat-fish, round-fish, or sucker, red horse, with some others.” The forests have plentiful “deer, fox, rabbit, squirrel, raccoon, opossum, &c.; The birds are wild turkeys, pigeons, ducks, geese, and others usual to the country.”

The upper Pee Dee River valley had a diverse environment, containing sandhills, swamps, thick pine forests, and fertile land suitable for planting crops and grazing livestock. This variety attracted many settlers to the region in the eighteenth century.

Colonial map of the Carolina showing where Gideon settled

Gideon, with his large family, was among its largest landowners in the region. (see table 1) Being among the first settlers, there were no roads. Travel was by horseback over Native American trails or by boat on the river. The horseback trip to Charleston to patent his land took five days riding.

Gideon was raising cattle early in his settlement. He managed a 650-acre “cow pen” with assistance of one slave. Gregg elaborates on the use of the cow pen:

Large numbers of wild horses and cattle in addition [to those driven down for the north] were found by the first settlers in the woods of Carolina. Many were caught and domesticated, and stock-raising at once became a prolific source of wealth. Most of the early fortunes on the Pedee were made in this way. Energy, rather than capital, was required in the first instance, and but little labour [sic] demanded afterward. Everywhere in those days, on the hills and in the valleys, the best ranges were found, and it was only necessary to drive the stock from place to place in search of fresh pasturage, as the supply became exhausted, The numbers owned by single individuals, and thus driven about, were very large, almost incredibly so to those accustomed to the condition of things in this respect now existing in the older States. It was in this kind of life, habituated to the use of the saddle in the woods for days and weeks together, often in the dangerous adventures of the chase, that our early settlers became such expert horsemen and so inured to exposure and hardship as to meet successfully the extraordinary demands of that protracted struggle which was soon to overtake them.
The wild stock was captured by the simple contrivance of a large and well-secured pen in the fork of two branches, or larger streams, into which the frightened and over-powered animal was driven. In some cases, where the branches were boggy, and could not be entered, a fence was built across, some distance above the point of junction, and this was the only enclosure required. Some of our smaller streams are yet found to retain the name, “horse-pen,” indicating that they were made to sub serve the purpose mentioned. The stock was driven to Charles Town and other places on the coast, as well as to more distant markets. Large numbers of cattle were sent form Pedee to Philadelphia.
It is related of Malachi Murphy, who drove many beeves annually to Philadelphia, that on one occasion was [sic] a famous beast, called “Blaze Face,”” of great size and unusual sagacity, which he sold in Philadelphia.
On the night of his return home to Pedee, and soon after his arrival, he heard the low [[ of Blaze Face, He had escaped and followed close upon the track of his owner, swimming rivers and distancing all pursuers. Mr. Murphy drive him a second time to Philadelphia, and again he returned. Such spirit was worthy of a better fate, but did not shield the bold rover. He was taken a third time to Philadelphia, and came back no more.20

Pork soon became a valuable article of export in the course of time. “Cheraw bacon” was destined to be famous in distant parts of the country.


Royal governor explains to the assembly that Gideon Gibson and
his people “are not Negroes nor Slaves . . .”

Gideon and his entourage came to the attention of the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly in 1731. An alarmed member announced in chamber that several “free colored men with their white wives” had immigrated from Virginia with the intention of settling on the Santee River.” Governor Robert Johnson of South Carolina summoned Gideon to explain their presence there. After meeting them, he reported,

I have had them before me in Council and upon Examination find that they are not Negroes nor Slaves but Free people, That the Father of them here is named Gideon Gibson and his Father was also free, I have been informed by a person who has lived in Virginia that this Gibson has lived there Several Years in good Repute and by his papers that he has produced before me that his transactions there have been very regular, That he has for several years paid Taxes for two tracts of Land and had seven Negroes of his own, That he is a Carpenter by Trade and is come hither for the support of his Family. ... I have in Consideration of his Wifes [sic] being a white woman and several White women Capable of working and being Serviceable in the Country permitted him to Settle in this Country.21

Like the early settlers of the North Carolina frontier Governor Johnson was more concerned with the Gibsons' social class than their race.

From this episode one can see how Gideon’s status as a slaveholder is to his benefit: it assures the establishment that he won’t be fermenting revolt among the slaves; he is one of them. Further,

  • Newly freed slaves were in a precarious position. Re-enslavement was a possibility. Safety could be improved with enhanced economic and/or social status. Since a slave couldn’t own property including other slaves, being seen to own one asserted that YOU were a free person.
  • Prosperity advertised your social and legal status as free. Money may not buy happiness but in the antebellum South it could buy freedom. Owning a salve and having a legal right to the slave’s labor was a road to greater prosperity. At that time and place, refusing to own a slave likely placed one at a disadvantage with business competitors.
  • Slavery existed for millennia and even though it was undesirable to be a slave, it doesn’t follow that a freed slave would consider the institution immoral or illegitimate. i.e., bad to be a slave but good to own one. This notion didn’t change much until the French enlightenment which was then a recent event.
  • It was not just a freedman’s own well-being at stake. It was also about attaining a better, safer future for offspring.

Free blacks cultivated their relationships with their former owners, landlords, commercial associations, creditors, sponsors, and patrons, not only to protect them in moments of peril but to participate openly and freely in the routine transactions which, taken together, defined the economy and society of the Chesapeake region and other newly opened regions. Patrons rented or leased land to free blacks, lent them money, marketed their tobacco, purchased their livestock, and served as the advocates at law, often standing for their ambitious attempts to expand their liberty, much as former associates vouched for Gideon when inquiries were made by the governor.

Gideon, like most other mulatto masters, and most other black masters were mulattoes,22 never knew the dehumanization of slavery because they had been born of free black parents. By and large, free blacks who owned slave farms or plantations and sought to produce commercial crops tended to become slave owners during the years 1750-1860, and the attitudes and actions of colored masters appeared to be similar to those of the white slave owners. In essence, free black masters embraced many of the attitudes of the white community even while they remained on the fringe of society. Blacks who owned chattel regarded slavery not as an oppressive institution but as an economic necessity upon which their livelihood depended.

Weeding was a never ending chore

Gideon most likely considered the acquisition of slaves necessary to fulfill his need for workers. As his acreage increased, so did is need for more slaves. Raising a cash crop solely by himself was simply not possible. As an ambitious landowner he was compelled to acquire laborers; and there were only two sources of labor: the first supply was free labor. But the availability of free labor was primarily restricted to free blacks because most southern white workers would not work for black man. The supply of black labor was also limited. Free blacks had a desire to work for themselves too. Given the time and place, his only option was to seek the services of the most available supply of labor, slave labor. In a society where slavery was an accepted form of labor, it is not surprising that Gideon and others like him exploited the vast reservoir of slave labor.

The mulattoes who acquired slaves for their own benefit often assimilated into the culture of white slave owners.; slavery was seen as a viable and legitimate institution which was to be exploited for profit. They chose to align themselves with the values of white slave owners. rather than embracing the spirit of freedom and liberty espoused by the abolitionists.23

In 1790 when the first census was taken demanded by the new U.S. Constitution, there were 59 slave masters of African ancestry who held 357 bondsmen. By 1820 the numbers had increased to 245 slave masters of African ancestry. After 1820 determining the number of African American slave holders becomes problematic as the South Carolina legislature passed legislation that kinfolk or friends could not emancipate their loved ones without the approval of the state assembly. Consequently, the slaves bought by family members who previously would have emancipated them now were forced to hold them as chattel and report their kinfolk as slaves to the census takers. Given that caveat, the number of African American slaveholders by in 1840 was 454.

Gideon appears to be like other black slave holders. Like other men of substance, Gideon and his family farmed independently, held slaves and left his heirs sizable estates. As established members of their community, he enjoyed rights in common with other free men, and employed the law to protect him and advance his interests.

Gideon needed slaves to grow tobacco, the fount of wealth and status in that society. The cultivation of tobacco offered considerable advantages to small planters like Gideon, as tobacco was a poor man’s crop that could be grown as easily on small farms as on great plantations. Even when labor became pa, planters gained few benefits from large units of production and other economies of scale, as good tobacco land occurred only in small, noncontiguous patches. Abandoning European agricultural practices, Chesapeake tobacco planters adopted a mixture of Native-American slash and burn and long-fallow hoe culture in part to reduce their labor needs. But such a regimen still required many ready hands.

Great care is taken to weed around the tobacco plants.
The crop year began with the preparation of tobacco seedlings in late January and February. In late April, when seedlings sported four leaves, they were carefully transplanted, the first of a series of movements before young plants reached the field. Once they did, the plants had to hilled and rehilled, checked for worms, primed, topped, and suckered to keep the number of leaves to about twelve. This labor occupied workers through the summer months. When the leaves ripened, the plants were cut and cured in specially designed barns or tobacco houses that maximized the ventilation, minimized sunlight, and excluded rain. The cured leaves had to be stripped, stemmed, and packed in large bundles for shipping, a task which would occupy all hands into the winter months. In addition, since tobacco was hard on the soil, new land had to be cleared even as established fields were again being readied for cultivation. These diverse tasks required careful orchestration and reliable labor.

But making tobacco was not Gideon’s only concern. Integrated into the Chesapeake’s annual tobacco cycle was the cultivation of corn, the region’s subsistence crop. Tobacco and corn placed heavy demands on the men and women who wielded the hoe--particularly in the absence of animal power—but required only a primitive division of labor. There was little reason to employ overseers or stewards, distinguish among workers, or establish a hierarchical order in the fields. During the seventeenth and into the eighteenth century, master, servant, and slave worked shoulder-to-shoulder, with the mistress and her children frequently joining them in the field as well. Although most planters appeared to presume people of African descent were slaves—since they were purchased from slave traders—no law yet enshrined African slaves in either Maryland or Virginia, and the laws that referred to black people were scattered and miscellaneous.

Neither law nor custom could save some black people from the brutal exploitation that property-less men and women faced faced as planters squeezed the last pound of profit from the tobacco economy. Thus, if treatment of black laborers at the hands of planters differed little from that of white ones, it was in large measure because human beings could hardly be treated with greater disregard.


In 1736, five years after Gideon immigrated to South Carolina, there was a great influx of Welsh Baptists, also slave holders, from the Delaware counties of Pennsylvania. Other ethnic groups followed: Scots-Irish, German, English and more Welsh settlers coming down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania. The province officially opened it for settlement in 1736. The Jacksons and the Calhouns—two of what would become South Carolina’s most famous families—were part of this eighteenth century migration into South Carolina. The Welsh being the first and largest ethnic group to settle there, their culture and religion prevailed, but they did not overpower the other settlers by forming a community at the exclusion of other nationalities and ethnic groups on the frontier. Instead, through intermarriage they assimilated with the Germans, English, Scots, and Scots-Irish in a process that became the cultural “melting pot” of the South Carolina backcountry.24

And Gideon’s family were full participants in this melting. Of the settlers at Sandy Bluff, the Murfees, Saunders, Gibsons, and Crawfords accumulated the largest properties, and became most prominent in their community. Hannah Gibson, the daughter of Gideon and older sister of Gideon Jr., married George Saunders. Their daughter Marcy married Claudius Pegues, a large land owner. After the death of George Saunders, Hannah married Malachi Murfee, Sr. also a large land owner, as stated previously.25

Victorian oil on canvas,'Bessie Gibson' (daughter of Gideon Gibson)
Gideon’s brother, Jordan, went west as a companion of Daniel Boone. It was said he was an Native American fighter and, accordingly, he died at the hand of hostile Native Americans.

Gideon Jr. was granted for 550 acres as early as 1736. He settled in a place called Hickory Grove, five miles from Sandy Bluff, “on a large and fertile body of land, long after noted as the most valuable land in that region.” In about 1741, he married Mary O’Connell, an eighteen-year-old Irish immigrant from Cork, Ireland, most likely the daughter of another settler. They recorded the birth of their first child William on 9 October 1743. Gideon’s father, Hubbard, died in 1742 shortly after, and about ten years after their move to South Carolina. By now Gideon Jr. was twenty-two years old or so and certainly could more than replace the labor of his grandfather Hubbard. Gideon III was born to Gideon Jr. and Mary in 1750. excommunicated for “

Gideon became a prominent member of the community. He negotiated land deals, rounded up stray horses, loaned money, administered wills, and helped establish a church. They bought and sold slaves and gave them as gifts to family members. He was a “man of very marked character, of commanding influence, and prominently connected with the leading events of the region in which he lived.”26 By the mid-eighteenth century Gideon Gibson was beginning to obtain small tracts of land on both sides of the Pee Dee River. Between 1755 and 1773, he obtained a total of 2662 acres in the vicinity of the Pee Dee.27

Rural Baptist Church, Virginia, 1775
Despite Gideon’s and the others early settlers building of a church, the area had a paucity of churches and religion. In 1739 a rector estimated that there about twelve hundred Christians in the area, thirty-five “actual” Anglicans four hundred who profess to be Anglicans, and eight hundred “Dissenters of all sorts (papists none)” and fourteen hundred “Heathens and Infidels.” On his first trip out in the country he found some parishioners of whom he held a low opinion, “These Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland were “a set of the most lowest vilest crew breathing. . . ”

Gideon was a member of the Cashaway Baptist Church.28 Today there stands a historical marker is on the spot of the church near the Eastern end of the Great Pee Dee River Bridge on Hwy 34 in Marlboro County, erected by the Pee Dee Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). A review of transcribed records show Hannah Gibson Murphey, Gideon's daughter and my 5th Great-Aunt, was suspended from communion in 1767 for reasons unstated and finally “ having vilified several of ye members of ye Church,- - ye church, neglected her place, susprised [sic] ye authority of ye Church after having made use of all ye means we could tame her, but in vain. Ye Church concluded to Excommunicate her, and it is hereby done, and to be public spread tomorrow until she returns by repentance.”

By far, the greatest number of admonitions by the church were for inebriation, e.g., “Where as our Reverend Brother Joshua Edwards did before the church confess his faults, in being overtaken and intoxicated with liquor, and whereas we being indulged from the Word of God, that such behavior tends _________ to the dishonor of God and brings a reproach called a holy religion, we therefore on a deliberate consideration concluded to suspend him from all his ministerial affairs . . . ” Allow a few more:

  • “Whereas. Mr. Richard Ponder was in September last, suspended from Communion in this Church for excess of drinking and racing and as he hath hither to continue into that sin of drinking to excess, refusing to hear the Admonition's of the church.”
  • “Concluded that for profane language, Mr. John Jamison be also set by from Communion and Mr. David Burke is to ask him to be here the next opportunity in order to give the church satisfaction.”
  • “Concluded that Mr. William Stephens, for excess of drinking, swearing, and breach of Covenant being sufficiently _________ against him, be excommunicated from Union and Communion in the Church.”

South Carolina men drank a lot. Some colonists ascribed it the heat. Backcountry settlers could blame it on the need to take the edge off the harshness of their lives. The consumption of alcoholic beverages was widespread and knew no class boundaries. Women generally did not drink much alcohol, and by law it was illegal to serve slaves without the permission of their masters. There were ample supplies of just about every sort of beverage available in the colony's numerous taverns. There was a story told in Barbados about what various nationalities did upon settling a new colony: the Spaniards built a church; the Dutch a fort; the English a tavern.30

The Reverend Charles Woodmason, an Anglican missionary who spend some time in backcountry, left his impressions of the people he encountered there. He felt it his duty to instruct the white “Savages” how to behave in church. His ten rules included be on time, do not bring dogs to church, and do not drink in church. The backcountry had few clergy, so getting married was not easy. Men and women formed formed relationships that were recognized by the community, and when a clegyman came through, they got married in a religous cermony. In the first wedding he performed, Woodmason noted: “Woman very bigg.” Later he recorded that of one hundred young women he married, only six were not pregnant. He saw lasciviousness, wantonness, adultery and fornication everywhere. He blamed some of the immorality on the way young women dressed. Despite his semons, backcountry women persisited in pinning their shifts close to their bodies “to shew the roundness of their Breasts, and slender Waists” and drawing “their Petticoat close to their Hips to shew the fineness of their Limbs.” Clothing in the backcountry was simple and minimal. A shift and a short petticoat were the extent of a typical woman's wardrobe. They used bear oil in their hair and usually wore it up “like the Indians.” Men wore frocks or shirts and long trousers. Children ran around “half naked.” Woodmason thought that the Natives of the counrty were better clothed than the white settlers.

Trouble In Church

May 16,1769
July 26, 1760
Dec. 25, 1759


Cameo of indigo leaves found on a map of South Carolina, you can see the beginning of the name Ferguson
image of indigo plant
Indigo plants

In the 1740s a teenage girl made a substantial contribution to the economic life of the colony by introducing the cultivation of indigo, an essential dye for English textiles. It was the ideal backcountry crop: lightweight and high-priced, as long as the British protected the market and subsidized production and it became the primary cash crop during the 1750s. It flourished because of its unusual advantages—an subsidy from Britain, a protective tariff, and a monopoly on the British market during the various wars which cut off access to the better Spanish and French indigo supplies. It tolerated a variety of soils ranging from the sandy loam near the coast to the mixed soil of the pine barrens. It did even better in the uplands near the confluence of rivers. Indigo thrived in the upper Pee Dee region, and it did require slaves to produce a successful crop. In the backcountry, “indigo offered more inducements to the frontiersman than any other money crop.” Transportation was never a problem “for the produce of an acre might be sold for ten pounds sterling yet weigh only eighty pounds.”

Only more prosperous settlers could afford vats and other equipment required for indigo production, but those who managed the initial expense could expect rich returns. One well-informed traveler observed that a diligent planter with “one or two hundred acres” and “two or three Negroes” might “in no long term of years become a man of handsome fortune.” If processing was difficult, cultivation was fairly simple. The crop was planted from seed in middle April, with a preference for dry, loose soil typical of “hickory lands and pine barrens.” The plant was harvested in late June or early July, immediately after it blossomed, by cutting it off at ground level. This allowed the roots to produce a second, and sometimes a third, crop before it was killed by the frost.

Remains of indigo vat

It is impossible to determine the exact amount of indigo grown in the upper Pee Dee or other parts of the South Carolina backcountry, but there are indications that the trade in indigo and other agricultural products with the backcountry was brisk. In December 1771, the South Carolina Gazette reported that there were “no less than 113 wagons on the road to Town, most of them loaded with two Hogsheads of Tobacco.

Besides Indigo, Hemp, Butter, Tallow and many other Articles; who all carry out on their return Rum, Sugar, Salt and European goods.” The previous year it had been estimated that three thousand wagons had “come to Charles Town in a year, loaded with deerskins, indigo, flour, biscuit, hemp & tobacco, which circulation is not far from the truth, as precise accounts are taken of the numbers which pass over ferries.” However, indigo production in the South Carolina backcountry could not compete with that grown in the Caribbean. South Carolinian could raise two crops per year compared with the Caribbean’s five. The he indigo produced there was far superior to the crop grown in South Carolina. Caroliyds inferior indigo was due to the lime water used in the settling process. If too much were used, the color of the dye would become lighter in comparison to the darker and more superior grade.

Indigo became more than just another crop in the Welsh Tract. Like tobacco in Virginia, indigo instead of money was used for barter. On December 15, 1779, Evan Pugh sold a mare and colt for “one hundred of indigo” to his brother-in- law, Edward Teal. Roderick McIver, a merchant at Long Bluff, sold a roan horse and a dark bay horse for £130 of indigo and thirty bushels of Native American corn to Elijah Daughtre on January 27, 1774. When indigo cultivation declined, corn emerged to take its place as a staple crop. While indigo was a commercial crop produced to be exported, corn was primarily marketed or used within North America. Like indigo, corn also served as a trade commodity. Unlike indigo, corn had several domestic uses: it could be distilled into spirits, used to feed livestock, or consumed by the inhabitants. Like indigo, corn also grew abundantly in the region. Corn was a cash crop, and both Charleston and Georgetown merchants wanted to sell it.


Walnut Grove Plantation (1765) is an example of the homes built by the rising planter class of the backcountry.
Fifteen years after settling at Sandy Bluff, Gideon and his family moved twenty-seven or so miles downstream to a 450-acre tract called Persimmon Hill in the Georgetown District. He moved into a grander house, leaving his pioneer home behind. He sold part of his Bertie land that year and the remainder in 1749. He had nine persons in his household: a wife, seven children and a slave. He petitioned the South Carolina Council in 1747 for a grant of 650 acres where fifteen years ago he had a his cow-pen. In time, he will own a store, which put him in a more affluent class.

Both Gideon Bunch and Gideon were in South Carolina when they sold their adjoining Halifax County land, and both families were taxed in 1755 as “free Molasses [sic]” in Orange County, North Carolina. The commercial activities of the settlers in the upper Pee Dee were not simply confined to their own locality, and the contents of the storekeepers' inventories are an indication that the people who settled in this region did not rely entirely on homespun. By the 1760s, pockets of commercial settlement dittoed the inland terrain. Clustering near rivers, stores, and trading paths, settlers struggled to overcome obstacles associated with frontier life and enter into colony wide trade. There were storekeepers and merchants who stocked luxury items in their stores. Moreover, there were settlers who obtained wealth and appear to have lived a life similar to the middling lowcountry gentry.

Certainly the back country was little concerned with world affairs during the last half of the eighteenth century. Instead, the region continued to turn inward, working to improve both land and river navigation. The first road in the region was the Cheraw-Georgetown stagecoach road, established in 1747, but it wasn't until 1768 that a public ferry across the Pee Dee was established on James James Welch Tract property (King 1981:18) Gideon was managing a store at Jefferies Creek, obtaining his merchandise from a Charles Town merchant named Robert Weaver. The friendship between Gibson and Weaver ended in 1762, when Gibson, while purchasing supplies in Weaver's store “in the presence and hearing of the liege subjects the said Lord the King falsely and maliciously spoke related utterances published and with a loud voice pronounced,’You are a hog thief.’” Weaver sued Gibson for slander with damages in the amount of £3,000. Gibson had challenged the authority of the local elite, and having a white wife made him more suspect, but he was also a man of considerable means. Weaver, who had showed no prejudice to Gibson prior to this incident, now hoped to use Gibson's race to his own advantage. The courtroom must have been filled with laughter when the Court ordered Gibson to pay Weaver only twenty shillings for his damages. Robert Weaver, a white man and a member of the elite, lost this case to Gideon , a prosperous mulatto who had also garnered respect from other members of the elite. Yet prosperity and the accumulation of material possessions prior to the Revolution was only temporary. The Revolution severely impacted the economy at the local level, through the destruction of property, the debtor's crisis, and the loss of the British bounty on indigo. Attempts to introduce tobacco, as well as local fairs, reflect how the people tried to revive commerce and trade after the Revolution. Prior to the war, indigo had enabled the economy to thrive, and it was not until the early nineteenth century that the demand for cotton permitted the economy to flourish and surpass the one that brought wealth to the upper Pee Dee before the Revolution.

Throughout most of the eighteenth century, St. David's Parish had a reputation for its fertile soil. Being particularly good for the production of corn and indigo, it also attracted absentee landowners from the lowcountry who operated indigo plantations in the region. The economy that emerged was not completely isolated from the Georgetown and Charleston market because an extensive trade and debt network developed between the lowcountry merchants and the backcountry yeomen farmers and planters. Wealth was intimately tied to slavery in the backcountry. Slaves had been a part of the labor force in the Welsh Tract ever since the first settlers brought them to the region in the1730s. They would remain in demand throughout the eighteenth century. More slaves meant increasing economic benefits for those who had obtained wealth. Some who owned no slaves had aspirations for their descendants to own them. Daniel Monahan was a yeoman farmer and a member of Welsh Neck Baptist Church who owned two hundred acres of land and no slaves, but in his will probated in 1761, he made special provisions that his executors “gather in all my just debts, and the monies that shall be collected together with the money arising from the sale of the still, I desire that it may be applied to the purchase of a Negro” to be given to his son Daniel. Rev. Robert Williams had no such problems. His fifty slaves were among the largest slave holdings in the 1760s. He probably amassed his wealth and slaves mainly from indigo, since materials associated with its production showed up in his inventory, as well as in some of the other inventories of that decade.

See Laurens name as one of the partners. His name will come up again in regard to Gideon's bi-racial color.

The need for slaves helped build other fortunes as well. The leading Charleston merchant, Henry Laurens, saw “a large field for [the slave] trade” in the South Carolina backcountry. They “ it has been from such folks that we have always obtained the highest prices.” In other words, merchants and traders knowing the value of slave labor could gouge these rustics.

Slavery brought problems, however, as other whites stole slaves. William Killingsworth, while frequenting a tavern at Long Bluff on October 10, 1774, lost a black woman named Chloe, valued at £800. After leaving the tavern, he found her in the hands of Gideon’s brother, Jordan, who took her “well knowing the said black woman to be the goods and chattels of the said William Killingsworth.”

While the low region was slave majority, the reverse was true in the backcountry. The majority of the population in the Cheraws District were not slaveholders in 1790. Seventy-two percent of the households had no slaves, while 17 percent of the slaveholding households owned only from one to five slaves.


Trade began between the English and Cherokees shortly after the arrival of English in Virginia. By the time settlers began entering the Carolina backcountry, the Cherokee were the most powerful tribe in Southeastern America. They had been friends with the English since they had ridden into Charles Town and signed a friendship agreement with the English. In return for deerskins the English provided guns to the Cherokee to protect themselves from other Native American nations. In 1738 and ’39, nearly half the Cherokee population died in a smallpox epidemic. As the deer population dwindled due to the English insatiable thirst for deer skins, the Cherokee began to encroach on other nations territory, escalating friction between the tribes. With the Cherokee’s blessing, the English built two manned forts in Cherokee territory to protect against other tribes and the French: one in what would eventually become northern South Carolina and one in eastern Tennessee.

The increasing number of settlers coming into the backcountry in the 1750 was a frustration to the Cherokee, straining their relationship with the English. When the French and Native American War broke out in 1754, the Crown expected assistance from the Cherokee in fighting tribes allied with the French; and officially they were, but some warriors joined the French cause. And tensions because of white settlement only worsened when in 1758 a group of Virginia frontiersmen killed some 30 Cherokee warriors returning home after fighting with the British forces attacking the French at Fort Duquesne (later Pittsburgh). The following year English soldiers garrisoned in the Cherokee towns of South Carolina raped some Cherokee women. Cherokees launched some attacks on settlements; the settlers responded with reprisals. Hostage taking and hostage killing occurred on both sides. Attacks and counter attacks escalated throughout 1670-71. In one attack in 1670, Cherokee ambushed a wagon train of about 250 people trying to flee to safety in Augusta. Forty people were killed or captured, most of them women and children. The victims included the grandmother of John C. Calhoun. Eyewitness accounts reported that the bodies left at the scene were “inhumanly butchered.”

The colonists met brutality with brutality. After a large number were killed during a 1760 siege in backcountry settlement 150 miles west of Mars Bluff, the colonial governor said, “We now have the Pleasure Sire to fatten our Dogs with their Carcasses, and to Display their Scalps, neatly ornamented on the Top of our Bastions.” Two Native Americans killed in an attack on a fort had their bodies “cut to Pieces an given to Dogs, so much [were] the Back-Settlers exasperated at their Perfidy and Barbarity.” Thomas Jefferson said, “I hope the Cherokees will now be driven beyond the Mississip [sic].” North Carolina’s delegates urged their colony to “carry fire and Sword into the very bowels of their country and sink them so low that they may never be able to rise again.” General Rutherford boasted, “I have no Doubt of a Finel [sic] Destruction of the Cherroce [sic] Nation.” He intended to “crush that treacherous, barbarous Nation of Savages.” Like others, Rutherford lusted for Cherokee lands. He eventually claimed between twelve thousand and twenty thousand acres of former Cherokee lands and retired to Tennessee in 1792.

As the war dragged on, the South Carolina Assembly offered a bounty on Native American scalps encouraging the escalation of violence. Many white settlers moved into crowded makeshift forts where disease was rampant, and they appealed to Charles Town for help. Other backcountry settlers abandoned their home for safer settlements closer to the coast. The winter of 1760-61 was particularly had for both sides; the Cherokee people suffered from hunger while about 1,500 whites spent the winter crowded into backcountry garrisons where they were ravaged by food shortages and small-pox. The homes and farms abandoned by refugees were looted and seized by both thieves and militiamen. The fighting finally ended in summer 1761 after a force of British regulars and South Carolina militia marched into Cherokee country and defeated them, burning villages and destroying fields and orchards and livestock. At last, exhausted and their ranks decimated by hunger, disease, and warfare, the Native Americans sued for peace.


Lawless was rampant after the Cherokee War
Even after the Cherokee War ended, a chaotic state of affairs persisted in the backcountry. The war had left many settlers destitute, especially of food, because they had been unable to plant and harvest crops. The conflict left a landscape smoldering with torched homes, laid low by pox and hunger, and littered with the mutilated corpses of soldiers and settlers. Dazed soldiers and survivors roamed the wilderness, scrounging for food, while the breakdown of civil society attracted debtors and runaway slaves, thieves and poachers, and gangs of “banditti.” Untold numbers of people no longer bothered to cultivate crops, fearing they might be destroyed in future warfare. Some found stealing easier than working for a living, many contemporary observers claimed. Respect for property rights seemed to have vanished during the war as militia stole from abandoned homesteads. Sizable settlements of people characterized by respectable backcountry folk as “lower sorts” lurked in isolated forests where they operated as bandit groups, stealing and extorting from respectable folk. They tortured people in an effort to learn where money was hidden, often applying hot coals to the feet until victims divulged whatever information the bandits wanted. Thugs stole horses, and they raped and kidnapped women and girls, sometimes forcing them to become mistresses to the outlaws from whom they learned to be “bold in Sin.” Merchants and tavern owners were coerced into fencing stolen good; those who refused became targets themselves. As the 1760s wore on, the crime wave escalated.

One example of the heinous behavior of the outlaw gangs was the attack on Savannah River merchant John “Ready Money” Scott. Scott was known for paying for goods in cash, an unusual practice in a society where bartering was more common. Knowing that he kept large amounts of money on his property, four men attacked Scott and his wife, throwing snuff in Mrs. Scott’s eyes to curb her resistance. They hit Scott on the head, then bound and blindfolded him, before burning him with a hot iron until he revealed where he had hidden his money. Another gang, dressed as Native Americans, invaded the home of an aging backcountry storekeeper. They bound him, took £3,000 worth of goods, and raped his wife and ten-year-old daughter. When a gang near Pine Tree Creek robbed a man named Charles Kitchen, they also “beat out one of his wife’s eyes, and then burned the poor Man Cruelly.”

Bandits evoked other, less obvious fears. By attracting women into their ranks, they appeared to threaten the stability of farm households. Several bandits were married, and some farm women apparently left their homes to join in the plunder. In 1771, authorities arrested a young backcountry woman for stealing seventeen horses, but, according to a correspondent, “her beauty and elegant Figure joined to the native Innocence visible in her Countenance” won the judge’s sympathy and secured her acquittal. In 1781, a piedmont planter recalled his unfaithful wife in his will:

And as I was Lawfully married to Angelica Elizabeth Boar . . . and she without Reason or provocation whatsoever hath eloped from my bed and boarding, and associated herself with on vagabond, to Rob me of all my effects. . . and being discovered, to avenge herself and satisfy her Lust and ambition, had come divers times with divers and other vagabonds, Robed my house, and threatening my Life firing guns tourough [sic] my house in order to kill me.

The minister Woodsman noted in a sermon, “Women and Girls are very deep in the foulest of Crimes, and Deeds of darkness not to be mention’d-And that they have been very instrumental in aiding, abetting-Watching-Secreting-Trafficking and in ev’ry Manner supporting and assisting these Villains.” At least six “notorious” bandits had fought in the Cherokee War and doubtless suffered war-related disruptions; one was a deserter. The droughts of 1759 and 1766 made it that much harder for struggling planters to recoup. At least one leading bandit had gone heavily into debt before he became a criminal. In 1761, six years after selling his entire 100-acre tract to a future Regulator William Boykin. Thomas Moon’s brother James sold his 131-acre plot to Kershaw. James had served in the Cherokee War and probably suffered losses as a result.

Whether or not their greed was reinforced by a sense of grievance, backcountry bandits succeeded in winning support from hunters who had their own reasons for resenting respectable frontier society. Woodmason insisted that hunters supported wandering bandits, thereby enabling robbers to roam the country without fear of capture. In 1766, efforts to suppress a gang of horse thieves were obstructed because “most of the low People around had Connexons [sic] with these Thieves, and gave them the Alarm.” The following year, a letter from Augusta told of “a gang of notorious horse thieves” that “consisted of upwards of twenty men, and had settled a correspondence through the whole country with others that secretly supported them.” Historians theorize the causes of such dreadful violence that plagued the South Carolina backcountry in the 1760s was due in part to “disunity” of diverse backcountry people in wake of the devastation wrought by the Cherokee War.

Barriers between races in rural South Carolina were less rigid than later. Free blacks and mulattoes were tolerated, and the latter sometimes enjoyed the privileges and status of whites. The outlaws and lower people apparently accepted the colored men as equals. One mulattoe gang member, "a stout, well set man, with short black curly hair" had the name Edward Gibson. Gideon had a brother or half brother named Edward; could they be the same? Records are insufficient to eastablish an answer.

The uncontrolled violence exacerbated the animosity the backcountry people felt for the coastal elites. They paid the same taxes yet obtained no services in the backcountry. They had no criminal courts, no law enforcement or administrative offices. The backcountry population had to travel to Charles Town to register a deed, swear out a warrant, or file a lawsuit, despite the fact that backcountry people accounted for 80 percent of the colony’s white population. They had only two representatives in the assembly. When they asked for more seats, the colonial government, led by the royal governor, refused to create new counties until the backcountry settlers agreed to support the Anglican Church. Since many of them were members of the “New Light” or Calvinist Protestant sects, mostly Baptists and Presbyterians, there was little chance of that happening.

The backcounty was divided between those with property and those without. The lawlessness was a threat the propertied class. People like Gideon had implored the Assembly to create new courts in the backcountry, build jails and workhouses, and even establish public schools so that children would not “naturally follow Hunting-Shooting-Racing-Drinking-Gaming, and ev’ry Species of Wickedness.” Their resentments were much like the resentments of men who would lead the revolution against England’s rule ten years later: taxation without representation.

Both Gideons and other early settlers were men of action, men who had come into a wilderness and cleared the forest, drained the swamps, built homes and were now on their way to substantial wealth; they were not going to sit idly by and wait for help from the coastal authorities: thus, the birth of the Regulator movement in 1767.


Men, mostly men of property, joined together to stop the lawlessness. They called themselves Regulators. They explained that they had a right “to purge by methods of their own, the country of all idle persons, all that have not a visible way of getting an honest living.” Through their work, the Regulators, many of whom were slaveholding planters, took the law into their own hands, banishing criminals from their communities. The Regulators also wanted county courts and circuit courts established throughout the backcountry so “that they may enjoy, by that means, the rights and privileges of British subjects . . .”

Of the 120 Regulators identified in a Regulator pardon, twelve, or 10 percent, lived in the upper Pee Deeregion. Many of these Pee Dee Regulators were substantial landholders and slaveholders. Five of the Regulators in the parish of the upper Pee Dee River, St. David's, owned one thousand or more acres. These five also owned fourteen or more slaves. All along the Great Pee Dee River, backcountry landowners joined the Regulator movement with what one observer called “indefatigable Ardour [sic].” Befitting his relative wealth and power, Gideon Gibson served as their captain. But Gideon , a mulatto, created anxiety among lowcountry officials. The people of Charles Town were so afraid of a slave uprising that a law was passed that required men to carry firearms to church on Sunday.

The Regulators’ punishments were severe. For instance, they chained John Harvey to a tree and took turns administering five hundred lashes while members of the party beat drums and played a fiddle. Harvey, a “roguish and troublesome” man was believed to have stolen a horse. He was one of many such “troublesome” persons brought under the lash by the Regulators. The regulators were supported by thousands of inland settlers. They punished suspected robbers by whipping or house burning. Some they drove from the colony, and others they carried to the Charleston jail. Gradually broadening their activities, they whipped “whores” and forced the idle to work. The vigilantes turned on “all idle persons, all that have not a visible way of getting and honest Living”-namely, anyone who chose to survive by hunting and foraging, a short step in the Regulators’ eyes to livestock poaching and outright banditry-and forced idlers to work every day except the Sabbath “on pain of Flagellation.”

Some victims of the Regulators took their complaints to the authorities in Charles Town. An incident on 25 July 1768 at Mars Bluff, was a turning point for the Regulator movement in South Carolina. The incident brought matters between the Governor and the Regulators to a head. The South Carolina Gazette, which like the government was far removed from the location, reported in the 15 August 1768 edition that there were two parties of Regulators. One was made up of people of good principle and property, and the other made up of a gang of banditi, a numerous collection of outcast Mulattos, Mustees, Free blacks, etc. all horse thieves from the borders of Virginia and other Northern Colonies ... headed by one Gideon Gibson... Perhaps in a move to divide the two parties, Governor Bull pardoned all those involved except “those persons concerned with the outrages and daring violence committed by Gideon Gibson and others upon George Thompson, a lawful constable, and his party, in the actual execution of a legal warrant, at or near Mars Bluff, in Craven County, upon the 25th day of July last. ... 6 August 1768.” Daniel J. Sharfstein tells the story in The Invisible Line:

Gideon Gibson rode alone through the perpetual twilight of the woods on a Sunday. In the thick forests of the South Carolina backcountry, light lit the ground scattered and split, filtered through leaves and pine needles as through a cathedral’s stained glass. Sunbeams swirled with dust and gnats in the torpid August air. When Gibson reached his destination, one man was waiting for him, as agreed. In the open they would have taken shots at each other. But here they could meet quietly and alone, as equals and gentlemen.

The shadows obscured profound differences between the men. At age fifty-five, George Gabriel Powell was ten years Gibson’s elder, one of the most powerful figures in the colony. He held a seat in the colonial Assembly and owned a sprawling plantation called Weymouth at the mouth of the Great Pee Dee River above Georgetown. King George III had given him command of the Pee Dee Militia, which provided protection from Native Americans and from the threat of rebellion by slaves, who far outnumbered free colonists along the coast. Gideon Gibson, by contrast, was arguably the most dangerous man in South Carolina. He was the leader of a group of backcountry farmers- “Regulators”-who in the name of law and order had repudiated the authority of Assembly and Crown. In addition to his treason and violence, what made Gibson a particular menace was the color of his skin-too dark to be white.

For Powell, just meeting Gibson face-to-face was a significant feat. In July 1768 news of Gibson’s treachery had hit the distant capital, then called Charles Town, like an inland hurricane. Deluged with the accounts of an army of “outcast Mullatoes [sic[, Mustee, free-Negroes, all Horse-Thieves”; the Assembly tasked George Gabriel Powell with saving South Carolina from Gideon Gibson. His hundred-mile trek from Charles Town was a journey between worlds. There were no roads in the backcountry. Travelers could wander for days through thicket and forest and “deep miry Swamp,” along barely marked, overgrown, tick-infested paths. Although it had been settled for nearly forty years, the area was still a frontier, sparsely populated and with almost no political representation. Far from authority and convention, many backcountry colonists appeared utterly alien to recent arrivals from England. An Anglican minister riding circuit in the 1760s described men and women in “dirty smoaky Cabbin[s]” who walked around barefoot and “continually drunk,” “swop[ped] their Wives as Cattel,” and ate “[no] Eggs, Butter, Flour, Milk, or anything, but fat rusty Bacon, and fair Water, with Indian Corn Bread”alongside “exceedingly filthy, and most execrable” meats unknown in Europe. “They delight in their present low, lazy, sluttish, heathenish, hellish Life, and seem not desirous of changing it,” the minister reported. “How would the Polite People of London stare.”

By August 9, Powell was deep in the backcountry, seventy miles up the Pee Dee River from his plantation, forty miles below the North Carolina border, and within marching distance of Gideon Gibson’s home. The rebel lived along the river in a place of rolling hills called Mars Bluff. Powell assumed his command by recruiting a “posse comitatus” twenty-five strong. Thirty-five more from local militia companies made a total of sixty men. But Powell knew the posse was not large enough to arrest Gibson. “By all Accounts,” he remembered, “Gibson was Guarded by a large Body of men and could in an hour raise three hundred more.” Powell sent orders out to several militia commanders nearby, asking for one hundred additional men in five days’ time. With a force of 160, he entertained a “hopefull [sic] Expectation” that he could crush Gibson. At the same time, Powell invited Gibson to negotiate the terms of his surrender. Powell thought meeting with Gibson “might perhaps have a good effect” and was confident that he could talk sense into the rogue. After all, Gibson had not always been a threat to public order. Before the summer of 1768, he had led as honorable life as a man could lead in the backcountry. Although his holdings were dwarfed by Powell’s plantation, Gibson was one of the first to settle the backcountry in the 1730s. Besides the fact that the Gibsons were free people of color, there was little to distinguish them from other prosperous planters anywhere in South Carolina.

Despite the Gibson family’s relative success, South Carolina’s backcountry was indisputably wild. In Gideon Gibson’s world the line between civilization and savagery was palpably thin. Life in the wilderness was never secure. In the early 1760 thousands of Cherokees had attacked the backcountry, upending thirty years of economic and social ascent of the Gibsons. British and colonial soldiers had battled and starved the tribe into submission by December 1761.

Thieves and vagrants were strapped to trees to given 50 lashes
Farmers in Gideon Gibson’s position found themselves robbed repeatedly of their cattle and horses. Outlaws invaded their homes and stole money and other possessions in brazen, sadistic attacks. They gouged out victim’s eyes, stuck their feet into fires, and branded them with glowing pokers. Newspapers reported the bandits were kidnapping and raping women and luring them into lives of crime and vice. With scant law enforcement and no courts in the backcountry, the farmers had to transport criminals more than a hundred miles to Charles Town to bring anyone to justice-a long, difficult, and expensive journey. If a witness could not travel there or arrived late, the defendants went free. The honest Man is not secure in his Property, landowners complained, and Villainy becomes rampant with impunity..

At first, land owners like Gibson implored the Assembly to create new courts in the backcountry, build jails and workhouses, and even establish public schools so that children would not “naturally follow Hunting-Shooting-Racing-Drinking-Gaming, and ev’ry Species of Wickedness.” But the Assembly in Charles Town, was too far removed and too preoccupied with the growing controversies between the colonies and England to make any meaningful response. Moreover, one royal officer, the provost marshal, held the right to exercise law enforcement duties over the entire colony-and collect regular fees for doing so. In charge of running the jail and serving all writs, warrants, and other court documents in the province, the provost marshal earned “bag[s] of dollars and doubloons of gold.” The Regulators’ insistence on local courts and law enforcement directly threatened the value of the provost marshal’s office. The colonial government appeared at best stymied by and at worst indifferent to the backcountry’s plight, and farmers increasingly saw themselves as being denied “the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.”

By early 1767, backcountry farmers had resolved to restore order themselves. Their movement would not be a rebellion. Rather, they described it as a “Regulation.” Tired of being ignored by Charles Town, troops of Regulators took it upon themselves to enforce the law and spend two years scourging the countryside. They shot and hanged bandits, burned their nomadic settlements, lashed men and women hundreds of times, and banished incorrigibles form the colony. The vigilantes turned on “all idle persons, all that have not a visible way of getting and honest Living”-namely, anyone who chose to survive by hunting and foraging, a short step in the Regulators’ eyes to livestock poaching and outright banditry-and forced idlers to work every day except the Sabbath “on pain of Flagellation.” All along the Great Pee Dee River, backcountry landowners joined the Regulator movement with what one observer called “indefatigable Ardour.” Befitting his relative wealth and power, Gideon Gibson served as their captain.

For a time, respectable landowners along the coast had widely sympathized with the Regulators, understanding them to be the “Honest Party, “People of good Principles, and Property, who have assembled. . . Professedly with the View of driving all Horse-Thieves, with their Harbourers, Abettors, and Other Vagabonds form amongst them.” But in the summer of 1768, the Regulation took a radical turn. Many of its victims had gone to Charles Town, sued or brought criminal charges, and secured judgements against the Regulators. Facing legal actions that were costly and difficult to defend, the Regulators resolved that the court in Charles Town no longer had jurisdiction over them. The colonial government, they wrote, had become “not a Protection but an Oppression.” When officers of the court rode into the backcountry to serve Regulators with legal papers, they were pulled off their horses, chained to posts for days, and flogged. Some were forced to eat the papers. Those who escaped or were released fled to Charles Town with a chilling message: The Regulators now ruled the backcountry.

Weaver entrusted a militia lieutenant with serving the property warrants, but vigilantes kidnapped the officer and brought him to Gibson’s house. Weaver drew up a demand for the lieutenant’s immediate In July 1768, to satisfy judgements levied against local Regulators, Robert Weaver, a Pee Dee merchant who also held the office of magistrate, started issuing warrants seizing their property. Weaver had a long, unhappy history with Gibson-earlier in the decade, in the heat of doing business, Gibson had objected to his prices and shouted, “You are a hog thief!” In an area where livestock thieves were grouped with rapists and murderers, Gibson’s words were the height of insult. Weaver sued for slander, seeking thousands of pounds. Despite the plaintiff’s political connections, the jury awarded him a mere twenty shillings.

Weaver entrusted a militia lieutenant with serving the property warrants, but vigilantes kidnapped the officer and brought him to Gibson’s house. Weaver drew up a demand for the lieutenant’s immediate release and charged the militia’s sergeant, the local constable, to deliver it. A company of fourteen local men marched on Mars Bluff in the depths of summer. When the militia reached Gibson’s fields, they saw, according to one account, a “great number of People.” The Regulators were arranged in two lines-a battle formation. They were not going to give up their prisoner. The company kept marching until they could see the vigilantes’ faces. Gibson was leading the mob. Five of the militia approached. The Regulators waited to receive them, then surrounded them and beat them to the ground.

Standing with his men, Gideon Gibson turned his attention to the remaining members of the militia company. He recognized several. They all lived close enough to one another that they had crossed paths before. Three in the company, he saw, were from the same family: William White; his father, James; and his brother Reubin. Gibson likely knew that William White made his living as a cooper-and had a wife and eight children waiting at home. But Gibson casually, even triumphantly, called for his slaughter. “Shoot down Billey White,” Gibson called, “for I have got Reubin, and if you kill Billey we will manage the rest easy enough.”

The Regulators advance. William White drew his sword but was overtaken before he could strike. As fighting raged on all sides, James White pulled his son from the ground, and together they tried to flee the battle. James stumbled, and when William stopped to help him, several guns fired at close range. William felt himself raked, staggered into a run, and collapsed. When he regained consciousness, several men were shading him. His clothes, his skin, were soaked with blood. One ball had grazed his hip, and a second had passed five inches along the bone of his right arm, from near his shoulder to below his elbow. William knew his arm was “totally shattered.”

“Shoot him thro’ the head at once,” said one of Gibson’s Regulators. “No Damn him He can’t live long,” said another. “Let him feel himself die.” Instead of spilling his brains into the ground, the men picked William White up and dragged him to Gibson’s house. They threw him on the floor and left him “weltering in his own blood.” All around him was the sound of torment. The Regulators had rounded up the other militiamen and on Gibson’s orders were whipping them as many as fifty times. Finally, Reubin White, his back bloodied, asked if he could take his brother home, and Gibson’s Regulators release the Whites to the swamp and wilderness.

When news of the riot at Mars Bluff reached Charles Town, any remaining sympathy for the Regulation evaporated. In August 1768 the Regulators come to be regarded along the coast as a “desperate Gang,” a “Rogues Party” intent on ruining the colony. They were depicted as all them more dastardly because, in William White’s words, they included people “of different Colours (viz.) Whites, Blacks and Mulattoes.” A colony with a slave majority now faced the specter of blacks whipping whites. If slaves joined the melee, the Regulation could overwhelm South Carolina. The province’s rulers devised a conciliatory strategy in response to the incident, proclaiming “a most gracious Pardon” to all “divers[e] dissolute and disorderly persons” who had “daringly resisted the King’s process.” At the same time, the pardon specifically excluded “Gideon Gibson and others who attacked a Constable and his party . . . near Mar’s Bluff.” With this policy to divide and conquer, George Gabriel Powell rode inland to isolate and destroy the rebellion’s most subversive leader. George Gabriel Powell returned to camp well-please with his strategy and powers of persuasion. On Sunday, August 14, 1768, he had talked with Gideon Gibson in the forest for more than an hour. After negotiating terms, the Regulator captain had “solemnly promised to deliver himself up” the next morning. “Indeed, I had not the least doubt but that the man would have fulfilled his promise,” Powell wrote.

Unlike many of his countrymen, Powell remained unfazed by the Regulation. “I had heard much of the riotous behavior of the regulators in General,” he wrote, “yet as several of them are men of good property I flatter’d myself that they might be . . . induced to admit that the method they were pursuing was not the proper mode to bring about their wis[h]ed for purpose.

Powell had endured tougher challengers in his life. As a young man, he had served two years as governor of the bleak] South Atlantic island of St. Helena, midway between Brazil and Angola, where he had been born and where his father had made a fortune by marrying a succession of widows. Ousted after a series of scandals, financial and otherwise, Powell had set off for Carolina’s green shores, where he found wealth and respect. An observer described him as a ‘Shrewd cunning subtle Fox.' In politics and life, he was known to be flexible: “the greatest Mimic in Nature . . . [a] proteus-can transform himself into any Shape or Colour-Can be anything-Laughs at all Things Civil and Sacred.”

Reports of extreme brutality, even of blacks flogging whites, hardly ruffled a man who occupied as lofty a position as Powell. His father had been known on St. Helena for astonishing cruelty to his slaves: he once was fined forty shillings for whipping an eight-year-old boy bloody and then throwing him onto a bed of nettles that slowly stung him to death. When Powell himself was unsatisfied with the quality of a new “wig of some hair,” he had the English wigmaker held down while a Black boy: administered “fifty lashes upon his bare breach.” Regarding all men, black and white, as his inferiors, Powell cared little that Gibson had color in his face, nor did it make sense to treat Gibson differently because of it.

In the backcountry, after all, Gibson was indisputably one of the elites. If the family’s race had been a source of alarm, all controversy had been extinguished a generation earlier. Gideon Gibson descended from some of the first free people of color in Virginia. In the seventeenth century the English had had little experience with slavery, and the success of tobacco growing had hardly been assured. For much of the century the meaning of slavery and the place of Africans in Virginia society remained unsettled. While the English had long imagined that Africans were savage and inferior-slaves who arrived in early Virginia steadily undermined most rationales for being treated as such. They learned to speak a new language, accepted Christ, and were baptized. They turned to courts when they were wronged. They socialized, drank, ran away, and formed families with English men and women. Many, the Gibsons among them, negotiated better terms for themselves: more independence, earnings they could keep, even freedom.

Powell awoke on Monday, August 15, 1768, expecting to receive his prisoner. Instead, a messenger arrived with a letter from Gibson “signifying that he had altered his Resolution” and promising to surrender at a later time. Perhaps stung that Gibson had flouted his authority and breached a pact of honor, Powell felt that he had been “egregiously mistaken” in his measure of Gibson, and abruptly shifted his strategy. As the day grew hotter, Powell rode out to meet a troop of militia reinforcements, who had halted in the woods half a mile from his camp. He would not need to negotiate with Gibson any longer.

Upon reaching the woods, Powell saw far more men than he had expected--“three hundred men and upwards,” by his estimate. Perhaps they would be able to capture Gibson with relative ease. He took three militia captains and two lieutenants aside. He described the “service expected from them” and ordered official proclamations read about Regulator violence that “demand[ed&] their aid accordingly.” The officers did not hesitate in their reply. To Powell’s astonishment, “they absolutely refused . . . Gibson, they said was one of them (Regulators).”

The officers then began enumerating typical Regulator gripes about “the want of County Courts and Exhorbitant expense of the Law as it now stands.” Undeterred, Powell invited the men to ride to his camp for “Victuals,” convinced that the could bring them around to his position if only he could talk one-on-one with the “leading men,” as he had done with Gibson. They agreed, and as the men ate and drank, Powell “took great pains to point out to them the mistakes they were running into.” But to his astonishment, he failed to convince them to betray Gideon Gibson. In the late afternoon, he found himself facing three hundred armed men who seemed to delight in the prospect that his party would be “grossly abused.”

Powell fled down the Pee Dee River and later that week, after a miserable journey, reached his plantation at Georgetown. Reflecting on his failed expedition, he penned a letter to the lieutenant governor. In shock that the Regulator disturbances had succeeded in turning landowners into rebels, Powell resigned his militia commission and advised “speedy Measures to end the standoff.”

Perhaps Powell and the militia looked something like this

When he returned to the Assembly, Powell suggested a more specific way to cripple the Pee Dee insurrection: make Gideon Gibson subject to provisions of a 1740 law called the Negro Act. Passed by the Assembly after a slave insurrection, the act waived “formal trial and condemnationℜ for “rebellious negroes” and allowed them to be put to “ immediate death.” Powell had no problem meeting Gibson face-to-face and talking to him as an equal. But for Gibson to assert his power at the expense of Powell’s lofty status was another matter entirely. Gibson had outfoxed Powell and sent him running for his life. For that inexcusable offense-for giving Powell a glimpse of real equality-Powell would insist that Gibson was a “negro.” Almost forty years after the Gibsons had arrived in South Carolina, the Assembly once again found itself discussing whether the Gibsons were black.

The proposition was not simple. In 1731 the Gibsons had escaped classification because they were useful, wealthy, and committed to slavery. In 1768 Gideon Gibson was decidedly less congenial to the colony’s interests-but he could also claim many of the Pee Dee’s prominent landholders as kin. To classify the Gibsons now as people of color would work to the disadvantage of everyone who had family and business connection with them. Even legislators who could justify any indignity or brutality to suppress a slave rebellion might hesitate to turn the sons and daughters and grandchildren of socially prominent people into blacks. The Gibsons were hardly the only family who were fashioning new identities for themselves. If the colony drew the color line too strictly, large numbers of established whites might be vulnerable to or otherwise touched by the classification.

When Powell raised the matter in the Assembly, Henry Laurens, a colleague who had made a fortune in slave trading, argued against it. Without a flexible rule, he suggested, few people could make a secure claim of being white, Gibson, he said, had “more Red & White in his face than could be discovered in the faces of half the descendants of he [F]rench Refugees in our House of Assembly.” “I challenged them all to the trial,” Laurens, the largest slavedealer dealer of that era, would remember. “The children of this same Gideon having passed through another state of Whitewash were of fairer complexions than his prosecutor George Gabriel [Powell].” Although Laurens thought that ideally the Gibsons should be classified as black too “confine them to their original Clothing”-in the end he understood that the realities of life might outstrip the law. “Reasoning form the Colour carries no conviction,” Laurens wrote. “ perseverance the black may be blanched 7 the ‘stamp of Providence’ effectually effaced.”

The Assembly declined to target ideon Gibson. Instead, for five thousand pounds sterling it bought out the provost marshal’s royal monopoly on law enforcement and created a committee, headed by George Gabriel Powell, to draft legislation to establish courts, sheriffs, and jails to serve the backcountry. . . the Regulators’ demands for law enforcement were largely met, the backcountry rebellion disbanded in early 1769, and its participants filed petitions with the Assembly and governor for pardons.31

The village of Cheraw, forty miles up-river from Mars Bluff, which today bills itself as “The Prettiest Town in Dixie,” was an established trading village on the Pee Dee and only one of six places in South Carolina on English maps at the time. While it lobbied the assembly to establish one of the four pending backcountry courthouses there, the assembly chose Long Bluff as the location for the courthouse on the Pee Dee.


Battle of Kings Mountain in Carolina backcountry
No sooner had the frontier begun to calm down than a heated constitutional dispute between the colonial assembly and imperial officials led to a government shutdown. After 1771, for all practical purposes, royal government ceased to exist. The revolutionaries ((or patriots, as they were beginning to call themselves) controlled Charleston and the lowcountry, but not much else. In the backcountry there were individuals who had greater grievances with colonial assembly than with the British Parliament. The patriots were in a quandary. They needed the support of the backcountry whites—a number of whom were loyalists—loyal to King George (or as the patriots derisively called them, Tories).

The South Carolina Provincial Congress sent a representative into the region to in 1774 to explain to the rural population how badly they were being treated by England and engender support for the growing revolutionary movement. From the beginning of the war until about 1780 the American Revolution in the backcountry was little more than a civil war, with occasional desultory raids by Whig and Tory factions. In 1780 this changed, as the British sought to “Americanize” the war, bringing it to the South and encouraging “local participation” using large numbers of Tories.

Initially the patriots obtained a grudging pledge of neutrality from prominent backcountry leaders. Then, in late 1775, patriots imprisoned leading backcountry Tories, and in response, Tory militia units attacked patriot troops. In savage fighting that would presage the brutal nature of the American Revolution in South Carolina, the Tory uprising was suppressed.

In 1778, the British forces captured Savanna and invaded South Carolina, chasing the revolutionary forces of South Carolina into Charleston. As the British approached Charleston, the commanding officer’s inclination was to abandon Charles Town before they were trapped on the peninsula, but the civil authorities desire for them to stay prevailed. The British began a siege of Charleston.

British Major Patrick Ferguson was hated in the backcountry for his ruthless tactics in pursuit of Patriots
With the revolutionary army of South Carolina trapped in Charleston, the British had free reign of the countryside. The British overplayed their hand; slaughtering unarmed soldiers in one incident and demanding loyalty oaths of the population. A previously apathetic backcountry populace was outraged, some former Tories became Patriots and resistance to the British intensified.

After slipping by the blockade of the harbor the British were able to bombard Charles Town from the harbor and the sea. Charles Town quickly capitulated. The revolutionary army of South Carolina and the civil authorities were prisoners of war. It “was one of the greatest disasters in the annals of the U.S. Army. By refusing to stand up the civilian authorities, he [commanding officer of Revolutionary Army] placed the entire future of the United States in jeopardy. . . the key state [South Carolina] in Clinton’s grand southern strategy lay open to the victorious British army.”

On 7 October 1780, the two armies clashed during the Battle of Kings Mountain. The battle went badly for the Loyalists positioned high on the mountain ridge, and during the fighting, Ferguson was shot from his horse. With his foot still in the stirrup, he was dragged to the rebel side. According to Rebel accounts, when a Patriot approached the major for his surrender, Ferguson drew his pistol and shot him as a last act of defiance. Other soldiers retaliated, and Ferguson's body was found with eight musket holes in it. Patriot accounts said their militia stripped his body of clothing and urinated on him before burial. They buried him in an oxhide near the site of his fall. British officers sent out soldiers and militia to recruit loyalists, antagonized them instead. The population was divided. While there were more whigs than tories, there did not appeared be clearcut sectional lines determining which residents supported each group. Neither wealth nor occupation explained the divisions on the frontier. Storekeepers, planters, slaveholders, and nonslaveholders were found in both rebel and loyalist camps.

A divided population led to intensive fighting in the region, neighbor pitted against neighbor, especially in the summer of 1780. . The British commissioned a local Tory in Gideon’s parish a captain to head up the South Carolina Rangers. This group was to be made up of about five hundred Tories, but it never reached more than one hundred members, and those who participated are not known. The British officers did not have much respect for this group, saying they preferred to “go off” and “plunder” rather than follow any organized discipline. Harrison and his gang conducted raids and pillaged local residents in the Parish and burned over fifty plantations in the Williamsburg area.

The death of Major Patrick Ferguson at The Battle of Cowpens

Welsh Neck Baptists unanimously supported the patriots, but the Anglicans could be either patriots or tories.

The backcountry was staunchly Presbyterian, and the influence of the clergy was considerable. At eleven o’clock on a sabbath day June, the congregation of Rev. William Martin was so large that they had to meet outdoors. It was as if they sensed that their minister was going to give them guidance.

Only eight years earlier, Martin had led many of them from Ulster to South Carolina to escape the injustices of rapacious English landlords. Together they had built the log church at Rocky Creek. They were very much a community. As he rose to speak, there was hushed silence. “My hearers, talk and angry words will do no good. We must fight!” He then explained that he had prayed and searched the scriptures and history in preparing that day’s sermon. In the current “controversy between the United Colonies and the mother country,” he had concluded that the Americans had been “forced to the declaration of their independence. Our forefathers in Scotland made a similar one and maintained that declaration with their lives: it is now our turn, brethren, to maintain this at all hazards.”

Backcountry Whigs frequently identified Tories as the “lower sort” who had associated with the outlaws in the 1760s. Among the prominent Tories was Joseph Coffel, who during that troubled time had finagled a commission from the royal government to bring to justice several Regulators accused of breaking the law. Coffel immediately deputized men suspected of criminal activity. As he and his deputies moved into the backcountry, the arrested Regulators named in the governor’s warrant and took the opportunity to pillage the settlements along the Saluda River. Law-abiding settlers were unwilling to accept this travesty of justice and prepared to fight Coffel and his men. Convinced of his error, the governor revoked Coffel’s commission and the tensions eased—but backcountry residents had long memories.

Battle of Cowpens in North Carolina, just north of Cheraws District in North Carolina, was a surprising victory and, along with the Battle of King's Mountain, a turning point that changed the psychology of the entire war --“spiriting up the people” not only those of the backcountry Carolinas, but those of all Southern states. (more on consequnces)
Passions in one tragic instance is related to Gideon and his uncle, Col. Maurice Murphy. Murphy was a man of ungovernable passion, which was often inflamed by strong drink. He had gone to the house of a noted Tory, named Blackman, who was quite old and inoffensive. He had several sons, however, who were active against the Whigs. Murphy’s real object, doubtless, was to discover where these and others of their companions were. Having tied Blackman, he asked him who he was for; and upon his replying, “For King George,” gave him fifty lashes. The question was repeated with the same reply, and the like punishment repeated, until the fourth time, when, upon finding the old man unyielding, Murphy gave up. Blackman lived on Cat Fish, and the place was long known as “Tory's Camp.”

Gideon Jr. blamed Murphy for beating the old man. Sometime after, Murphy and his company stopped at Gibson's for breakfast, and while there the subject was resumed. A quarrel ensued, and as Murphy mounted his horse to start off, Gibson followed him to the door and said something offensive, whereupon Murphy shot him dead. Three of Gibson's sons were present in Murphy's company, and were men of undoubted courage; but knowing his violent temper and desperate resolution, did not interfere. Nothing was done to Murphy afterwards. He finally died in prison for debt.

Murphey shoots Gideon dead

Gideon Sr. died the following year in Orangeburg, South Carolina. No record as to the cause of death or the circumstances associated with his death have been found.


Gideon Gibson's Will leaving the plantation to his “beloved son, John”
Source: South Carolina. Probate Court (Charleston County)

The inhabitants at Long Bluff attempted to revive trade after the Revolution. In March 1785 the assembly enacted a bill establishing fairs and markets there. The markets were held twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays in an open field where the people congregated near the banks of the Pee Dee River. They brought with them all sorts of cattle, grains, and “victuals, provisions and other necessaries, together with all sorts of merchandize whatsoever.” At this public market they could sell or barter by gross or by retail, each day between sunrise and sunset “without any payment of any toll.” Two fairs lasting no longer than four days were held each year on the first Monday in May and October. The fair represented a day of leisure for the participants. Even the laws sanctioning the behavior of the fair goers were rather lenient and it seems evident that drinking was a common occurrence “for no person was to be arrested at the said fairs except for capital offenses.”

The desire to establish fairs and markets in the Cheraws District in the 1780s symbolizes how the inhabitants sought to stimulate trade after it had been disrupted by the Revolution. During the war many settlers in the backcountry had to flee their homes.They “lived like the hunters and bandits of the preceding decades.” Plundering was also common, perhaps spurred by the hiatus in the courts caused by the Revolution. Attempts at recovery were reflected in improvements in transportation and the construction of roads, bridges, and ferries. To some extent the local inhabitants succeeded with these endeavors, but many found themselves faced with financial problems in the 1780s.

Without the subsidy of the British, indigo was no longer feasible cash crop.

After Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, cotton surpassed tobacco as the dominant cash crop in the agricultural economy of the South.

Gideon Jr’s brother, John received the plantation upon Gideon’s death. After a stint in British Navy, he aquired the appelation “Captain”. Capt. John Gibson acquired additional lands to the north of Mars Bluff. He owned at least two tracts encompassing over 3991 acres, including the Mars Bluff ferry. A courthouse plat showing Gibson's residence (described as "Capt. Gibson's Mansion House") provides a detailed drawing of the structure. It was a two story, frame structure with end chimneys and a hipped roof. It had a full facade porch on at least three elevations. The symmetry and scale of the structure suggests a recently built Georgian house. A "Ferry House" is shown at the ferry.32

By 1820 Marion District (new districts had been drawn from the old Cheraw District) had a population of 10,201, of which over a third, or 3463, were African American slaves. Compared to the 1800 census, there was a slow increase in the proportion of black slaves in the district, largely the result of an increasing emphasis on cotton. The swamps, if properly drained, yield the most valuable lands, bringing upwardsv of $50 an acre (still far below the $100 an acre demanded for prime Georgetown rice lands). Vast amounts of the Marion swamps, however, were classed as waste lands since no efforts had been made to either drain and reclaim them. These tracts were most often used as cattle ranges, continuing a practice that was common in the lowcountry during the early eighteenth century, but abandoned as the region began to emphasize cash crops.33

In the nineteenth century, the bluff edge was abandoned as a farmstead, although there was minor use by tenant farmers. The Pee Dee continued to be the major transportation route until the arrival of the railroads in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Land transport continued to be unreliable at best and life threatening at worst.34

The vast Gibson holdings passed from John Gibson to his son, James S. Gibson sometime between 1830 and 1840, despite his leaving it to his four sons in his will. Possibly he bought them out.35

While this indicates a diversified plantation, maximizing its potential (such as using waste lands for cattle and growing rice in the Pee Dee swamp), the most impressive accomplishment is the cultivation of 206 bales of cotton. In fact, only one other planter, James' brother, Samuel, reported more cotton and the district wide average was slightly more than 5.6 bales per farmer. Gibson's plantation represents one of the largest, most significant holdings in the region and it appears, based on this evidence alone, that James s. Gibson was wealthy far in excess of the smaller planters and farmers surrounding him.36

On August 23, 1854 James Gibson died. His estate was thrown into a lengthy battle for partition, not settled until after the Civil War. The various appraisements, inventories, and court papers, however, clearly reveal the wealth and prosperity of this unusual Pee Dee planter. Gibson's estate consisted of a house and lot in Darlington (his principle residence at which he also ran a store), 1161 acres in Darlington, and 10,000 acres in Marion. The court action to partition the estate reveal that at least the Marion plantation was obtained by Gibson "as heir of his father, John Gibson," from his mother, Martha Gibson, and from his brother, S.F. Gibson.37A large number of slaves, plantation utensils, and $85,000 in cash, bonds, stocks, and notes also were part of the estate. Gibson left complex directions for the division of his estate, which at least partially resulted in it eventually taking the 1857 court case to decipher all of the requirements.38

The inventory found a total of 231 slaves, valued at $119,325, on the Marion plantation. The seven slaves, valued at $3900, tallied for Darlington District represented house servants and consisted almost entirely of women and young children. The plantation furniture, with such items as pine side board, pine tables, sitting chairs, and irons, linen sheets and pillow cases, a tine foot tub, one silver tea spoon, one lot of crockery, and a tin watering pot, suggests a rather spartan atmosphere, in spite of Gibson's wealth and prosperity. The appraisement of his Darlington residence reveals that the bulk of his furnishings were found there, suggesting that he spent little time on his Pee Dee plantation.39

The inventory also divides the Marion property between a "Lower Plantation" and an "Upper Plantation." The items at each are shown in Table 1. The total value of Gibson's estate was nearly a quarter of a million dollars prior to the40

In 1850 the Agricultural Census for Marion County reveals that James S. Gibson owned 10,000 acres, 2,000 acres of which were improved. This real property was valued at $90,000, while the plantation contained $900 worth of implements and equipment, and slaughtered $1130 worth of animals the previous year. The plantation contained 15 horses, 3 asses or mules, 30 milk cows, 19 oxen, 100 other cattle, 93 sheep, and 300 swine, accounting for $6543 in livestock. Gibson's plantation produced 30 bushels of wheat, 150 bushels of rye, 7500 bushels of corn, 1500 bushels of oats, 1000 pounds of rice, 200 pounds of wool, 1000 pounds of peas and beans, 10 bushels of Irish potatoes, 300 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 200 pounds of butter.41

While this indicates a diversified plantation, maximizing its potential (such as using waste lands for cattle and growing rice in the Pee Dee swamp), the most impressive accomplishment is the cultivation of 206 bales of cotton. In fact, only one other planter, James' brother, Samuel, reported more cotton and the district wide average was slightly more than 5.6 bales per farmer. Gibson's plantation represents one of the largest, most significant holdings in the region and it appears, based on this evidence alone, that James s. Gibson was wealthy far in excess of the smaller planters and farmers surrounding him.42

On August 23, 1854 James Gibson died. His estate was thrown into a lengthy battle for partition, not settled until after the Civil War. The various appraisements, inventories, and court papers, however, clearly reveal the wealth and prosperity of this unusual Pee Dee planter. Gibson's estate consisted of a house and lot in Darlington (his principle residence at which he also ran a store), 1161 acres in Darlington, and 10,000 acres in Marion. The court action to partition the estate reveal that at least the Marion plantation was obtained by Gibson "as heir of his father, John Gibson," from his mother, Martha Gibson, and from his brother, S.F. Gibson.43 A large number of slaves, plantation utensils, and $85,000 in cash, bonds, stocks, and notes also were part of the estate. Gibson left complex directions for the division of his estate, which at least partially resulted in it eventually taking the 1857 court case to decipher all of the requirements.44

The inventory found a total of 231 slaves, valued at $119,325, on the Marion plantation. The seven slaves, valued at $3900, tallied for Darlington District represented house servants and consisted almost entirely of women and young children. The plantation furniture, with such items as pine side board, pine tables, sitting chairs, and irons, linen sheets and pillow cases, a tine foot tub, one silver tea spoon, one lot of crockery, and a tin watering pot, suggests a rather spartan atmosphere, in spite of Gibson's wealth and prosperity. The appraisement of his Darlington residence reveals that the bulk of his furnishings were found there, suggesting that he spent little time on his Pee Dee plantation.45

The inventory also divides the Marion property between a "Lower Plantation" and an "Upper Plantation." The items at each are shown in Table 1. The total value of Gibson's estate was nearly a quarter of a million dollars prior to the Civil War. The documents also reveal that Gibson's plantation was operated by a Mr. Owens, listed as the overseer.46

Apparently the plantation continued to be farmed while attempts were made to settle the estate. At the same time the estate apparently advanced funds to Gibson's primary heirs, including his wife, Arnarantha D. Gibson, and his two sons, J. Knight Gibson and Nathan Gibson. Not surprisingly, by the time the Court eventually partitions the estate in 1866 its value had declined considerably from the 1856 appraisal, with 25 shares of Confederate securities listed as having "doubtful" returns. The life estate eventually established for Gibson's wife was slightly over $16,000, while the children, exclusive of lands, received no more than about $1300 each.47

Although no plat showing the partition has been found, the 10,000 acre Marion County plantation was divided between Gibson's two sons, with Nathan S. Gibson receiving what appears to be the "Upper Plantation," while his, brother J. Knight Gibson, received the "Lower Plantation".48Curiously, no property belonging to Gibson is listed in the 1860 agricultural census, perhaps suggesting that the tract was being operated by a slave driver at the time of the census.49

Florence in some ways was better treated by the Civil War than it had been by the Revolution. The closest the war ever got to Florence was the creation of a Confederate prison in September 1864. Widely recognized, both then and now, as comparable to Andersonville in brutality and cruelty, the camp functioned for only five months before the advancing Union army necessitated its abandonment. At least 2800 Union soldiers, or about 560 a month, died at the 24 acre camp.50

Union soldier prisoners held at Florence Stockade Prison Camp

Sherman's troops passed to the northwest of Florence, leaving the town and the Pee Dee region little worse for the experience. Eventually, the 167th New York Infantry occupied Florence, ensuring at least in the short term its reconstruction.51 The only account dealing with the Gibson plantation is the May 8, 1865 murder of Gibson's overseer, Darius Gandy. A black man, Jeff Gee, was arrested and quickly sentenced to be hung. Through the intervention of Frances E.W. Harper, Gee was eventually pardoned by the military authorities.52 This was certainly not an isolated event; violence was typical during the reconstruction period and Florence saw considerable Klan activity into the early twentieth century.

There is, however, some evidence that both Nathans. and J. Knight Gibson were not totally intolerant of their new black neighbors. It was during the early days after the Civil War that the kin-based community of Jamestown was formed by Freedmen immediately west of Nathan Gibson's holdings. Similar communities are common in South Carolina and represent efforts by the Freedmen to establish themselves as small farmers, while ensuring t e support of family and friends. These communities represent a unique response to the increasing discrimination and threat of violence typical of South Carolina during the late nineteenth century.

It is uncertain whether the land was deeded, or was simply occupied by the Freedmen, but today the property is largely listed as "heirs property," with names such as Jim James, Sidney James, Eli James, Mitchel James, Robert James, and Ervin James.53 At least one deed from the early twentieth century demonstrates that occasionally the absence of clear ownership caused court actions.54

In 1875 Nathan S. Gibson and J. Knight Gibson deeded a four acre tract of land for the Liberty Chapel Church parsonage.55 Liberty Chapel, in the vicinity of Secondary Roads S-24 and S-33. was built about 1855 as a Methodist Episcopal church.56 It was also during this time that the railroads began to recover from the Civil War.57 In 1877 the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta Railroad wanted to change the location of their track through Nathan S. Gibson's plantation. He sold them a tract of land “for the purpose of improving the alignment of said RR and getting earth to fill trestles in the Pee Dee Swamp”.58 The plat accompanied the deed indicates that this transaction moved the railroad to the location presently used by the CSX Railroad. The plat also shows that the railroad was between the plantations of Nathan and his brother, Knight. A few days later, J. Knight Gibson deeded "all the land owned by me the said John Knight Gibson on the North side of the said RR" to his brother, Nathan S. Gibson.59

The immediate post-Civil War economy was unstable at best, yet it appears that the Gibson's managed to maintain their tracts relatively intact. The only major sale of Gibson land was to dispose of the 4,482 acres of Pee Dee swamp land east and north of their highland tracts. This property, which the deed indicates was first obtained by John Gibson on October 1, 1839, was sold to Benjamin F. Newcomer of Baltimore, Maryland. Nathan and J. Knight Gibson, however, retained the Mars Bluff Ferry and ferry landing, as well as the right "to get and use firewood on said lands herein granted for our plantation use, and also the oak and other timber necessary for use for plantation purposes for ploughs, waggons &c, and the right to rake surface from the same".60 This swamp land is the same 5601 acre tract that eventually came to be owned by the Atlantic Coast Lumber Company in the early twentieth century.

The 1870 agricultural census fails to list the Upper Plantation owned by Nathan s. Gibson, but does enumerate the holdings of J. Knight Gibson of Jeffries Township. At that time the Lower Plantation consisted of 500 acres of improved land, 300 acres of woodland, and 1400 acres of other unimproved land, with a total value of $8573. The farm implements were valued at only $150. Livestock included two horses, four mules or asses, and two oxen, valued at $900. Gibson produced 250 bushels of corn, 25 bushels of peas and beans, and 25 bushels of sweet potatoes. Only 26 bales of cotton were produced by Gibson, although $1200 in wages were paid.

This suggests that farmers in Marion, like elsewhere in South Carolina, experimented with wage labor immediately after the Civil War. Faced with uncertainty, but the need to begin planting immediately, many accepted the wage labor solution begun by the Union Army and latter espoused by the Freedman's Bureau. To support the wage system no less than seven major types of contracts were used by Southern .61 This system, however, was doomed to failure, being disliked by both the Freedmen, who found it too reminiscent of slavery, and the plantation owners, who found that it gave the Freedmen too much liberty. In response to both the Freedman's Bureau and the growing freedom the blacks, the South Carolina legislature passed the Black Codes in September 1865. These extended the restrictions placed on blacks and, in Charles Orser's words, “the Black code had established what whites wanted for blacks: a nominal freedom that would lead them to a new kind of slavery”.62

In 1886 J. Knight Gibson died, throwing his estate into nearly as much turmoil as that of his father, over 30 years earlier. Nathan S. Gibson, as executor, eventually brought the case to court in order to force a partition of the estate and to obtain payment for debts against the estate. Nathan took over the operation of the Lower Plantation, as well as his brother's store, J.K. Gibson and Company. According to one witness: J.K. Gibson was very much involved and my opinion was confirmed when I looked over his books. I regarded him utterly insolvent from the examination of his books and from my knowledge of his affairs being intimately associated with him. From my knowledge of his affairs he lived above his income. . • At the time of the death of J.K. Gibson the farm was very much out of repairs.63

Nathan S. Gibson testified that he, "had a large number of stumps taken up; ditches cleaned out and new ones cut; had a new set of stables built in the place of stables burnt; had fine tenement houses built" on his brother's property, which he managed without payment. In addition, Nathans. Gibson and his mother, Amarintha D. Gibson, took in Knight's children, raising and educating them, again without cost to the estate. The Court eventually decided that Knight's plantation should be sold to settle the debts of the estate, after a "Homestead" tract of 273 acres was struck off for his children. That "Homestead" included Knight's residence, which was at the same location as Capt. John Gibson's early nineteenth century house. The remainder of the plantation was purchased by his brother, Nathan S. Gibson.64 This consolidated the bulk of the Gibson holdings initially split as a result of James S. Gibson's death before the Civil War.

Beginning in 1887 there was a growing sentiment for the creation of a new county. A pamphlet arguing the cause explained: The foremost and most powerful reason is, that Marion - a county possessing the area of Rhode Island, and three-fifths that of Delaware - is divided in two by the Great Pee Dee River. The court house is in the eastern portion, the people in the western portion are thus not only remote from the county seat, even if access were easy, but access is attained only by penetrating the dense river swamp • • by perilous and roundabout roads, so called, and crossing the stream by ferries, there being no bridges, public or private ••.. Togo from west Marion to the court house, involves two days in traveling, besides spending the night at a Marion hotel.65

It further explained that as trade from western Marion County began to desert Marion, it turned to the City of Florence: •••a town which has spring up where 30 years ago there was seen an unbroken forest. The junction there of three important (and completed) railroads first give it an impetus.66 Florence was created as a county that same year 1888 -- carved out of neighboring Marion, Darlington, and Marlboro counties. The creation of the new county began an era of "boasterism," loudly proclaiming the benefits of Florence. One example is the advertisement of Florence County at the 1895 Atlanta Cotton Exposition: . . . situated as she is, the great railroad center of eastern South Carolina, surrounded by lands which produce corn, wheat, rye, oats, tobacco, rice, sugarcane, cotton, potatoes, onion, and vegetables of all kinds, apples, pears, peaches, plums, grapes, berries, melons in profusion, whose forests contain most of the woods of commerce, with water power and easy access to fuel for manufacturing, Florence County presents an inviting field for investment and immigration.67

This advertisement is interesting since it begins the promotion of tobacco in Florence County, as well as encourages immigration.

Tobacco was a growing concern during this period, with the first tobacco growers association formed in 1895. Tobacco was referred to "Our Nicotiana Tobacum - Pearl of the Pee Dee." That same year there were 139 tobacco growers, with most planing around 5 acres and the largest planting only 40 acres. By the mid-1890s the average profit on an acre of tobacco was $150 to $200 an acre, well over the $10 an acre provided by cotton.68

This last decade of the nineteenth century marked the culmination of 30 years of effort to remove blacks for the political process and to re-assert white supremacy. The 1895 South Carolina Constitutional Convention almost totally disenfranchised blacks and the Federal government's retreat from its duty to protect the freedom of black citizens was _symbolized by the 1896 Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson which established the doctrine of "separate but equal." The Ku Klux Klan remained active in Florence County well into the 1920s, with the 1923 Confederate Veteran's Reunion in 1923 marking the climax of their activity.69

Being unable to vote in elections, an increasing number of Florence County blacks "voted with their feet," leaving Florence and South Carolina for the north. This exodus spurred many to encourage immigration into the region, in order to replenish the work force. In spite of this, by 1923 upwards of 100 blacks a month were leaving Florence.

In 1909 Nathan S. Gibson died, leaving his estate to his wife, Rebecca Gibson, in trust for his daughter, Mary Savage Gibson, and his wife's children from a previous marriage, George Hyman, Mary A. Hyman, and McCall Hyman.70 His plantation was described as a "large fifteen horse farm stocked with mules, wagons, plows and all of the various paraphernalia generally used in the conduct of a farm of equal size." Also included in his estate was his general store at Winona. Inventoried were 304 bales of cotton packed and ready to be shipped out of Winona, over 73 tons of cotton seed meal at the Darlington Oil Mill, and a car load of cotton seed on a siding at Winona.

The first activity by the executors was an effort in January 1909 to rent the farm, "together with the mules, farming implements, dwelling houses, grist mill, gin, and store' which are situated on and go with said land." By the end of February the farm was rented to H.S. Rose and the executors requested the Court's permission to sell Rose the store stock for 65% of its invoiced cost, noting that the “stock of merchandise at Winona [is] old and of not much value, and is only of special value to the party running the farm”.71 This suggests that the primary function of the store, like many others, was to supply Gibson's tenants.

over the next several years the estate continued to sell off items, including livestock, hay, display cases from the store, and excess farm equipment. The executors also attempted to clear up the notes and accounts due to Gibson, often accepting far less than the face value realizing that many of those involved were unlikely to pay more. The estate papers also reveal that Gibson had been paying Talbert Bailey for working in the store and c.s. Bailey as an overseer of the plantation. Others paid were Pink Hinds for her work at the house, and Ezra Bailey for work on the farm. Accounts were created for what may have been Gibson's old tenants, including Nap Scipio, G. Avant, Herbert James, Tom Ford, and Mose carter.

Regrettably little is known about the operation of the plantation during this time, although the Adams and Ervin 1913 "Map of Florence County, South Carolina" shows the Gibson estate north of the railroad. J.S. Gibson to the south is the son of J. Knight Gibson who was operating the Homestead. Twelve structures are found scattered across the property, with an additional 15 structures forming a double row at the north edge of the plantation, adjacent to the Pee Dee swamp. This row strongly resembles a nineteenth century slave settlement that continued to be used by freedmen into the twentieth century. The scattered houses represent both laborers' housing and also the dwelling of Nathans. Gibson. The Jamestown settlement is also shown on the map as a loosely nucleated settlement at the edge of the Pee Dee swamp.

In the most simple of terms, two types of tenancy existed in the South -­ sharecropping and renting. Sharecropping required the tenant to pay the landlord part of the crop produced, while renting required the tenant to pay a fix rent in either crops or money. While similar, there were basic differences, perhaps the most significant of which was that the sharecropper was simply a wage laborer who received his portion of the crop from the plantation owner, while the renter paid his rent to the landlord.

Farms operated by tenants are usually devoted mainly to the production of cotton, corn, and tobacco. The ordinary yield of cotton on such farms is a little over one-half bale per acre, while that of corn is about 16 bushels. These yields could easily be increased, as is demonstrated by the better farmers, who obtain 1 bale to 2 bales of cotton and 40 to 60 bushels of corn per acre. About 65 per cent of the farms are operated by tenants. The ordinary yield of tobacco in the county is somewhat over 800 pounds per acre. The price has averaged about 14 cents per pound.72 By the late 1920s the boll weevil was reaching Florence County and one newspaper editorial reported that the weevil had “put a stop to the lazy man's crop,” and that now planting took “brains, money, hard work, and poison to raise cotton hereabouts these days”.73

At Nathan Gibson's death in 1909, the property apparently consisted of 2575.7 acres shown on a 1930-1931 plat made to assist in the partition of the estate.74 In 1931 George H. Hyman, McCall Hyman, and Mary A. Hyman conveyed tracts 4 and 11 (with 1005 acres) to their mother, Rebecca A. Gibson “to effect a portion of the estate of N.S. Gibson, deceased.” At Rebecca Gibson's death in 1938 she devised her 1/3 interest in the property she obtained from her daughter, Martha Gibson, to her children, Italine Hyman Finklea, George H. Hyman, Mary A. Hyman, and McCall Hyman (Florence county Probate Court, Box 3543). The general area of the Gibson lands is also shown on the Atlantic coast Lumber Corporation and United Timber Corporation map of the Duckponds made in 1933 and 1934.75

The estate was finally settled in 1940 with the partition of the estate, which gave the bulk of the plantation to George Hyman. Mary Hyman was provided with the homestead built about 1909 by Rebecca Gibson after her husband's death. At that time six structures are shown on the survey tract, including Mary Hyman's homestead, the probable homestead of George Hyman, and a series of tenant houses.

A neighboring black community named Jamestown was for the first time on a published map in 1945. A series of six structures in the slave settlement are shown as still standing. In addition, 14 structures are shown scattered over the property.

It seems likely that after 100+ years of cultivation some of the Gibson lands were nearly exhausted and no longer profitable for cultivation. At his death in 1969 George Hyman passed his farm of 1691 acres on to his wife, Florence F. Hyman. At the death of Mary A. Hyman her homestead tract of 21 acres and 85 acres of woodland were devised to the Francis Marion College Foundation.76 In addition, she bequeathed to the Foundation: “All furnishings presently located in my sitting room, hall and dinning room. These items consist mainly of antiques that I and my family have owned for many years and it is my request that they be used in my home as nearly as possible as they are being utilized at the present time.”77

Although the Mary Hyman property was sold by the Foundation in 1985 to Philip Britton, the bulk of the antiques were transferred to the President's home, the restored Wallace House, where they are still being used.78

Florence Hyman devised the bulk of the property inherited from her husband to her children. One tract of 14.92 acres was bequeathed to her sister, Margaret F. Johnson, while another tract of 2.92 acres was given as a life estate to McKinley Jesse, then to pass to Frank M. Davis, III.79

The Hoffman-La Roche facility on Mars Bluff, the Great Pee Dee River is shown on the right


Two-humdred-forty-four years of Gibson land ownership in the Pee Dee came to an end in 1977, when executors of Florence Hyman's estate sold the property to Philip Britton. 80

In 1991, Hoffmann-La Roche, purchased the property from Britton to build a chemical plant to produce pharmaceuticals.81 In 2016 La Roche announced that Patheon was taking over the facility and would produce pharmaceuticals for La Roche.82


Gideon Jr., his wife and his family left South Carolina sometime between 1800 and 1810,83 relocating to Mississippi just outside Natchez. He had seven girls and three boys, two of whom are of particular interest: Randle, born 1766, and David, born 1769. It is said they swung up to North Carolina to wed two daughters of the McKinley family (see John McKinley: A History Lesson) whom they must have known previously. David and Randle Gibson married Francis and Harriot McKinley in 1792 in a joint ceremony. Both women were disowned grand-daughters of the fabulously wealthy William Conolly of Castletown, Kildare, Ireland; Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. His grand-daughters were now of unknown means in the backcountry of North Carolina.

Randle became the Rev. Randle Gibson, a Methodist minister of camp meetings, and holding services in his home and school during the Second Great Awakening. David and his wife remained in Mississippi; he was a trader and planter; he married twice more after Harriet’s death in 1816 at the age of 42. David lived unitil 1858 and died at the age of 96. His death was just short of the American Civil War, which would change their way of life forever.

Rev. Randle’s son, Tobias was a planter in Louisiana. In 1860 he owned more than 200 slaves and six thousand acres of which one-thousand-seven-hundred were under cultivation (sugar cane) until emancipation brought an end to his plantation labor. But fortunately for him, he was married into a wealthy Kentucky family where he had always spent summers raising horses.

Tobias’s son, Randle Lee was a Yale educated attorney and politician, elected as a member of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senator from Louisiana. He served as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army. Later he was a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, and a president of the board of administrators of Tulane University.

Two children of David’s left Mississippi: Randle to the sugar cain fields of Fort Bend, Texas and Fielding to California, lured by the promises of gold. He eventually settled in El Monte, California in Los Angeles County, where he served on the board of county supervisors.

His son, my Great-Grandfather Edward, held the office of sheriff of Los Angeles County for one term, normal tenure for the office in those days. He listed himself as a miner on one census and a mining promotor on another. Edward’s son, my Grandfather Denzel, was a cotton farmer, dairy farmer and bookkeeper for Southern Pacific Railroad. Edward’s youngest child, Gadi was killed in adolescence by a Los Angeles streetcar before the streetcars were removed because of such pedestrian fatalities.

Denzel’s daughter, my mother Dorothy, was a housewife in California, Texas, New York, and the Netherlands before returning to California with her husband, Loy.

Next Mississippi, Louisiana and David's journey to California will be looked at sometime in the future.

Take a look at this link of images for Gideon Gibson. You may be surprised.

Appendix i

My relationship with the Gibsons mentioned above.
 Unknown Gibson  b. abt. 1638  and Elizabeth Chavis  7th Great-Grandparents
 Hubbard Gibson  b. abt. 1670  and Mary  6th Great-Grandparents
 Gideon Gibson I  b. abt. 1695  and Mary Brown  5th Great-Grandparents
 Gideon Gibson Jr  b. abt. 1720  and Martha O’Connell  4th Great-Grandparents
 Rev. Randle Gibson  b. abt. 1766  and Harriot McKinley  4th Great-Uncle & Aunt
 David Gibson  b. abt. 1769  Francis McKinley  3rd Great-Grandparents
 Tobias Gibson  b. abt. 1800    1st Cousin 4x removed
 Fielding Gibson  b. abt. 1814  and Elizabeth Aldrich  2nd Great-Grandparents
 Randle Lee Gibson  b. abt. 1832    2nd Cousin 3x removed
 Edward D. Gibson  b. 1854  and Alma Jaqua  Great-Grandparents
 Denzel Gibson  b. 1888  and Bernice McMurray  Grandparents
 Dorothy Gibson  b. 1920/td>  and Loy Charter  Mother & Father


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