Gibbs family papers   1635-1846
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Gibbs family papers are a heterogeneous collection consisting largely of copies of 17th century documents apparently made by William Gibbs (b. 1785) in the 1820s when studying the early colonial history of Essex County, Mass. Most of the documents relate to Cape Ann and the towns of Salem, Lynn, and Beverly, and include a number of items pertaining to the sale or grant of lands by Massachusett Indians to English settlers. Several are copies of depositions taken from elderly Native Americans between 1680 and 1700, documenting their recollections of the earliest land transactions, borders between towns, and the etymology and Massachusett names for rivers and other geographic features. The collection also includes copies of two letters written by William Gilbert, who bears an uncertain relation to the Gibbs, to his grandparents in England. In the first of these, Gibbs provides an excellent description of the destruction wreaked upon the towns of eastern Massachusetts during King Phillip's War, and the in the second, he writes of being afraid to return home to England due to the depredations of "Turks" upon "richly Loaden" American shipping.

Among the more important materials in the Gibbs papers are Henry Gibbs' (1709-1759) copies of 21 of his 27 courtship letters to his first wife, Margaret Fitch, written between December 27th, 1737 and December 19th, 1738 (the first of the letters preserved is numbered "6", and they continue in unbroken succession until one month before the couple was married). These letters provide an intimate view of the initiation and pursuit of a relationship between members of two of Salem's elite families. From the beginning, the letters are familiar, affectionate, even flirtatious, becoming ever more so over the course of the year. "I ought to look upon myself as somewhat unreasonable in my desires," he wrote in letter no. 8 (the third preserved), "when ye more I am with you, ye more Covetous I am of being so, & yt it is with regrett yt I am even now at a distance from you: however, I can't but regard it as a sure presage yt (if ever it be my happy Lott to live with you) your Company will alwaies be a Source of ye most pleasing entertainment & Delight to me." Elsewhere (letter 10), he wrote "When I mention ye friendship I have for you, I am far from confining it to a cold, Stoical Approbation of ye good qualities I think you possessed of, but include in it all yt is meant by Love considered as an Affection of ye Soul. Tis this tender passion joined with that regard & esteem which reason and judgement approve of, yt is ye only foundation of ye pleasure yt is ever found in Friendship." In this correspondence, Henry eloquently describes weddings, a Quaker meeting he attended, the love lives of acquaintances, local gossip, and above all, often at considerable length, his ideas of love. At several crucial junctures in letter 16, Henry resorted to the use of a code to disguise passages dealing with an apparently embarrassing encounter with a newly married friend. The letters are a rich source for the study of views of love and marriage among the upper classes in colonial Massachusetts.

A second important set of items in the Gibbs Papers are the diaries of Henry Gibbs (1749-1794) written between April 14th, 1789 and May 17th, 1793 (with some gaps). Gibbs' diaries are filled with deeply religious sentiments, fretting over the state of his soul and of the world, but contain numerous references to secular events, and moving discussions of sickness in the family, death, and other major life crises.

William Gibbs (b. 1785) was the author of a genealogical tract, Family notices collected by William Gibbs, of Lexington, Mass. (Lexington, Mass., 1845), and each of the first three Henry Gibbs is included in John L. Sibley's biographies of Harvard graduates.

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