Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Gibbs Family Papers, 1635-1864

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, July 1994

Summary Information
Title: Gibbs family papers
Creator: Gibbs family
Inclusive dates: 1635-1846
Extent: 51 items (0.25 linear feet)
Abstract:
The Gibbs family papers consist primarily of copies of 17th century documents relating to early colonial history. Also important is a collection of courtship letters, a set of diaries, and a genealogical tract.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1992. M-2861.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

No copyright restrictions.

Preferred Citation:

Gibbs family papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan


Biography

From the early colonial period through the earliest Republic, there was always a Henry Gibbs associated with Harvard College. The first Gibbs in Massachusetts, Robert, emigrated from England during the Great Migration and through his commercial endeavors rose rapidly to lofty social heights and great wealth. By the time that Robert's grandson, Henry (1668-1723), attended Harvard, he could feel confident and at ease as a member of the elite of Massachusetts society, a peer of Provincial governors and powerful clergymen. Receiving his AB in 1685, Henry Gibbs was installed in the east parish at Watertown in 1697, just over the boundary line from his beloved Cambridge. Rev. Gibbs was considered to be a fine preacher and was selected to deliver the Artillery Sermon of 1704. Considered to be broad minded by the standards of his day, Gibbs' influence is credited with preventing the spread of witchcraft persecutions to Watertown in 1692-93. Throughout his ministry, Gibbs maintained his connection with Harvard, serving as a fellow from 1700-1707.

The life of Rev. Gibbs' son, Henry (1709-1759), followed a very different course. At age seven, Henry lost his mother and seven years later, while a sophomore at Harvard, he lost his father as well. As the only surviving son (he also had two sisters), Henry came into a considerable inheritance from both sides of the family and was able to live comfortably, if not lavishly. Henry graduated with the class of 1726, but remained at college as a resident graduate, earning a second degree in 1729 and serving as college librarian from 1730 to 1734. Leaving Harvard and Boston behind, he sold off his property in the city and relocated to Salem to begin a career as a merchant, never attaining the success of the previous generations of Gibbs. In 1737, he met and began to court Margaret Fitch, daughter of Rev. Jabez Fitch of Portsmouth, a niece of his brother-in-law. The couple wed on January 31, 1739, but the marriage was not to last. Margaret died suddenly only three years later, leaving two daughters, one of whom shortly followed her mother in death.

Henry remarried in 1747, selecting the much younger Katherine Willard, daughter of the Provincial Secretary, for his second wife. This marriage further cemented the prominent place of the Gibbs in Salem society but brought comparatively little lucre, and only the fortunate bequest of £500 from a friend, William Lynde, helped the Gibbs maintain their lifestyle and social obligations. A theological liberal and political supporter of the power of the crown and broad colonial obligations, Gibbs held several important local and provincial offices during the next several years, including justice of the peace (appt. 1753), judge, delegate in the House of Representatives (three terms, beginning in 1753), and Clerk of the House (1755-1759). In February, 1759, at what should have been the peak of his career, he contracted measles, leaving five children and an insolvent estate with a meager 10s allotted to each child.

The third Henry Gibbs (1749-1794) inevitably followed his father to Harvard. His education was financed by the pooled resources of his recently impoverished family with some additional assistance from the college and from scholarships. Henry received his degree in 1766 after a strong academic career and went on to teach school at Rowley, Newcastle, N.H., and Lynn, before returning to Salem as a merchant. A moderate Loyalist, Gibbs survived the most radical period of the Revolution with his affairs intact and married Mercy Prescott in 1781. Henry died in 1794, Mercy in 1809, leaving a legacy of children to Yale College, rather than Harvard. Josiah Willard Gibbs graduated from Yale in 1809 and went on to become librarian (1824-1843) and Professor of Sacred Literature (1826-1861) at Yale. The next in the long line of Henry Gibbs also graduated from Yale (1814), and his third son, William "of Lexington" (b. 1785), though not a Yale man, became an important member of the Massachusetts Historical Society.


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.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Beverly (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775.
    • Boundaries--Massachusetts--Essex County.
    • Cape Ann (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775.
    • Diaries--Massachusetts.
    • Essex County (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775.
    • Genealogy.
    • Indians of North America--Massachusetts.
    • Land grants--Massachusetts.
    • Lynn (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775.
    • Salem (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   1  
    Gibbs family papers,  1635 February 12-1864 September 22 [series]:
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Bereavement
    • 1736 November 3. (Gibbs, Henry 1709-1759)
    Beverly (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • 1671 May 28. (Conant, Roger)
    • 1680 December 16. (Brackenbury, Richard)
    • 1681 February 22. (Beverly (Mass.). Inhabitants)
    • 1686 September 5. (Wouttawasham, John)
    • 1686 Sept. 7¬1694 Dec. 25. (March, James Rumney)
    • 1700 October 12. (English, Samuel)
    • n.d. (Gibbs, William b. 1785?)
    Bible. O.T. Zechariah
    • 1687 April 3. (Bailey, John 1644-1697)
    Black William
    • 1657 Mar 15¬1679 Mar 28. (Baker, Nathaniel)
    Boundaries--Massachusetts--Essex County
    • 1635 February 12-1708 April 27. (Unknown)
    • 1657 Mar 15¬1679 Mar 28. (Baker, Nathaniel)
    • 1681 February 22. (Beverly (Mass.). Inhabitants)
    • 1686 September 5. (Wouttawasham, John)
    • 1686 Sept. 7¬1694 Dec. 25. (March, James Rumney)
    Brothers--Death
    • 1736 November 3. (Gibbs, Henry 1709-1759)
    Cape Ann (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • n.d. (Unknown)
    • n.d. (Gibbs, William b. 1785?)
    • n.d. (Gibbs, William b. 1785?)
    Childbirth
    • 1789 Aug. 3¬26; 1790 Sept. 8. (Gibbs, Henry 1749-1794)
    Children--Death
    • 1791 Dec. 2¬1792 Feb. 29. (Gibbs, Henry 1749-1794)
    • ca.1791 December. (Gibbs, Henry 1749-1794)
    Clergy--Salaries, etc.--Massachusetts
    • 1700 March 7. (Mass. General Assembly)
    • 1700 May 29. (Watertown (Mass.). Inhabitants)
    Condy, Jeremiah, 1708-1768
    • 1737 Dec. 27¬1738 Dec. 19. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Congregational Church--Clergy--Massachusetts
    • 1737 April 27. (Condy, Jeremiah 1708-1768)
    Courtship--Massachusetts--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • 1737 Dec. 27¬1738 Dec. 19. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Death
    • 1789 Aug. 3¬26; 1790 Sept. 8. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1791 Dec. 2¬1792 Feb. 29. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1792 July 12¬November 21. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Death--Poetry
    • ca.1791 December. (Gibbs, Henry 1749-1794)
    Deeds--Massachusetts
    • 1641 November 6. (Byshopp, Townsend)
    • 1835 May 29. (Munroe, William)
    Diaries--Massachusetts
    • 1789 April 14¬May 10. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1789 May 11¬July 26. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1789 Aug. 3¬26; 1790 Sept. 8. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1790 May 11¬June 5. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1790 June 17¬July 17. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1790 August 25¬December 12. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1790 Dec. 21¬1791 January 9. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1791 January 16¬December 1. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1791 Dec. 2¬1792 Feb. 29. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1792 March 1¬July 11. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1792 July 12¬November 21. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1793 January 16¬May 17. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Epidemics--Massachusetts
    • 1789 May 11¬July 26. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1789 Aug. 3¬26; 1790 Sept. 8. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Essex County (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • 1635 February 12-1708 April 27. (Unknown)
    • 1635 June 8¬1737 April 26. (Hobart, Peter)
    • n.d. (Gibbs, William b. 1785?)
    Estates (Law)--Massachusetts
    • 1807 February 11. (Gibbs, Josiah Willard)
    Father and child
    • 1791 Dec. 2¬1792 Feb. 29. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1792 March 1¬July 11. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Flour-mills--Massachusetts
    • 1635 February 12-1708 April 27. (Unknown)
    Genealogy
    • 1823 October 18. (Gibbs, William b. 1785)
    • n.d. (Miscellaneous Genealogical notes)
    • n.d. (Miscellaneous Genealogical items)
    Gibbs Family
    • 1823 October 18. (Gibbs, William b. 1785)
    • n.d. (Miscellaneous Genealogical notes)
    • n.d. (Miscellaneous Genealogical items)
    Gibbs, Henry, 1668-1723
    • n.d. (Gibbs, William b. 1785?)
    Gibbs, Henry, 1783-1791
    • ca.1791 December. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Gibbs, Marcia, 1787-1791
    • ca.1791 December. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Harvard College Library
    • 1864 September 22. (Hill, Thomas 1818-1891)
    Hotels, taverns, etc.--Massachusetts
    • 1825 April. (Gibbs, William b. 1785)
    Husband and wife
    • 1789 Aug. 3¬26; 1790 Sept. 8. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Indians of North America--Massachusetts
    • 1635 February 12-1708 April 27. (Unknown)
    • 1657 Mar 15¬1679 Mar 28. (Baker, Nathaniel)
    • 1680 December 16. (Woodbury, Humphrey)
    • 1686 September 5. (Wouttawasham, John)
    • 1686 Sept. 7¬1694 Dec. 25. (March, James Rumney)
    • 1700 October 12. (English, Samuel)
    Infants
    • 1789 Aug. 3¬26; 1790 Sept. 8. (Gibbs, Henry)
    King Phillip's War, 1675-1676
    • 1675 December 24. (Gilbert, William)
    Land grants--Massachusetts
    • 1657 Mar 15¬1679 Mar 28. (Baker, Nathaniel)
    • 1657 May. (Unknown)
    • 1700 October 12. (English, Samuel)
    Love
    • 1737 Dec. 27¬1738 Dec. 19. (Gibbs, Henry 1709-1759)
    Love-letters--Massachusetts
    • 1737 Dec. 27¬1738 Dec. 19. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Lynn (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • 1657 Mar 15¬1679 Mar 28. (Baker, Nathaniel)
    • 1671 July 11. (Richards, Edward b. ca.1616)
    • n.d. (Gibbs, William b. 1785?)
    Maps--Massachusetts
    • 1659 April 25. (Endecott, John ca 1589-1665)
    Mason, Robert
    • 1657 May. (Unknown)
    • 1680 December 16. (Brackenbury, Richard)
    • 1680 December 16. (Woodbury, Humphrey)
    • 1681 February 22. (Beverly (Mass.). Inhabitants)
    Masquanaauth
    • 1700 October 12. (English, Samuel)
    Measels
    • 1789 May 11¬July 26. (Gibbs, Henry)
    • 1789 Aug. 3¬26; 1790 Sept. 8. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Natick (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • 1686 September 5. (Wouttawasham, John)
    North River (Mass.)
    • 1686 September 5. (Wouttawasham, John)
    • 1686 Sept. 7¬1694 Dec. 25. (March, James Rumney)
    Quakers--Massachusetts
    • 1737 Dec. 27¬1738 Dec. 19. (Gibbs, Henry 1709-1759)
    Roads--Massachusetts
    • 1680 June 4. (Salem (Mass.). Selectmen)
    Roads--Massachusetts--Lynn
    • 1671 July 11. (Richards, Edward b. ca.1616)
    Salem (Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • 1680 December 16. (Woodbury, Humphrey)
    • 1686 September 5. (Wouttawasham, John)
    • 1686 Sept. 7¬1694 Dec. 25. (March, James Rumney)
    • n.d. (Gibbs, William b. 1785?)
    Schroeder, Charles
    • 1807 February 11. (Gibbs, Josiah Willard , 1785-1853)
    Sermons--Massachusetts
    • 1687 April 3. (Bailey, John 1644-1697)
    • before 1723. (Gibbs, Henry 1668-1723 ?.)
    Shipping--New England--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • 1680 November 10. (Gilbert, William)
    Sibley, John Langdon, 1804-1885
    • 1864 September 22. (Hill, Thomas 1818-1891)
    Sick
    • 1789 Aug. 3¬26; 1790 Sept. 8. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Small pox--Massachusetts
    • 1680 June 4. (Salem (Mass.). Selectmen)
    Sparhawk, John, 1713-1755
    • 1737 April 27. (Condy, Jeremiah 1708-1768)
    Weddings--Massachusetts
    • 1737 Dec. 27¬1738 Dec. 19. (Gibbs, Henry)
    Wills--Massachusetts--Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
    • 1731 March 23. (Browne, Samuel)