Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs
|Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs|
|Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction|
1868 to 1872, 1873 to 1874
|Preceded by||George J. Alden, Charles Beecher|
|Succeeded by||Samuel B. Mclin, William Watkin Hicks|
|Born||September 28, 1821
|Died||August 14, 1874
|Spouse(s)||Anna Amelia Harris, (divorced), and Elizabeth F. Gibbs|
Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, II (September 28, 1821 – August 14, 1874) was a Presbyterian minister and a prominent African-American officeholder during Reconstruction. He served as the first black Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction of Florida, and along with Josiah Thomas Walls, US Congressman from Florida, was among the most powerful black officeholders in the state during Reconstruction.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Abolitionist minister
- 3 Reconstruction politician
- 4 Death
- 5 Legacy and impact
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
Gibbs was born free in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 28, 1821. His father was Reverend Jonathan Gibbs I, a Methodist minister, and his mother Maria Jackson was a Baptist. Jonathan C. Gibbs II was the oldest of four children born to the couple. He grew up in Philadelphia during a time when the city was rife with anti-black and anti-abolitionist sentiments. Many white Northerners during this period practiced both white superiority and discrimination against blacks. Gibbs and his brother, Mifflin, attended the local Free School in Philadelphia.
Though not much is known about the details of his early life, Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs grew up in a Philadelphia where anti-black riots and violence were quite common. Following the death of his father in April 1831, Gibbs and his brother left the Free School to aid their ailing mother and earn a living. The young Gibbs apprenticed to a carpenter. Both brothers eventually converted to Presbyterianism. Gibbs impressed the Presbyterian assembly such that the Assembly provided financial backing for him to attend Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire.
Gibbs attended Kimball Union Academy at Meriden, New Hampshire, and graduated in 1848. At the time, the academy was under the guidance of abolitionist principal, Cyrus Smith Richards, who had earlier allowed Augustus Washington (who would also attend Dartmouth) to study at the academy. Washington is best known for a famous daguerreotype of John Brown. At KUA, Gibbs became acquainted with Charles Barrett, a native of Grafton, Vermont, who would become one of his closest friends. The two went on to Dartmouth College, and later, Barrett returned to his native Vermont and served in politics.
While Gibbs was a student, Dartmouth was under the presidency of pro-slavery Nathan Lord. Lord was originally an anti-slavery advocate who had voted for the Liberty Party and had written editorials in The Liberator. His sudden conversion was due to his conservative brand of Calvinism, he felt that reformers may have been going too far in their zeal against slavery. Despite the president's views regarding slavery, which stemmed in large part from his belief that the institution was predicated on sin, Lord permitted several African Americans to attend the college. Lord believed that any group of people who sinned against God could be enslaved (including whites).
While at the college, Gibbs was influenced by three professors who would affect his thinking as a missionary, educator and politician. He was a member of the abolitionist movement while a college student, and participated in several conventions, appearing by name in The Liberator.
New York and the Abolitionist Movement
Following his graduation in 1852, Gibbs studied at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1853 to 1854 but did not graduate due to financial constraints. At the seminary, Gibbs studied under Charles Hodge a pro-slavery advocate. Hodge, a Presbyterian minister, espoused the belief that, "slavery as such was not condemned by Scripture but that the way it was practiced in the South perpetuated great evil." Unlike Nathan Lord, Hodge did support the war effort and President Abraham Lincoln. Though Gibbs was unable to graduate from the seminary, he was ordained in 1856. He was called as a pastor of Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York, where Henry Highland Garnet had been pastor. Gibbs invited the pro-slavery president of Dartmouth College, Nathan Lord, to give the ordination sermon. He "begged Dr. Lord as a special favor to preach his ordination sermon, giving as a reason that his college was the only (one) which would endure his presence." Lord delivered the sermon as a result of the absence of other ministers.
Gibbs, by now a young minister, married Anna Amelia Harris, the daughter of a well-to-do black New York merchant and his wife. The couple had three children: Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs, Julia Pennington Gibbs, and Josephine Haywood Gibbs.
Following his ordination, Gibbs became active in the abolitionist movement. He attended a series of black conventions where he worked with Frederick Douglass and served on committees. He gradually became known nationally for his work in the movement. Gibbs was featured in anti-slavery publications including The Liberator and the The National Anti-Slavery Standard. His rising fame was indicative of Gibbs' own ambitions as well his skills as an orator and rising abolitionist minister. His growing involvement in New York's abolitionist movement separated him from his family. In part due to his extensive absences from home and his parish duties, Gibbs became increasingly alienated from his wife. Anna was accustomed to living standards that a young pastor could not afford. The tension between husband and wife prompted Gibbs to consider leaving the United States for Africa to work as a missionary. However, he was persuaded by his congregation to abandon these plans. The marital discord eventually led to lengthy and bitter divorce proceedings, which lasted until 1862. Not long afterward, Gibbs returned to his native Philadelphia where he continued work in the abolitionist movement.
Return to Philadelphia
Gibbs served as pastor of the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1859 to 1865. He became active in the abolitionist movement, "a key figure in the local underground railroad and contributed articles to the Anglo-African Magazine."
Following President Abraham Lincoln's announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, Gibbs delivered a sermon titled "Freedom's Joyful Day," emphasizing that whites should crush their prejudices and that blacks should be allowed to fight in the Civil War. Gibbs noted that, "We, the colored men of the North, put the laboring oar in your hand; it is for white men to show that they are equal to the demands of these times, by putting away their stupid prejudices." He touched upon the need for blacks to fight by addressing white concerns and prejudices stating unequivocally that:
|“||Many persons are asking, Will black men fight? That is not what they mean. The question they are asking is simply this: Have white men of the North the same moral courage, the pluck, the grit, to lay down their foolish prejudice against the colored man and place him in a position where he can bear his full share of the toils and dangers of this war?||”|
Along with William Still, Gibbs fought for equal accommodations and transportation in Philadelphia, decrying segregation of the city's rail cars. In a blunt article published in December 1864 in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Still and Gibbs asked, "Why, then, should the fear exist that the very people who are meeting with colored people in various other directions without insulting them, should instantly become so intolerably incensed as to indicate a terrible aspect in this particular?" They wrote further that:
|“||It is well known that through the efforts of the Supervisory Committee of this city ten or eleven regiments of colored men have been raised for the United States service, and not a few of these brave men have already won imperishable honor on the battle-field. Nevertheless, thrice the number that have been thus raised for the defence of the country are daily and hourly compelled to endure all the outrages and inconveniences consequent upon rules so severe and inexorable as those which have hitherto governed the roads of Philadelphia.||”|
Gibbs' efforts in the movement to abolish slavery helped both free blacks and their enslaved brethren. As the Civil War drew to a close, Gibbs left Philadelphia, and journeyed to the South to help rebuild the former Confederate states and to educate the ex-slaves and poor whites who were left destitute in the wake of the bloody ravages of war.
Move to the South
On December 18, 1864, Gibbs announced his departure from the First African Presbyterian Church. He "was invited to go South for several months to look to the needs of Freedmen." His endeavor expanded into a project of several years, as Gibbs labored alongside other missionaries as part of the American Home Missionary Society. Gibbs arrived at New Bern, North Carolina, where he wrote a letter published in The Christian Recorder. He described postwar conditions: "The destitution and suffering of this people extended my wildest dream; old men and women bending to the ground, heads white with the frosts and hardships of many winters, as well as the innocent babe of a few weeks, contribute to make up this scene of misery." Gibbs eventually settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where he became established in a local church and opened a school for freedmen.
Freedmen faced uncertainty as well as great opportunities. As early as 1866 the need for missionary activities among the freedmen was mentioned prominently in The First Annual Report of the General Assembly’s Committee on Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The Report stated, "The condition of the freedmen, their native peculiarities, and the various influences to which they are subjected, have much to do in determining the success of missions, and the plan of the church’s operation for their benefit." This same report also illuminated the perspective of Northern missionaries in dealing with the situation, saying that newly freed blacks are
"passing through 'a howling wilderness' of social, political, and religious problems, as striking and peculiar as those found by the Israelites in their journey from the 'house of bondage' to the land of their fathers. And all these problems impinge upon the work of their religious education, in every branch of it, either directly or remotely.
Missionary activity in the South was not a new occurrence. The Great Awakening had been a period when many missionaries evangelized in the region. In addition, contraband camps had been set up near many forts, and some missionaries lived and worked among them. Historian Steven Hahn has noted that:
|“||The missionaries and reformers, charged as many were with evangelical fervor, sought not only to strike fatal blows against the institution of slavery but also to reshape the character and morals of the institutions direct victims. Assuming, for the most part, that the slaves had emerged from an experience of degradation and cultural barbarism, they expected to teach essential lessons in the proper conduct of faith, family, health, and livelihood as well as in the rudiments of reading and writing.||”|
The established missionary work among freed blacks in the South was augmented by activities such as those o Gibbs. He believed in the power of education and the connection (expressed in the 1866 report) between religious duties and the task of uplifting nearly four million freedmen. In a letter to his old friend, Charles Barrett[disambiguation needed] of Vermont, Gibbs proudly stated that he "had one school that daily average in Charleston, 1000, children, and some 20 teachers."
During his time in South Carolina, Gibbs also became involved in Republican political activities during Reconstruction. Gibbs participated in a meeting of black delegates who drafted a petition demanding that the educated of both races be allowed to vote, suggesting he may have had some elitism. The petition also said, "we do ask that if the ignorant white man is allowed to vote, that the ignorant colored man shall be allowed to vote also." Gibbs noted that, "If we can secure, for the next ten years, three clean shirts a week, a tooth brush, and spelling-book to every Freedman in South Carolina, I will go bail (a thing I seldom do) for the next hundred years, that we will have no more slavery, and both whites and blacks will be happier and better friends."
During this period, Gibbs met and married his second wife, Elizabeth. They had at least once child, who died in infancy. Gibbs "remained [in Charleston] but a short time not finding things to his liking. He proceeded to Jacksonville, Florida and there opened an Academy for youth of that city."
1868 Constitutional Convention and rise to Secretary of State
Gibbs moved to Florida in 1867 where he started a private school in Jacksonville. He rapidly shifted from missionary work to political involvement in Reconstruction Florida. Religion and politics went hand-in-hand for black officeholders in this period. Another prominent black officeholder, Charles H. Pearce, remarked that, "A man in this State, cannot do his whole duty as a minister except he looks out for the political interests of his people."
Gibbs was elected to the State Constitutional Convention of 1868. He formed part of the radical Mule Team faction within the convention that initially gained control of the convention, only to be thwarted by more moderate and conservative delegates led by Harrison Reed and Ossian Bingley Hart. Canter Brown, Jr. wrote of the resulting constitution that:
"While it established the state's most liberal charter to that date, it incorporated important restrictions on black political power. It permitted most former Rebels to vote, at the same time specifying a legislative apportionment plan that discriminated again black-majority counties in favor of sparsely populated white counties. The drafters retained one item especially important to black leaders. The constitution directed the legislature to create a uniform system of public schools."
The Mule Team nominated its own slate of candidates, opposing the more conservative faction of Republicans that nominated Gibbs for Florida's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ultimately, the Mule Team coalition fractured in the wake of the successful election of a moderate Republican administration and Congressional approval of the 1868 Constitution.
Though Gibbs did not win the election to Congress, he was appointed Florida's Secretary of State, serving from 1868 to 1872, by Wisconsin-born Republican governor, Harrison Reed. Gibbs wielded considerable power and responsibility during his four years as Secretary of State. In a letter to his close friend, Charles Barrett, Gibbs remarked that, "In 1868 I was appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, Secretary of State of Florida at a salary of $3000, per year for four years, and stand second man in the government of this State today." Gibbs' power and influence contradicts some observations made by historians of this period. Eric Foner noted that, "During Reconstruction more blacks served in the essentially ceremonial office of secretary of state than any other post, and by and large, the most important political decisions in every state were made by whites." However, Article VIII of the Constitution states that, "The Superintendent of Public Instruction, Secretary of State, and Attorney General shall constitute a body corporate, to be known as the Board of Education of Florida. The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall be president thereof. The duties of the Board of Education shall be prescribed by the Legislature." Gibbs also was proactive as Secretary of State, conducting extensive investigations into violence and fraud (including investigations into the activities of the Ku Klux Klan) and he also served on the Board of Canvassers, testifying on behalf of Josiah Thomas Walls.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
He was appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1873. Gibbs was also commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Florida State Militia. Gibbs was also elected as a Tallahassee City Councilman in 1872.
Legacy and impact
He was the brother of prominent Arkansas Reconstruction judge Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, and the father of Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs, a delegate to the 1886 Florida Constitutional Convention, and a member of the Florida state legislature.
- Gibbs High School, the first high school in St. Petersburg for black students, is named after him.
- Gibbs Junior College (also in St. Petersburg) was named after him. The college now forms part of St. Petersburg College, which has a Gibbs Campus.
- Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), vii.
- Philip S. Foner, History of Black Americans: From The Emergence of the Cotton Kingdom to the Eve of the Compromise of 1850, Vol. 2 (Westport, CT and London, Greenwood Press, 1983), 203.
- William Pierce Randel, The Ku Klux Klan: A Century of Infamy, (Philadelphia and New York: Chilton Books, 1965), 125; Phyllis Gibbs Fauntleroy, Linking The Gibbs Chain, (Washington, D.C.: P.G. Fauntleroy, 1995), 4; Carter G. Woodson, "The Gibbs Family", The Negro History Bulletin, Vol. XI, No. 1 (October, 1947), 3, 7.
- Luis-Alejandro Dinnella-Borrego, At Freedom's Gate: Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs and the Story of Reconstruction Florida, B.A. Honors Thesis, (Hanover: Dartmouth College, 2007), 28-29; Augustus Washington, letter published in Charter Oak, Hartford Connecticut, 1846.
- Chesley A. Homan, From Antislavery to Proslavery: The Presidency and Resignation of Nathan Lord, B.A. Honors Thesis, (Hanover: Dartmouth College, 1996), 40; Luis-Alejandro Dinnella-Borrego, At Freedom's Gate, 32-34; John King Lord, A History of Dartmouth College 1815-1909, Vol. II, (Concord: The Rumford Press: 1913), 332; Leon Burr Richardson, History of Dartmouth College, Vol. II, (Brattleboro: The Stephen Daye Press, 1932), 478.
- Dinnella-Borrego, At Freedom's Gate, 37-39.
- George E. Carter, "Antebellum Black Dartmouth Students," Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, Vol. XXI, No. 1 (November, 1980), 30; Dinnella-Borrego, 39-41; The Liberator, (February 14, 1851), 28.
- Phyllis Gibbs Fauntleroy, Linking The Gibbs Chain (Washington, D.C.: P.G. Fauntleroy, 1995), 4-5; Jonathan C. Gibbs, M.D., "An Essay On The Life And Times of Rev. Jonathan C. Gibbs of Florida, 1821-1874," (unpublished, no date). This essay was in the possession of Phyllis Gibbs Fauntleroy.
- Learotha Williams, Jr., "A Wider Field of Usefulness": The Life And Times of Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs c. 1828-1874, Ph.D. Diss., (Tallahassee: Florida State University, 2003), 10-11; Mark A. Noll, "Hodge, Charles," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-00687.html (accessed: April 18, 2007).
- Raymond L. Hall, "A Reaffirmation of Mission: The Saga of the Black Experience at Dartmouth," Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, vol. 79, 3 (November 1986), 6; Dinnella-Borrego, 47-48.
- Dinnella-Borrego, 49-50; Phyllis Gibbs Fauntleroy, Linking The Gibbs Chain (Washington, D.C.: P.G. Fauntleroy, 1995), 7; Jonathan C. Gibbs, M.D., "An Essay On The Life And Times of Rev. Jonathan C. Gibbs of Florida, 1821-1874," (unpublished, no date), in the possession of Phyllis Gibbs Fauntleroy.
- Dinnella-Borrego, 48-49; Learotha Williams, Jr., "A Wider Field of Usefulness", 19-20; C. Peter Ripley, et al., eds., The Black Abolitionist Papers Volume 5: The United States, 1859-1865 (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 246; "Minutes of the Colored State Convention of New York, Troy, September 4, 1855" in Philip S. Foner and George E. Walker, eds., Proceedings of the Black State Conventions, 1840-1865 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979), I, 88.; "Colored Men’s State Convention," Frederick Douglass’ Paper, September 14, 1855 in George E. Carter and C. Peter Ripley, et al. eds., Black Abolitionist Papers 1830-1865 (New York: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1981), microfilm, 9:0825. (Hereafter cited as BAP Microfilm).
- Jonathan C. Gibbs to Jacob C. White, May 20, 1858. Jacob C. White Papers 115-1, Folder 57. (Washington D.C.: Howard University, Moorland Spingarn Research Center); Learotha Williams, Jr., "A Wider Field of Usefulness": The Life And Times of Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs c. 1828-1874, Ph.D. Diss., (Tallahassee: Florida State University, 2003), 30.
- Anna Amelia Gibbs vs. Jonathan C. Gibbs. Superior Court, New Haven Connecticut. 1857-58 (Case #24), 1860, 1862 (Case #77). (Note: the petition was brought in September 1857, the case was heard in 1858, dragged into 1860, and even into 1862 when a new trial was set for December 1862). New Haven: Connecticut State Library.
- Dinnella-Borrego, 55-56; C. Peter Ripley, The Black Abolitionist Papers, 246; "Annual Meeting of the Philadelphia Vigilant Committee," Weekly Anglo-African, February 25, 1860 in BAP Microfilm, 12:0509.
- Jonathan C. Gibbs, "Freedom’s Joyful Day," in Philip S. Foner and Robert James Branham, eds., Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900 (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1998), 383.
- Jonathan C. Gibbs, "Freedom's Joyful Day," 383.
- "Colorphobia in Philadelphia," National Anti-Slavery Standard, December 17, 1864 in BAP Microfilm, 15:0616.
- "Colorphobia in Philadelphia," December 17, 1864 in BAP Microfilm, 15:0616.
- Shelton B. Waters, We Have This Ministry: A History of the First African Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Mother Church of African American Presbyterians, (Philadelphia: The Winchell Company, 1994), 30.
- Jonathan C. Gibbs, "Letter From Rev. J.C. Gibbs," The Christian Recorder, April 15, 1865; See also Learotha Williams, "‘Leave the pulpit and go into the…school room’: Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs and the Board of Missions for Freedmen in North and South Carolina, 1865-1866," Southern Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South, Vol. 13 No. 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2006): 89-104.
- The First Annual Report of the General Assembly’s Committee on Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Pittsburgh: Jas. McMillin, 1866), 16.
- The First Annual Report of the General Assembly’s Committee on Freedmen, 13.
- Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 74.
- Jonathan C. Gibbs, "Letter to Charles Barrett, Grafton, Vt., Tallahassee, Fla., June 7, 1869", Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.
- Herbert Aptheker, "South Carolina Negro Conventions, 1865," The Journal of Negro History Vol. 31, No. 1, (January 1946), 94-95; Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1996), 84.
- Leon F. Litwack, Been In The Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), 522; Jonathan C. Gibbs, The Christian Recorder, February 3, 1866.
- Jonathan C. Gibbs, M.D., "An Essay On The Life And Times of Rev. Jonathan C. Gibbs of Florida, 1821-1874," (unpublished, no date).
- Canter Brown Jr., Florida's Black Public Officials, 1867-1924, (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1998), 4; Dorothy Dodd, "'Bishop' Pearce and the Reconstruction of Leon County", Apalachee (1946), 6.
- Canter Brown Jr., Florida's Black Public Officials, 10-11.
- Brown, 10-11; Jerrell H. Shofner, Nor Is It Over Yet: Florida in the Era of Reconstruction 1863-1877, (Gainesville, University of Florida Press, 1974), 184-187.
- Jonathan C. Gibbs, Letter to Charles Barrett, Grafton, Vt., Tallahassee, Fla., (June 7, 1869). Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.
- Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, (New York: Perennial Classics, 1988), 354.
- Florida Constitution, (1868). Article VIII, Sec. 9.
Published Sources (Primary and Secondary):
- Canter Brown, Jr. Florida's Black Public Officials, 1867-1924. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1998.
- Eric Foner ed. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.
- Mifflin Wistar Gibbs Shadow and Light: An Autobiography with Reminiscences of the Last and Present Century. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
- William Peirce Randel, The Ku Klux Klan: A Century of Infamy. Philadelphia and New York: Chilton Books, 1965.
- Joe M. Richardson, "Jonathan C. Gibbs: Florida's Only Negro Cabinet Member." Florida Historical Quarterly, XLII (April, 1964).
- C. Peter Ripley, et al., eds. The Black Abolitionist Papers. Five Volumes. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992-1995.
- Learotha Williams, Jr., "‘Leave the pulpit and go into the…school room’: Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs and the Board of Missions for Freedmen in North and South Carolina, 1865-1866." Southern Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South, Vol. 13 No. 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2006): 89-104.
Unpublished Sources (Primary and Secondary):
- Luis-Alejandro Dinnella-Borrego, At Freedom's Gate: Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs and the Story of Reconstruction Florida. B.A. Honors Thesis, (Hanover: Dartmouth College, 2007).
- Chesley A. Homan, From Antislavery to Proslavery: The Presidency and Resignation of Nathan Lord. B.A. Honors Thesis, (Hanover: Dartmouth College, 1996).
- Learotha Williams, Jr.,"A Wider Field of Usefulness": The Life and Times of Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, c. 1828–1874. Ph.D. Diss., (Tallahassee: Florida State University, 2003).
Internet Sources (Primary and Secondary):
- Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs
- Rev. Jonathan C. Gibbs, "The Great Commission", October 22, 1856
- Our Philadelphia Letter. Lecture at the Institute for Colored Youth, Weekly Anglo-African, March 16, 1861
- (1863) Rev. Jonathan C. Gibbs, "Freedom's Joyful Day"
- Gibbs High School Homepage
- St. Petersburg College/Gibbs Campus Homepage