I frequently receive enquiries about links to Gibbs families in America. Not really surprising when one looks at figures on global distribution of the Gibbs surname, as shown on this distribution map for 2014 data for number of Gibbses recorded by country. The leading 3 countries are USA with 85k, UK with a little over 24k and Australia with nearly 10k Gibbses.
Intriguingly there are numerous African American Gibbses in North America, including renowned sports players, musicians and states persons. A legacy no doubt of early Gibbs settlers with plantations in Carolinas and Barbados.
Other American Gibbses have been prominent scientists and professors, bankers and business people, well established in society from the early days of the ‘colony’.
I was intrigued to discover recently (thanks to Family Search – Famous Relatives) that one of my 9th Great-Grandfathers (actually I have 2,048 of them!) came from Fenstanton, only 12 miles from where I am in Cambridge, and was one of the pilgrims that sailed to America on the first Mayflower voyage, leaving Plymouth in Devon in September 1620. After 10 very rough weeks at sea in a small ship with 102 passengers and 30 crew, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, where they established Plymouth Colony. John Howland sailed with the Carver family (who died in the following spring – he may have been an indentured servant to them) and later married another Mayflower passenger, Elizabeth Tilley. She was a teenager when she came over with her parents Joan and Joan from Bedfordshire, who both perished during that first harsh winter. You can see my full relationship to Mayflower pioneers John and Elizabeth Howland here.
The story of the 53 pilgrim survivors, their assistance by the Wampanoag Native American people, and their celebration of their first harvest in October 1621 is the stuff of legends and the roots of the American Thanksgiving!
But how does this all relate to Gibbs family in America? Not at all … they are all ancestors of my South African mother, and her American grandmother (whose memories I recounted recently). By contrast I can find no evidence of any of the descendants or ancestors of Antony Gibbs (on whom my tree is focused) ever emigrating to what is now the United States of America prior to the 20th C. either directly or by way of another country. A few went to live and work in South America and in Australia, where the family firm had significant activities, but none to the USA. So what if any is our connection with the numerous Gibbs dynasties across the pond?
Henry Hucks Gibbs, alongside his predigeous achievements, had a passion for his family genealogy. Perhaps he was stirred on by his wife’s brother George Cokayne, Clarenceux King of Arms and author of ‘The Complete Peerage’; or was it a perverse Victorian desire to establish noble origins? Despite his enormous wealth, much of it derived from importing bird poo (guano fertiliser), he was not descended from generations on Knights and Peers, in an English society where “class” was inherited and not earned through business success. He had searches made through reams of old records in Devon and Somerset, and kept meticulous notes of his findings, which are now preserved in the London Metropolitan Archives. In 1890 he published ‘Pedigree of the Family of Gibbs’ with historical introduction, from which this Gibbs Family Tree website has evolved. He established definitive lineage back to George Gibb at Pytte in Clyst St. George, near Exeter in Devon in 16th C., and very strong conjectural linkage back to William Gibbs who inherited Fenton, near Dartington in Devon in about 1390.
In about 1378, during the reign of Richard II, there are records of 2 brothers, John and Thomas Gybbes, given land grants for their services, the former in Fenton, Devon and the latter at Honington in Warwickshire. “Memoir of the Gibbs Family of Warwickshire, England and United States of America”, written by Joshua Willard Gibbs in Philadelphia in 1879, traces back to this Thomas Gybbes. His descendent Robert Gibbs, fourth son of Sir Henry Gibbs of Honington Hall, emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts about 1658, where he became a distinguished merchant. He married Elizabeth Sheafe in 1660; their son Henry graduating from Harvard College in 1686. Robert’s younger brother John settled in Bridgeton, Barbados, and was living there in 1653. The Gibbs of Honington use the same family motto ‘tenax propositi’ and battle axes arms as my family and there are definite, though distant, family connections.
It is probable that another branch of Gibbes with links back to Fenton was established around Folkestone in Kent also in the 14th C. Some of them were in Barbados by the 1650s, and Robert Gibbes was appointed Governor of South Carolina in 1710.
Of the numerous other American Gibbs families to the best of my knowledge no clear connection to my family tree has been established.
In conclusion, it seems most likely that one would need to go back to the 14th Century to find a common ancestor between Antony Gibbs and any of the Gibbses who migrated to North America. Maybe there is no common root in many cases, and the name of Gibbs evolved in various disconnected places.