Manuscript Group 1302, Gibbons Family (Savannah, GA and Madison, NJ) Papers, 1811 – 1856 (Bulk dates:1811 – 1822, 1831 – 1839, 1850 – 1856)

Archives Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs

Manuscript Group 1302, Gibbons Family (Savannah, GA and Madison, NJ)

Papers, 1811-1856 (Bulk dates: 1811-1822, 1831-1839, 1850-1856) 0.2 linear feet / 3 folders
Call Number: MG 1302 + folder number



Letters written to Thomas Gibbons (1757-1826), William Gibbons (1794-1852) and William Heyward Gibbons (1831-1887) concerning the family’s business affairs in New Jersey, New York, and Georgia.  Thomas Gibbons invested in land, turnpikes, stage lines, hotels and the steamboat ferry business. Some letters concern the shipping of rice and cotton from Savannah to markets, and others relate to a proposal to run passenger steamships between New York and Philadelphia. Letters to William Gibbons concern the buying and breeding of horses, agricultural matters in Savannah, and monetary matters among close family members. Major correspondents include:

James Anderson S.P. Hamilton Elias Reed
William Cooper John Lamon Ezra Stacy
Junia Curtis F.S. Lathrop H.W. Warner
William Dunham E.C. Mayo Josiah Whitney
Edward Elkin Sarah McAllister P.P. Wilcox
Ch. W. Elliott W.H. Mott Amos A. Williams
William T. Porter

Gift of Eric W. Muller on behalf of the Livingston Historical Society, 1988.

Biographical Note:

Thomas Gibbons, the sixth child of Joseph and Hannah (Martin) Gibbons, was born outside of Savannah, Georgia on December 15, 1757. Unlike his father and brothers, Thomas Gibbons was a loyalist during the American Revolution, a factor which helped protect the family plantation during the fluctuating British/Patriot occupation of the area. After the war, Thomas Gibbons opened a lucrative law practice in Savannah, in addition to running the family plantation. He entered politics in 1791 as the campaign manager for Anthony Wayne, a candidate for a Georgia District office. Wayne won the election, however Gibbons was accused of rigging the results as there were more votes than voters. Regardless, Gibbons was soon elected mayor of Savannah, where he served from 1791-1792, 1794-1795, and 1799-1801. He then became a federal judge for the Georgia district.

In the early 1800s, Gibbons bought a summer estate in Elizabeth, New Jersey. By 1817 he was running a steam ferry from Elizabeth Point to New Brunswick, which connected to a line run by Aaron Ogden from Elizabeth to New York City. Ogden had already been to court over the New York water monopoly granted to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton by the New York Legislature, and had lost. As a result, he was paying Livingston and Fulton large fees to run his ferry. In 1818, Gibbons set up a ferry from Elizabeth to New York in direct competition with Ogden’s, and Ogden sued. The case finally made it to the Supreme Court in February of 1824, where Gibbons won and all monopolies on interstate waters were declared null and void.

Thomas Gibbons married and had at least two sons, William and Thomas Heyward. At the time of his death in New York City on May 15, 1826, he had considerably built up the family estate, which included rice and cotton plantations in Georgia and various businesses in the North, and left a large inheritance to his sole surviving son.

William Gibbons (1794-1852) attended Princeton College, though he left early to assist his father with the family businesses. In 1832, he bought land in Madison, New Jersey, which he named “The Forest” and built a mansion there for his wife, Abby Louisa, and children: William Heyward, Caroline G., Sarah T., and Isabel.

He was soon funding projects in the area, building the Morris County House (later the New Jersey Hotel) and the United States Hotel in nearby Morristown. In addition to running the family businesses, he was active in horse racing and breeding. His wife died in 1844 and William continued to live at “The Forest” until his own death on December 10, 1852. The executors of his estate were Dr. James Anderson of New York City, Judge Ira C. Whitehead from Morristown, New Jersey, and Elias Reed, a Savannah merchant.

At the time of his father’s death, William Heyward Gibbons (1831-1887) left Harvard Law School and permanently settled in Savannah, Georgia to run the family businesses there. His sister, Caroline resided at “The Forest” until her death in 1857, at which time William Heyward closed up the family home.

When the Civil War broke out, William Heyward declared his loyalty to the South, investing his family’s fortunes in the cause. When the war was lost, the Gibbons’ plantations and fortune went with it. William returned to New Jersey and sold “The Forest” to Daniel Drew for $140,000 in 1867. Drew renamed the mansion Mead Hall, and it and the Gibbons’ stables and servant housing became part of what is today Drew University. William Heyward Gibbons died in Morristown, New Jersey in 1887.


Dictionary of American Biography: Thomas Gibbons.

Esposito, Frank J. The Madison Heritage Trail: An Intimate History of a Community in Transition (The Madison Bicentennial Heritage Committee: Madison, NJ, 1985) pgs. 61-62, 83-84.

Provenance Note:

These papers were donated by Eric W. Muller on behalf of the Livingston Historical Society in 1988.  The letters were passed down from William K. Page (d. ca. 1980), president of the Livingston Historical Society, to Robert Spohr (d. 1987), also president of the Livingston Historical Society.  Mr. Spohr’s widow donated the letters to the Livingston Historical Society, where it was felt they would more appropriately belong in The New Jersey Historical Society. The William Gibbons letter to Thomas Gibbons (March 25, 1822) was a later addition to the collection.  The source of this item is unknown.

Scope and Content Note:

These papers consist of the correspondence of Thomas, William, and William Heyward Gibbons and date from 1811-1856, with bulk dates of 1811-18122, 1831-1839, and 1850-1856. The letters mostly pertain to business or estate matters, covering such topics as rice and cotton crops; steam boats; shipping concerns; horse breeding, trading, and racing; and real estate/property deals and transfers.  The letters also include such family issues as Hannah Gibbons Wheelwright’s inheritance from her father, Thomas Heyward Gibbons, and her grandfather, General Jonathan Dayton, and the settling of William Gibbons’ estate.  Correspondents include Josiah Whitney, P.B. Wilcox, F.S. Lathrop, James Anderson, Elias Reed, Ezra Stacy, John Lamar, and Sarah (Gibbons) McAllister.

Related Collections:

Manuscript Group 25, Miscellaneous Manuscripts: Contains letters from William Gibbons to Thomas Gibbons.
Manuscript Group 252, Amzi Dodd (1793-1838) Papers: Contains papers on the Gibbons vs. Ogden case.
Manuscript Group 386, Ogden Family (Newark and Elizabeth, NJ) Papers
Manuscript Group 1085, Edward J. Grassmann (1887-1973) Manuscript Collection: Contains a deposition from the Trumbull vs. Gibbons libel suit
Manuscript Group 1397, William Gibbons (1794-1852) Papers
Manuscript Group 1508, Stoudinger-Alofsen-Fulton Drawings

Item List:

Folder Title Dates
1 Letters to Thomas Gibbons from:
– Josiah Whitney:

The merchant writes regarding shipments of rice and cotton shipped from Savannah in brig Sally Barker and schooner Diadama. Suggests holding rice off the market until the fall when the demand will be higher. Discusses problems of weevils in the rice; that there is little problem if it is shipped from the South before May or “unless considerable expense and attention is paid by standing tobacco among the casks.”

April 19, 1811
– Josiah Whitney:

Refers to Gibbons’ letter of the 30th. Discusses a discount on the last payment of Gibbons’ rice, and instructs him on writing a draft for $2000. Gives his expenses in obtaining evidence about Robert Smith, Jr. and says he is enclosing copies of the Boston Gazette of November 7 and the New England Palladium of November 8 “each containing an advertisement for Robert Smith, Jr.” (Gibbons wanted Smith to testify in a forgery case on November 25.)

November 5, 1811,

November 8, 1811

– Amos A. Williams:

Accepts Gibbons’ draft of $3500 by direction of Henry W. Hills, Savannah.

July 22, 1815
– Junia Curtis:

Asks for advance of money to complete the steamboat Golden Fleece. (This letter is addressed to John Gibbons, but was probably meant for Thomas Gibbons.)

September 10, 1817
– H.W. Warner:

Warner writes at the request of J. Shillaber and L. Bingham of New York who had learned that their partner, Junia Curtis, mortgaged to Gibbons his half of the rights in the patent and manufacture of steam engines for propelling boats. Warner details the business arrangement between Shillaber, Bingham, Curtis, and Bristol, invites Gibbons to examine the legal contracts, and asks that he make further inquiry about the rights of Curtis’ partners before proceeding.

September 18, 1817
– William Cooper:

Tells of his proposal to run two steam stages on a route between New York and Philadelphia. Each stage would carry 50-60 passengers “as comfortably as could be desired,” and the trip could be made in one day. The stages would cost $7,000-$8,000 each and he asks Gibbons to invest $10,000 to put one stage in operation in exchange for “half the privilege for the U.S.,” and he promises to refund the money out of the first proceeds.

September 27, 1817
– William Gibbons

Writes to his father concerning state legislation on steamboats and a letter to Aaron Ogden, which led up to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Gibbons v. Ogden

March 25, 1822
2 Letters to William Gibbons from:
– William Dunham:

Writes that Mrs. Cook is sending “12 good Bacon hams” and other items. Refers to Gibbons letter of February 26 acknowledging receipt of 180 pounds of oranges. Says they began to trench for rice on February 22 and expect to have in “325 acres for the tides” on the 14th.

March 11, 1831
– John Lamar:

Concerns the buying, selling, and breeding of various horses.

January 8, 1835
– John Lamar, Jr.:

Refers to Gibbons’ letter of the 14th. Lamar has purchased Lady Alert from Gibbons for $870. Discusses various other horses.

June 23, 1835
– William T. Porter:

Asks for an extension of his obligation, says the notes are “falling due as thick as leaves in Vallanbrosa.” Mentions the races at Camden and “the Island” (Argyle Island) as well as the Sweepstakes and other races.

July 18, 1838
– P.B. Wilcox:

Concerns Gibbons’ niece, Hannah Gibbons Wheelwright. A trust was set up by William Gibbons in 1836, the year she married, in order to keep her property out of the control of her husband, Washington Wheelwright. This letter refers to Hannah’s claims, as General Dayton’s heir, to land near Cincinnati. (This is related to land speculation in the “Old Northwest” in which General Dayton was involved.)

September 26, 1839
– P.B. Wilcox:

Discusses continued difficulties in settling claims as described in previous letter. Refers to a power of attorney Gibbons gave him as too limited and asks that it be expanded to allow him “to sell and convey under any circumstances.”

November 7, 1839
– Arnold Lathrop and Co.:

Encloses copy of a letter Elias Reed sent him on November 27, and a copy of Lathrop’s answer to Reed on December 2. Discusses shipments and prices of rice and the advisability of selling the rice in Savannah rather than shipping it to New York. Mentions paying Bloom, the contractor, $944.44 as the second payment on the bulkhead, “the whole will be complete before New Years.”

December 3, 1839
– F.S. Lathrop:

Replies to Gibbons’ earlier letter. Refers to a “Port Martin letter to Mr. Coddington” and a missing package sent from Madison to New York, possibly to a Mr. Ridgeway. Also refers to Adams, “the land broker” who has two or three propositions in mind for Gibbons’ Schooley’s Mountain Hotel.

December 13, 1839
– W.H. Mott, from the State Bank of Newark:

Encloses 40 shares of stock Gibbons bought for $2120. The stock in Gibbons’ name as trustee for his children: Sarah T., William H., Caroline G., and Isabel. (At his death in 1856, Gibbons held 210 shares of State Bank of Newark stock valued at $53 a share.)

May 20, 1850
– E.C. Mayo:

Refers to Gibbons’ “favor” of the 13th handed to him by Mr. Darby. Makes an appointment to meet Gibbons at office of Elias Van Arsdale (Gibbons’ attorney) on October 1 to receive the deed for the Walnut Hill Farm and to deliver the mortgage for the same for a balance of $10,000 of the purchase price. Tells of his willingness to make the cash payment at once “as the money is idle in my hands.”

September 17, 1850
3 Letters to William Heyward Gibbons from:
– James Anderson:

Refers to a previous letter from Judge Whitehead. Advises Gibbons to come to the city with the Judge as soon as possible and to bring his (Anderson’s) bond and mortgage and also those against W.B. Tallmage. He says authority must be given by the girls, except Sarah, to someone to “relet the premises belonging to them.” Asks Gibbons to consult Caroline and says Belle can be conferred with in the city.

February 7, 1852
– Elias Reed:

Refers to William Heyward Gibbons’ communications of January 2 and 20 in which Gibbons enclosed a certified copy of his father’s will. Mentions need for making an inventory of William Gibbons’ property and expresses hope that William Heyward Gibbons will come to Savannah. Asks that Gibbons see Judge Whitehead “on the subject of the money lying idle there.” He refers to a debt in New York and asks whether to pay it with the said “idle money.” Mentions lots on corner of West Broad and Tubly Streets (in Savannah) and the impossibility of going on with the contemplated improvements.

January 29, 1853
– Elias Reed:

Written after Gibbons’ arrival back in New York from Savannah. Thinks Mr. Astor’s refusal to accept the money due him may retard the settlement of William Gibbons’ estate. Expects settlement of estate in Georgia to be concluded by July 1. Asks for Judge Whitehead’s directions for disposition of balance of money on hand. Concerning plantation matters, says Mr. Stacy gives sad accounts of the crop. Mentions cotton at Fair Lawn plantation. Says Lufburrow is to build up the front wall of the Cracker Hall building.

April 22, 1853
– Ezra Stacy (agent for the estate of William Gibbons):

Asks for advice on extending Joseph Lippman’s lease an additional 10 years, the lease having been transferred to him from James Oliver. Refers to a shipment of a barrel of rice, a barrel of sweet potatoes, and a box of Georgia hams sent on the Agustin to the care of F.S. Lathrop. Remarks about the lack of rain and poor prospects for a cotton crop.

May 2, 1853
– Ezra Stacy:

Concerning a stable fire on May 5 which was confined to the loft. Says Mrs. Cassidy “thinks the fire must have been put there by some designing person.” Describes damage and asks if repairs should be made.

May 7, 1853
– Ezra Stacy:

Refers to Gibbons’ letter of May 8 in which he asked if “Fair Lawn” was the only plantation with poor prospects for a cotton crop and asks why the rice on “the Island” (Argyle Island) needed to be replanted. Stacy writes here of the drought which affected all the plantations “when they did not plant very early.” Says they have had rain since he last wrote and cotton is “now about all up,” and that they could yet have a fair crop. Adds that the rice at “Fair Lawn” and on “the Island” is doing fine, though they lost 300 acres of the first planting because of a cold spring and defective seed.

May 14, 1853
– Elias Reed:

Refers to Gibbons’ letter of June 16. Says he has asked Mr. Stacy to write to Gibbons about the condition and prospect for the crops. Reports that Mr. Stacy says “both crops are backward.” Says Mr. Lufburrow’s work on the wall is postponed “for want of bricks.”

June 28, 1853
– Ch.W. Elliott:

Refers to “the lumber matter,” Gibbons’ lumber, and a mill “unemployed.” Says if Gibbons is coming to New York and is to be at home for some time, it’s likely Judge Lathrop or he will call on him.

July 20, 1853
– S.P. Hamilton:

Regarding the “Anderson Petition.” Gibbons’ has previously asked him to get a copy of Anderson’s petition with a list of signers. Mr. Anderson has declined to furnish a copy until he knows “what Mr. Gibbons want with it.” Hamilton goes on to discuss Mr. Anderson and the petition which he expects will be introduced by one of the family who will be elected to the Georgia Senate. Hamilton apologizes for not being successful in obtaining the petition.

September 8, 1853
– Ezra Stacy:

Discusses the roof of the brick building which needs repair due to leaking. Mr. Lufburrow has tried to fix the problem. Stacy says he has been on the roof himself and found it in bad condition. Gives his opinion as to what should be done, discusses the relative merits of different roofing materials, and asks for Gibbons’ advice.

October 12, 1853
– Edward Elkin:

Informs Gibbons that he has sold to the Delaware and Raritan Canal Co. a portion of the property Gibbons sold to him. He holds a bond for $9500 payable at the same time as his bond to Gibbons falls due and asks if Miss Gibbons would accept this bond and the balance due to pay his obligation in full.

December 26, 1856
– Sarah McAllister:

Expresses disappointment that Gibbons had not visited her the previous Saturday as expected, but that he had gone to Savannah “without my having seen you alone.” Mentions that “Dr. Anderson has attended to the business of the note.” (Dr. James Anderson of New York was one of William Gibbons’ three executors.) She goes on to talk about the “girls” (her sisters), her husband’s health, and other family matters.

May 13, 1853
– Sarah McAllister:

Writes of her homesickness, of social events, her sisters “Cad” (Caroline) and “Bel” (Isabel) and “my opinion of Judge Whitehead.” Tells her brother about the Newport house she and her husband are building on land bought for $100 an acre.

July 30, 1853

Processed by Kim Charlton, January 2000 as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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