Jersey Reflections: Gibbon Brothers

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Jersey Reflections


By Vince Farinaccio


A Columnist for the Grapevine


The work of Nicholas and his brother Leonard helped shape the community of Greenwich.
The Gibbon name is well known in Greenwich. A house once owned by Nicholas Gibbon remains a landmark to this day. The work of Nicholas and his brother Leonard helped shape the community in its earliest decades and set the standards that carried it through the post-Revolution period. So it might seem surprising to learn that it was the consequence of a debt that brought the family to the farthest reaches of western Cumberland County.
The tale begins in the late 1600s with Edmund Gibbon, a New York merchant who laid claim to a debt owed him by Edward and Thomas Duke. John Fenwick, who was instrumental in planning the town of Greenwich, had conveyed to the Dukes land in his New Jersey settlement. Gibbon was given 6,000 acres in the colony to settle the debt.
According to NJ Archives, Vol. XXVI: Newspaper Extracts 1768-1769, edited in 1904 by William Nelson, “Gibbon, by virtue of this deed, had a tract of 5,500 acres surveyed for him by Richard Hancock, in 1862. It was resurveyed in 1703 by Benjamin Acton, and lay in Cohansey Precinct, now in Greenwich and Hopewell Townships, Cumberland County, including Roadstown, extending southward to Pine Mount Branch, and westward to the Delaware.” This tract was handed down to Gibbon’s grandson who later ceded it to another relative, Francis Gibbon.
The NJ Archives reports that “In 1700 Francis devised it to his two kinsmen, Leonard and Nicholas Gibbon, of Gravesend, in Kent, England, describing it as ‘all that tract of lands called Mount Gibbon, upon the branches of unknown creek, near the Cohansey in West Jersey,’ provided they settled upon it.”
Unlike the previous owners of the tract, Leonard and Nicholas became directly involved in the development of Greenwich, along with its earliest residents who, it is reported, hailed largely from New England and Ireland. They built a gristmill, one of the first near the Cohansey River and soon became significant contributors to the town. According to the NJ Archives, “the two brothers gave six acres of land in Greenwich for a Presbyterian Church, to be erected by 1729. They were Episcopalians themselves, and erected at their own expense St. Stephen’s Church, in Greenwich, in 1729, and provided for regular services there.”
The brothers’ donations to establish churches for both denominations was a reflection of the religious freedom endorsed by the Quakers who traveled to the New World to escape persecution in England. William McMahon, in his book South Jersey Towns, explains that prior to the Gibbons, “Benjamin Baker, Quaker, gave an acre of ground on which was erected in 1705 the [original] Presbyterian Church, to which were attracted well-known preachers Charles Beatty, Samuel Finley and Gilbert Tennent.”
McMahon adds that it was common in Greenwich for citizens of different denominations to live near each other without resentment. “The first manor tract was sold to Mark Reeve, an English Quaker, on February 18, 1684,” he writes. “…we find Thomas Watson, a Baptist, buying property directly across the street from Mark Reeve…”
Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey by John Warner Barber also confirms the peaceful coexistence among the residents: “The main street was then made about 2 miles in length, and 100 feet in width, and an Episcopal, a Presbyterian, and a Friends meeting-house erected.”
“In 1730,” the NJ Archives reports, “[the Gibbon brothers] divided their tract, Nicholas taking the southern part, including the mill and 2,000 acres of land. Leonard erected a stone house about two miles north of Greenwich. Nicholas built a substantial brick house in Greenwich, which he occupied until about 1740, when he removed to Salem.”
Nicholas was engaged in the mercantile business and maintained a store in Greenwich. He partnered in this endeavor with Samuel Fenwick Hedge and the New-York-based Capt. James Gould. He would eventually open a store in Salem. When, in 1731, Hedge died, Nicholas married his partner’s widow, Anna Grant Hedge. They had five children.
After moving in 1740, he served Salem County as sheriff from 1741 to 1748, as county clerk and as a Commissioner of the Loan Office. He died February 26, 1758, at the age of 55.
Next Week: The Commerce