What do we learn from the will of Mary Gibson (1788)?

In the last post I reproduced a transcription of the will of my 6 x great grandmother, Mary Gibson nee Greene. The will was signed and sealed on 15 April 1788, and proven almost exactly four years later on 18 April 1792. A Mrs Mary Gibson of Mile End Old Town was buried at the church of St Dunstan and all Saints, Stepney, on 26 October 1790.

Mary Gibson’s will is a particularly rich source of information about my Gibson ancestors. At the most basic level, it confirms that Mary outlived her husband Lieutenant John Gibson and that she spent her declining years in Stepney, probably with her unmarried daughter Sarah. It’s also entirely possible that the Gibsons moved from Tower Hill while John was still alive, and after they had disposed of their house at Woodredon, Waltham Abbey.

The will also confirms that Bowes John Gibson, of whose existence I only recently became aware, was indeed Mary’s son and the brother of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth. The mention of Elizabeth’s married name – Holdsworth – also provides additional confirmation that she was indeed born a Gibson.

We also discover important new information about Elizabeth’s sisters. Until I read the will, I believed that she had four sisters – Jane, Mary, Frances and Ann. I was unaware of the existence of a fifth sister, Sarah, who was born at Tower Hill and christened at St Botolph, Aldgate, on 12 August 1746; she was almost certainly John and Mary Gibson’s last-born child. From the fact that she is not mentioned in the will, I surmise that Mary Gibson the younger did not survive.

I already knew that Frances Gibson married Captain Michael Bonner (in 1761), but I had failed to find out what became of her sisters Jane and Anne. The inclusion of Jane’s married name – Coates – in her mother’s will enabled me to discover that she married William Coates at Theydon Mount, Essex, on 18 November 1752. Jane gave her address as Waltham Holy Cross: another confirmation of the Gibson family’s residence in the area. (This was just three months before her younger sister Elizabeth’s first marriage to John Collins of Epping.) I’ve found mention of three children born to William and Jane Coates: William, born in 1755, John in 1756, and Jane in 1757. All three were christened in Epping.

Theydon Mount parish church

I’ve had less luck, so far, in confirming Ann Gibson’s marriage to someone by the name of Schwartz, or the birth of her daughter Frances. It’s possible that she’s the Ann Gibson of St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London who married Charles Gottfried Schwartz at St George in the East on 30 August 1754. If so, she would have been 17 years old at the time. However, more research is needed on this branch of the family.

Buildings in Little Distaff Lane, London

Mary Gibson’s will also informs us that she owned property in Little Distaff Lane, London, which she let on lease to a Nathaniel Jarman, to be used as a ‘sugar house’.  Little Distaff Lane (now Distaff Lane) ran south from Cannon Street in the City of London, and was the location of a sugar refinery owned by Jarman, one of the founders of the New Fire Office, an early insurance company. Mary mentions that she still owes money on the mortgage for these premises, to ‘Sir John Henneker baronet’. This is the person who, according to a source quoted in an earlier post, began to acquire Woodredon House in Waltham Abbey from the Gibsons in 1762, a process that was completed in 1792, the year in which Mary’s will was proven. Thus Mary’s will is further evidence that the Gibsons who owned Woodredon were, indeed, my ancestors.

Mary’s exhaustive enumeration of her household effects – from her ‘white linen damask furniture’ to her ‘best copper kettle’ and ‘plates with parrots’ – offers a fascinating insight into life in a middle-class Georgian home and is a gift to social historians. Unlike many wills of the time, the document also hints at the state of relations within the family: surely all is not well when a mother has to plead with her children to see that her funeral is ‘decently conducted’, not out of love for her but rather ‘out of respect for their late father’? We will probably never know the full story behind this tantalising reference.

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