John Gibson (1699 – 1763): an updated timeline

Some months ago, I reported my discovery that my maternal 6 x great grandfather John Gibson was a London lighterman and coal factor who was convicted of fraud against the Crown and imprisoned in the Fleet.

Inmates of the Fleet Prison beg for alms from passers-by

This new information enables us to construct an updated timeline of John’s life:

1699  John Gibson born

1721   Enters business partnership with Nicholas Furrs, coal factor

1729   Marries Mary Greene

Ends partnership with Furrs

1730  Birth of daughter Mary, Tower Hill

1731  Birth of daughter Jane, Tower Hill

1733  Birth of daughter Elizabeth, Minories

1735  Birth of daughter Frances, Tower Hill

1737  Birth of daughter Ann, Tower Hill

Death of father-in-law Joseph Greene

1738  Purchase of Woodredon estate, Waltham Abbey, by mother-in-law Mary Greene

1742  Extent issued by Crown for recovery of debts on coal duties

‘Violent rescue’ from Sheriff’s officers

1743   Imprisoned in Fleet

Defends himself in petition to Treasury

1744   Birth of son Bowes John, Tower Hill

1746   Birth of daughter Sarah, Tower Hill

1752   Daughter Jane marries William Coates of Theydon Mount

1753   Daughter Elizabeth marries John Collins of Epping

1754   Daughter Ann marries Charles Gottfried Schwartz

17??    Released from prison (‘some years’ before 1757)

1757   Purchases brewing business, Rosemary Lane, Aldgate

1761   Daughter Frances marries Michael Bonner

1763   Dies and is buried at St Dunstan’s, Stepney

As can be seen from this, I’m still uncertain as to when exactly John Gibson was released from the Fleet. We know from the inventory written by his widow Mary in 1764 that it was ‘some years’ before 1757, when he purchased the Rosemary Lane brewery. You might expect that the pattern of births among the Gibson children would give us a clue, but two children were born in years (1744 and 1746) when we might expect John still to be in prison. On the other hand, we need to remember that debtors’ prisons like the Fleet allowed families to live alongside prisoners, and even permitted prisoners to leave the prison at times. The fact that, according to the parish register, both Bowes John and Sarah Gibson were born at Tower Hill suggests that the family maintained its main home there, even during these difficult years.

Ragfair, Rosemary Lane by Thomas Rowlandson, late 18th century

The new information about John has filled in some of the gaps in his hitherto sparse biography. We know now what his occupation was, and perhaps why he is referred to as a ‘lieutenant’ in the will of his father-in-law, Joseph Greene. However, the recently discovered documents also throw up new mysteries. For example, in the pamphlet setting out his case to Parliament, John declares that he ‘is now a close Prisoner in the Fleet, whereby his Wife and Nine small Children are reduced to the greatest Miseries.’ However, my records show only seven children born to John and Mary Gibson: Mary (1730), Jane (1731), Elizabeth (1733), Frances (1735), Anne (1737), Bowes John (1744) and Sarah (1746). I can’t find any records for other children born to these parents and christened at St Botolph’s, Aldgate. Of course, it may be that they were baptised elsewhere, and if so it’s most likely that their births occurred between the birth of Anne in 1737 and that of Bowes John in 1744, a period that mostly preceded John’s conviction for fraud.

John Gibson’s imprisonment might explain the curious circumstances surrounding the first marriage of his daughter, my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth. She married John Collins, son of Epping landowner Richard Collins, on 21st February 1753, when she was twenty years old, and legally still a minor. The wedding took place at St George’s Chapel Mayfair, a church normally associated with clandestine marriages. Did Elizabeth marry without the permission, and perhaps against the wishes, of her imprisoned father? Or perhaps it was John Collins’ parents who were hostile to their son’s marriage to the daughter of a convicted fraudster?

Woodredon House, Waltham Abbey, Essex

Whatever the truth of the matter, no such problems seem to have attended the marriage, a year earlier, of Elizabeth’s older sister Jane to Theydon Mount farmer William Coates. Interestingly, both Elizabeth and Jane gave their country home as their address when they married: the former was said to be ‘of Waltham Abbey’, the latter from Woodredon. Does this imply that they were living there while their father was in prison? A year after Elizabeth’s wedding,  another Gibson sister – Anne –  married Charles Gottfried Schwartz at the church of St George in the East, Stepney. At the time, she was living in the parish of St Mary-le-Bow, which suggests another possible home for the Gibsons. It should be noted that one of the witnesses was Anne’s brother-in-law William Coates, while another was John Gibson – presumably her father – suggesting either that he had been released by this time, or that the rules of the Fleet Prison were remarkably lax.

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2 Responses to John Gibson (1699 – 1763): an updated timeline

  1. Very interesting story – reminds me of Dombey and Son and Dickens’ description of life within the Marshalsea

    • Martin says:

      Yes, me too – except, of course, that my ancestor’s experience was about a hundred years before Dickens was writing. Debtors’ prisons were probably even worse back then.

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