I’ve been revisiting the life of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson, trying to solve some of the mysteries that still surround her story. In the past week or two, I’ve been researching the lives of some of Elizabeth’s immediate relatives in the Collins and Champain families. Now I want to turn the focus on to Elizabeth herself, and in particular a crucial ten-year period in her life, between 1753 and 1763, the period of her first marriage, to John Collins.
I’ve sketched out a timeline of this decade below, in the hope that putting events in chronological order will provide a better sense of how and why things happened. But in order to place this key period in Elizabeth’s life in some kind of context, it’s worth recapping the events of her life before 1753.
Elizabeth’s father John Gibson, who appears to have borne the rank of lieutenant, and who seems to have become a lighterman and coal trader of some wealth, married her mother Mary Greene, daughter of London goldsmith Joseph Greene, in 1729. Born at her grandparents’ house in the Minories and baptised at the parish church of St Botolph, Aldgate, Elizabeth was the third of seven, or possibly nine children, her birth being preceded by those of her two older sisters Jane and Mary. In the next decade or so, she would be joined by three younger sisters – Frances, Ann and Sarah – and a younger brother, Bowes John.
Elizabeth spent her early years in her parents’ London home at Tower Hill. In 1737, when she was four years old, her grandfather Joseph died and in the following year, from the proceeds of his will, her grandmother bought the manor house of Woodredon at Waltham Abbey, for Elizabeth’s parents. We can assume that Elizabeth spent much of her childhood at Woodredon, which was just a few miles from Epping, the home of the Collins family, who owned a number of farms in the area.
The decisive events of Elizabeth’s childhood, assuming that my speculations are correct, must have been her father John’s declaration of bankruptcy and arrest for fraud against the Crown, followed by his imprisonment in the Fleet and his later appeal to Parliament to clear his name, all of which happened in the early 1740s, when Elizabeth would have been nine or ten years old. We can only guess at the impact on her. Remarkably, the family appears to have been able to hold on to possession of Woodredon, perhaps by assigning its ownership to Elizabeth’s grandmother Mary Greene.
The ten years of Elizabeth’s life covered by the timeline below are bookended by her two marriages: to John Collins in February 1753, and to Joseph Holdsworth, my 5 x great grandfather, in May 1763. But Elizabeth was not the first of the Gibson siblings to marry. On 18th November 1752, four months before Elizabeth’s wedding, her older sister Jane married William Coates at Theydon Mount, near Epping. The parish register describes Jane as being ‘of Woodredon in ye parish of Waltham Holy Cross’: in other words, at this date, Woodredon was still very much the Gibson family home, and we can only assume that it was while living there that Elizabeth, by now in her late teens, met John Collins, second son of Epping farmer and landowner Richard Collins, who was just a few months older than her. They were married when they were both nineteen years of age, and the fact that they married at a church notorious for secret weddings (St George’s, Mayfair) suggests that they may not have had their parents’ consent.
The first column in the timeline gives the date of the event and the second column gives Elizabeth’s age at the time, assuming that she was born in May 1733, the month of her baptism.
21st Feb 1753 19 Marriage to John Collins
1754 (?) 20 Birth of nephew Champain Collins
30th August 1754 21 Marriage of sister Ann to Charles Gottfried Schwartz
12 Jan 1755 21 Baptism of nephew William Coates
1st Feb 1756 22 Baptism of nephew John Coates
4th Apr 1756 22 Burial of John Champain
26th April 1757 23 Baptism of niece Ann Collins
21st Aug 1757 24 Baptism of niece Jane Coates
8th July 1759 26 Baptism of daughter Frances Collins
25th Mar 1760 26 Marriage of sister Mary to William Hunter
22nd Jan 1761 27 Marriage of sister Frances to Michael Bonner
1761 27 Death of husband’s aunt Elizabeth Collins
17th Jan 1762 28 Birth of nephew John William Bonner
15th Feb 1763 29 Death of father John Gibson
20th May 1763 30 Marriage to Joseph Holdsworth