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Mississippi Historical Society

Mississippi Department of Archives and History

"History on the Founding of Port Gibson"

Claiborne County on the Mississippi River was formed from the northern half of Jefferson County in 1801, but British settlers had begun settling the east bank of the Mississippi and lower reaches of the region’s waterways in the 1770s following Britain’s victory over France in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The territory, which today comprises Claiborne, was part of British West Florida’s Natchez District.

In 1772, twenty-four-year-old Samuel Gibson arrived in the almost untrodden wilds of Bayou Pierre, eight miles upstream from where it empties into the “Great River.” There he joined (Jacob) Cobun, a fellow South Carolinian. At the time, panthers, bears, wolves, and Indians inhabited the forests and cane brakes along Bayou Pierre. In December of that year Samuel Gibson wed Cobun’s daughter Rebecca. It would be fair to assume the immigrants had known one another in South Carolina, since extended families and neighbors often emigrated together.

British West Florida fell to Spain, ally of Britain’s rebellious colonies, near the end of the Revolutionary War. Documents record Samuel Gibson receiving a Spanish land grant of 850 acres for a tract of land on Bayou Pierre in 1788. Cobun had received a similar grant for 800 acres, adjacent to Gibson’s, the year before. It is possible these Spanish grants validated possession of lands that had belonged to these men since British times.

The Gibsons and Cobuns (there was at least one son in addition to the daughter, Rebecca) lived in a state of what has been described as “rustic wealth,” subsistence farmers possessing cattle for meat, milk, and butter; hogs for cured ham, bacon, lard, and soap; wild game aplenty; bee hives for honey and pollinating; and fresh fruit for eating and drying. Both cotton (I am discussing the historical period before the cotton gin) and wood were grown on the farm—though I doubt the need for “growing” wood at that time; it would have been plentiful.

Sam Gibson boasted a library of 150 books, but his wife was uneducated. The reader can speculate as well as I as to whether Sam kept her that way by design, but it’s as likely she was content. Goodness knows she had enough to do managing the home of a subsistence farmer and little time for “book learning.”

As of 1802 “Gibson’s Landing” on Bayou Pierre was home to a private ferry where Robert and George Cochran’s trading post may have already been built. Samuel and his family lived in a log home roughly three-quarters of a mile from the bayou in the northern section of what the territorial legislature in 1803 dubbed Port Gibson. Incorporated in 1811, by the 1830s Port Gibson was a backwoods cultural center boasting banks, hotels, a fire station, churches, doctors, lawyers, a printing office, a post office, as well as a stage line. The stage line eventually gave way to the train (Grand Gulf-Port Gibson Railroad) linking it to the thriving Mississippi River cotton port at Grand Gulf, which was built at the confluence of the Big Black (Chittaloosa) and Mississippi Rivers eight miles to the west. Port Gibson’s import/export businesses linked the town not only with the north and east coast of the United States, but also with Britain and Germany.

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