Robert Gibbes began to accumulate property in South Carolina before any settlers landed at Charles Town.
Born in Sandwich, England in 1644, he moved to Barbados as a young man. He was one of the Barbadian Adventurers, along with John Yeamans, that hired William Hilton to explore the coast in 1663. He and his brother served in the assembly at the Cape Fear settlement, which failed in the late 1660s. They both frequently traveled from Barbados to Carolina.
As the European presence in South Carolina expanded, Gibbes’ career in the government was launched. He was appointed Sheriff of the colony in 1684. In 1692, he served as Colleton County’s representative in what would later be called the Commons House of the Assembly. Six years later, as the Colleton family’s deputy, Gibbes became a member of the Grand Council and by the early 1700s he was the colony’s Chief Justice.
When Governor Edward Tynte died on June 26, 1710, Gibbes was one of three proprietors’ deputies residing in the colony. The other two were Thomas Broughton and Fortescue Turberville. Tynte had instructed the three to elect an interim governor upon his passing. The three originally elected Broughton but Gibbes convinced Turberville to change his vote, supposedly promising him a hundred pounds and “three places besides.”
Broughton denounced the bribe and his followers gathered at his plantation. They armed themselves and headed into Charleston, where Gibbes resided. As the crowd drew near, Gibbes sounded an alarm and called out the militia. As Broughton’s men approached, the drawbridge at Meeting and Broad Streets was raised. Eventually, Broughton’s supporters gained entry and marched to the guard house, where the militia was posted. One account notes that, “after much parading, and occasionally a show of violence by both parties,” Broughton was proclaimed governor by his followers. However, in order to restore peace, he withdrew and allowed Gibbes to hold the seat.
Gibbes did not accomplish much during his term. The lords proprietors’ official appointment of a governor was delayed and his reputation was tarnished by the act of bribery. The most noteworthy action he took was sending Yamassee Indians and Colonel John Barnwell to put down an uprising of the Tuscarora in North Carolina in 1711. That same year, in a speech to the Commons House, Gibbes voiced concern over the growing number of slaves in relation to the white population of the colony.
After serving as acting governor for nearly two years, Robert Gibbes was relieved of his office when the official governor, Charles Craven, arrived in March 1712. Gibbes remained in South Carolina and died on June 24, 1715. His son and two of his grandsons served in the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly.
This monthly historical column is presented by the South Carolina Historical Society.