Gideon Gibson, Patriot, helped To Bring courts to Backcountry

Did you ever hear the story of Gideon Gibson of Mars Bluff and how the first circuit courts were established in South Carolina?  It's an old story which dates back before the war of the Revolution when this was a part of the South Carolina backcountry and when all the colonies were subjects of the British crown.

The year was 1750 and the only court of civil and criminal jurisdiction was in Charleston, except the courts of justices of the peace which had jurisdiction only in civil cases as high as 20 pounds current money.  The result was a great handicap upon the people wo lived some distance from Charleston, as did the people of this or any other section of the Peedee.  Roads and ferries were few, and even short distances were therefore extremely great.  According to Bishop Gregg in his HISTORY OF THE OLD CHERAWS the people were "worn out by the law's delays, insulted by the insolence of office and ruined by costs and expenses most unreasonably incurred and cruelly exacted."

But that wasn't the greatest evil.  Because the Court of Justice was too far away to carry small offenders to it, petty disorder became common place and a scourge to decent, law-abiding citizens.

Under these conditions the South Carolina Regulators, similar to the Red Shirts [See Wade Hampton's Red Shirts   - *See Hampton's Legion below]  of a later day, came into being and Gideon Gibson of Mars Bluff was one of the foremost of them.

In the year 1752, the inhabitants of the Pee Dee about the mouth of Lynches Creek filed a petition, stating that they had to travel about 200 miles to the seat of government, that trade and commerce among them were greatly obstructed for want of a county court to hear and  determine all causes, civil as well as criminal; 'that the frontier is same back country, had become a dwelling place of many evil disposed persons, such as horse thieves and other felons who had escaped from North Carolina and other parts, others co-habitating  with their neighbors wives and living in a most lascivious manner, while they had no means to suppress them.  They requested that an act be passed dividing Craven County which included all this section of South Carolina, and that their section, which by their own description would have included what is now Florence County, be established as a distinct county with 12 or more justices authorized to hear and determine all cases without fee or reward.

But they didn't get their county. The committee named by the council to consider the matter ruled that since there were no fit towns for the establishment of a seat of county government in the territory indicated, no such county should be established but that instead a court should be established at Georgetown for the greater convenience of the people.  The court at Georgetown was, however, not established and the inconveniences to the people of the back country continued.  For nearly half a century this condition prevailed.  The Regulators organization was composed of a high type of citizen.  Their aim was to suppress the disturbers of the peace by promising speedy punishment to them.  They had asked for the establishment of a court and had been refused.  They now sought the regulation of their difficulties by this armed organization called the Regulators.  The government, of course, sought to suppress them.

Again in 1767 a petition went from the upper and interior parts of Craven County to the government for a redress of grievances.  And still again in 1768, another petition went citing the grievances of the people and urgently requisition that the government give to them the consideration and conform to the wishes of the people for a court nearer than the distant Charleston.  The request was summarily disposed of by the Council, to use their own words, "after mature deliberation, by determining that I would not be necessary to take any notice of the same"

It was here that Gideon Gibson stepped into the picture.  In less than a month after the final rejection of the petition by the Council, Gibson had advanced a type of argument the government could not ignore.  He was a man of property and influence whose home was near Mars Bluff.  He was a man also of fierce determination, an acknowledged leader of the people who was "as he was intent upon vindicating the rights of the people."  A magistrate by the name of Weaver; issued a warrant of distress to execute on the chattels of some of the Regulators, and a constable, George Thompson, called in 13 other men to assist him.  Gideon Gibson arose to meet the challenge.  He was the leader of the Regulators, and he and his band met the constable's party near Mars Bluff in a pitched battle.  One of the constable's men was killed and Gibson's brother was wounded.

The government was alarmed.  Gideon Gibson had made more impression upon the hard-headed government heads in Charleston than had the petitions signed by many of the people.  He had attacked the problem direct, with the supporting power of gunpowder.  The government did not understand, and didn't try to understand that the Regulators were men of fierce patriotism, law abiding, fair minded citizens who had taken arms only after they had exhausted all means of getting much needed relief by peaceful methods.  An order was issued that they disperse and return to their homes, promising "His Majesty's gracious pardon for the misdemeanors committed, excepting those person concerned in the outrages and daring violence committed by Gideon Gibson and other upon George Thompson, a lawful constable."

In the meantime, Governor William Bull sent a Colonel Powell, who belonged to the Pee Dee Regiment of His Majesty's militia to Mars Bluff, they found 15 men of Captain Weaver's company, and the day following they were reinforced by 20 others.  But they heard disturbing things from the people around Mars Bluff.  Gibson, they were told, was guarded by a large company of men, and if he'd just speak the word, he could easily get 300 more within an hour's time.  As Colonel Powell listened to these reports from the people of Mars Bluff, he saw the need for more reinforcements, and so he sent orders to five company captains to join him at Mars Bluff with 20 men from each of their companies to assist in taking Gideon Gibson.

In the meantime, Colonel Powell had been told that Gibson would surrender himself, so Powell sent a letter to Gibson inviting him to meet with him in the woods where they might be alone and talk the matter over.  The meeting day was Sunday and for an hour and a half the two men talked and reasoned together.  Powell knew he had the power of the government behind him, while Gibson knew that behind him was the power of right and the people.  The outcome of the conference was a promise from Gibson that on the next day at 8 o'clock; he would surrender himself at an appointed place to Mr. Pinckney, the provost marshal. When the time for his surrender came, Gibson was not there .  Instead, he had sent a letter which explained that since the agreement made on the previous day, he had altered his decision and would not surrender.

The 100 reinforcements Powell had ordered from the five companies  had not arrived and Powell was becoming anxious.  But by noon they did arrive and drew themselves up about a half mile from the home of Captain Weaver. Colonel Powell and Provost Marshal Pinckney went immediately to meet them, but upon their arrival they found  instead of 100 men as requested, about 300 or more.

Colonel Powell stood before them and immediately  began declaring what was expected of them, Gibson was to be taken, dead or alive.  His followers, the Pee Dee Regulators who had defied the government, were to be destroyed.  Resistance to the government must come to an end.  His Majesty had proclaimed it, and he read the proclamation in their hearing.

Powell was their commanding officer and had a right to expect obedience of them, but the men had their own speech to make.  Gideon Gibson, they said, was one of them and had sought their protection, and protect him they would.  They began a recitation of the evils to which the absence of county courts had subjected them.  Here were a people who understood the meaning of justice defying a government which refused that justice.  In the subsequent fight for independence, many a brave act was to take place within the deep shadows of Pee Dee swamps, but there in the woods in the Mars Bluff community during the days prior to the revolution, were sons of the Pee Dee committing a act comparable in courage to anything that Marion and his men did during the days of the Revolution itself.

While a commanding officer has a command which will not take orders from him, he must either exercise severe discipline or remove himself from the command.  The former Colonel Powell was in no position to do the first, so he chose the latter.  "I cannot with any propriety," he wrote the governor, "continue to be colonel of a regiment of militia amongst whom I have the mortification to find myself of so little weight  as not to have been able to persuade them to do the duty they owe to their King and Country."

And so, Gideon Gibson, patriot of the Pee Dee, came forth from his hiding into the hands of his friends, and Colonel Powell, the commanding officer of the militia, was powerless to get the militia to lay hands upon him.

Less than one year later, the bill for the establishment of the circuit courts became law, and the people of the Pee Dee no longer had to go to Charleston to get their grievances settled in a court of justice.

And that's the story of Gideon Gibson, a Pee Dee patriot, of colonial days, and how the circuit courts came to the south Carolina backcountry.

Note; Material for this story was found in Gregg's HISTORY OF THE OLD CHERAWS and in a paper prepared by Miss Nellie Bristow of Florence and appearing in the Florence Morning News under date of June 19, 1938.

Charlestown, (S. Carolina) August 16
(News Article)
Date: 1768-10-13;
Paper: New-York Journal
Charlestown (S Carolina) August 16th
" The outrageous opposition lately offered to the Civil authority near Mars Bluff, on Pedee River, being at present a general subject of conversation, and by many attributed to the People called Regulators, it may not be amiss to lay before the public the following information, viz. : That there are two parties so called, and the proceedings of the one frequently confounded with those of the other. That the first (called the Honest. party) consists in general of people of good principals
and that the other (called the Rogues' party) are a gang of banditti, a numerous collection of outcast Mulattoes, Mustees, Free Negroes, &c., all horse thieves from the borders of Virginia and other Northern Colonies (the very people whom the Regulators would have expelled the Province, or brought to Justice), and have taken up arms to carry on their villainy with impunity. The last accounts we have received of both are, That the former, on the 16 th past, took up one Charles Sparks, of infamous character, on Pedee, and ordered him to receive 500 lashes and quit the Province : and of the latter, that an armed company of them, headed by one Gideon Gibson, on the 25th past, near Mars-bluff, surrounded a Constable and 12 men, who were sent to bring one of the villains before a magistrate, and after a smart skirmish, wherein two of the Constable's party were mortally wounded, and one shot through the shoulder, took the rest prisoners, whom he discharged, after ordering them 50 lashes each. In the skirmish, Gibson had one of his sons killed, and another wounded in the neck. Proper measures are taken to bring the principals of this desperate Gang to Justice.

New York Journal
September 15, 1768
Charlestown, (S Carolina) August 19th
On Saturday the 6th Inst. his Honour the Leiut. Governor, by and with the advice of his Majesty's hounourabl council, issued a Proclamation, wherein, after reciting that of the 3d inst. and setting forth, that it had been represented and appeared to his Houour, that very many Person concerned in the acts of Violence, committed in the Northern Parts of this Province, had been unwarily drawn in and provoked thereto, by the great and repeated Losses they had sustained from Gangs of Robbers and Banditti, confederated in numerous Bodies; all Persons, unlawful assembled, are strictly commanded to disperse and repair peaceably to their respective Houses and Occupations; the, and all others, are also forbidden thereafter to assemble again , at their utmost Peril.  The Proclamation concludes with a promise, for all such as shall forthwith pay a due obedience thereto of his Majesty's most gracious Pardon, for all Misdemeanors by them committed, previous to the 6th Day of August Inst in unlawful assembling, Whipping or confining an Person or Persons, as set forth in the Proclamation of the 3d, excepting to Gideon Gibson and others who attacked a Constable and hi Party in the actual Execution of a legal Warrant, near Marr's Bluff the 25th Ult.-- It is with Pleasure we lear, that this lenient and human Measure is likely to produce the desired effect.

Date: October 13, 1768
Location: New York
Paper: New-York Journal
On the 22nd August, the Gazette said : " We are sorry that we cannot have the pleasure of informing the public, that either of the Proclamations issued by his Honor the Lieu* Gov r on the 3rd and 6th insta, are likely to produce the desired effects; Gideon Gibson declining to surrender on any terms; having put himself under the protection of people that do not at present seem disposed to give him up. This man's character, we are told, always stood fair, till he lately became the tool of a Party, who committed the outrages near Mars-bluff, mentioned in our last."

[New York]



 There are a singular race of people in South Carolina called the Redbones. Their origin is unknown. They resemble in appearance the gypsies, but in complexion they are red. They have accumulated considerable property and are industrious and peaceable. They live in small settlements at the foot of the mountains and associated with none but their own race. They are a proud and high spirited people. Caste is very strong among them. They enjoy life, visit the watering places and mountain resorts, but eat by themselves and keep by themselves. When the war broke out several of them enlisted in the Hampton legion, and when the legion reached Virginia there was a great outcry among the Virginians and the troops from other states because we had enlisted Negroes. They did not resemble the African in the least, except in cases where Africans had amalgamated with Indians. This intermixture, which is common in the Carolinas, produces marvelous results. It takes the kink out of the hair of the African, straightens his features and improve him in every way except in temper---Interview with Senator Hampton.-------------