As one of only three proprietors’ deputies in the colony when Governor Edward Tynte died in June 1710, Gibbes proceeded to bribe his way into the governor’s office and brought government to a virtual standstill for nearly two years.
Governor. Robert Gibbes was born in Sandwich, England, on January 9, 1644, the son of Robert Gibbes and Mary Coventry. Both his parents were of the county of Kent gentry, but Gibbes as a young man went out to Barbados with others of his family. He was among the Barbadian “Adventurers” who in 1665 reached agreement with the Lords Proprietors for establishing a settlement in Carolina. The next year both he and his brother, Thomas, were members of the governing assembly at the attempted settlement at Cape Fear, which failed in 1667. By 1672 Gibbes had begun to accumulate large landholdings in South Carolina. Like other Barbadians, he seems to have moved back and forth between the island and mainland colonies for some years. But by 1673, a South Carolina deed referred to Gibbes as “of this Province.”
In 1684 Gibbes began his government service in South Carolina with a commission as the colony’s sheriff. From 1692 to 1694, he represented Colleton County in the first separate lower house of assembly, a body that later became the Commons House of Assembly. In 1698 Gibbes became the Colleton family’s deputy in South Carolina and a member of the Grand Council. Ten years later, he was appointed chief justice of the colony. As one of only three proprietors’ deputies in the colony when Governor Edward Tynte died in June 1710, Gibbes proceeded to bribe his way into the governor’s office and brought government to a virtual standstill for nearly two years.
Governor Tynte’s instructions provided that the other deputies should choose one of their number as interim governor. On a morning soon after Tynte’s death, the three deputies (Gibbes, Thomas Broughton, and Fortescue Turberville) chose Broughton, but by afternoon Gibbes had bribed Turberville with the promise of “£100 and three places besides.” Turberville changed his vote. Gibbes’s misdeed was discovered after Turberville’s death in the sickly colony on July 4, 1710, and only Broughton’s forbearance prevented civil war between his supporters and those of Gibbes.
Governor Gibbes was able to do little while the colony waited for action by the proprietors. When the Tuscarora Indians rose up against the North Carolinians in 1711, Gibbes sent badly needed Yamassee Indian allies under Colonel John Barnwell to help save the northern colony. But overall, his administration accomplished little. In a 1711 speech to the Commons House, Gibbes expressed alarm at the colony’s growing slave majority and proposed harsher penalties for “insolent & mischievous” slaves, legal requirements for masters to provide adequate food and clothing, and the recruitment of white settlers. His administration ended in March 1712 with the arrival of a commission from the proprietors naming Charles Craven governor.
Gibbes married Jane Davis in Barbados on October 24, 1678, and after her death married Mary Davis. His son John Gibbes, one of five children, also served in the Commons House of Assembly, as did two grandsons. Gibbes died in South Carolina on June 24, 1715.
Edgar, Walter, and N. Louise Bailey, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 2, The Commons House of Assembly, 1692–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977.
Holmes, Henry S. “Robert Gibbes, Governor of South Carolina, and Some of His Descendants.” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 12 (April 1911): 78–105.
Lesser, Charles H. South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663–1721. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1995.