Lying almost in the center of Claiborne County, occupying an advantageous and beautiful location in the midst of a fine cotton, corn, fruit, vegetables and grass-growing section, is found the pretty little city of Port Gibson, one of the state’s oldest municipalities, as the county also is one of the oldest, having been organized in the beginning of the present century, or in 1802, on January 27. Port Gibson, the beautiful county seat of Claiborne County, was first founded and laid out by Samuel Gibson, Esq.; who was a native of South Carolina, born August 1, 1748. Mr. Gibson came to Mississippi in 1772, at the age of twenty- four, and first settled in what is now known as Jefferson County. The records in the national land office at Washington, D. C, show that in October, 1777, he obtained from the British authorities, then in power here, a grant of land on Boyd’s (now Cole’s) creek. He also acquired two tracts of land on St. Catharine’s creek, in Adams County, one tract bearing date of 1784, the other 1788. He obtained from the Spanish government then established at Natchez, which had supplanted the British, a grant of eight hundred and fifty acres on the waters of Bayou Pierre. This tract covered the site of Port Gibson, since the first settlement of which, therefore, over ninety-nine years have passed. Mr. Gibson was the second man to penetrate so far from the river into the untrodden forest and wilderness. All around him, and for an unknown distance to the east, stretched a trackless forest, inhabited only by savages and wild animals.
The pioneer who preceded Mr. Gibson to this neighborhood was Jacob Cobun (in all probability his father- in law), who the year before, January 11, 1787, had located a Spanish grant of eight hundred acres near here, which land was subsequently held by Elizabeth and Ann Cobun, sisters of Mrs. Samuel Gibson, and lay three or four miles south of Port Gibson, on Red Lick road.
When Mr. Gibson settled on the beautiful plateau of country now the site of Port Gibson, it was an almost impenetrable forest, with a huge undergrowth of cane. Port Gibson was in its early days known as Gibson’s Landing, but in 1803 an act was passed by the legislature, declaring the name should be changed to Port Gibson. At the same time the above act was passed by the legislature Messrs. Thomas White, Daniel Burnet, G. W. Humphreys and John McCaleb were appointed commissioners to buy two acres of land from Samuel Gibson, and to contract for the erection thereon of a courthouse, jail, stock, pillory and whipping-post. Accordingly two acres of land were purchased, the site of the present courthouse and jail, and Joseph Davenport undertook the erection of the public buildings. They were completed that winter, and in February, 1804, the justices held their first meeting in the new courthouse.
The first license to keep a public house (tavern) in Port Gibson was granted in July, 1803, to Moses Armstrong and Robert Ashley. Immediately after, Gibson’s Landing, or Port Gibson, was chosen by the legislature as the county seat, people began to purchase lots from Mr. Gibson and to build.
The first sale was made July 10, 1803, to Frederick Myers, and the price paid was $115. It was lot No. 3, in square No. 8, and soon there was a brisk demand for lots, and by November, 1804, the village contained thirty houses, with a total population of about one hundred souls. In the early history of Port Gibson the pseudonym Gibson’s Landing clung to it, but in the course of twelve to fifteen years the former name prevailed.
The first tire company in Port Gibson, so far as known, was a chartered organization incorporated by an act of the legislature passed January 26, 1821. The charter members were as follows: Amos Whiting, James Burbridge, Harvey Bradford, James Hughes, Orran Faulk, Tobias Gibson, Horace Carpenter, Cornelius Haring, John H. Esty, Benjamin Shields, George Lake. Alfred Faulk, A. G. Cage, W. R. McAlpine, Thomas Cotton, John L. Buck, Fieldner Offutt, James Maxwell, Joseph Briggs, David D. Downing.
The Bank of Port Gibson was incorporated in May, 1836. A company was organized under the name of the Grand Gulf & Port Gibson Exporting Company, in 1829.
Previous to the war Port Gibson was noted far and wide for the wealth and culture of its inhabitants, as it was the home of a large number of Mississippi’s most wealthy cotton planters. It still retains the reputation of being the home of a cultivated, refined and hospitable population, and is indeed one of the most charming little cities in the state, being a seat of learning of no mean importance, and containing a very superior citizenship, among which the social graces and amenities are assiduously cultivated.
The advent, a few years ago, of the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas railroad had the effect of placing Port Gibson in direct communication with the outside world, and served to stimulate its commercial and industrial activity to a gratifying extent, and since then its growth has been marked, steady and substantial. Its population in 1890 was one thousand six hundred, and new accessions are being received. The municipality embraces something more than one-half mile square, the streets being regularly laid out and well improved, while good sidewalks prevail. A profusion of ornamental trees shade the streets, giving the place a charming, and home like appearance, while the many beautiful residences indicate the wealth and cultivated tastes of the inhabitants. In the business portion are seen many large, substantial mercantile houses, some being modern structures of elegant architectural design; their heavy stocks showing plainly that a large and lucrative business is transacted. Investigation only confirms this, and the merchants, as a class, are regarded as far above the average in point of solvency and reliability. The corporation is also out of debt, and its warrants are worth their face value. The town handles, annually, from twelve thousand to fifteen thousand bales of cotton, and the receipts are increasing each season. The citizens have dis-played the most commendable zeal and activity in the efforts to locate industrial enterprises, and have now two very important ones in operation, namely, a cotton mill and a cottonseed oil mill, which are successfully conducted and add largely to the commercial and economical prosperity of the place.
Trade is principally confined to Claiborne County, and the cotton receipts reach fifteen thousand bales per annum. Some thirty-seven business houses, of different kinds, constitute the commercial world at present, and no line is, we learn, overdone; hence the merchants are prosperous and rate high in commercial circles.
As an educational center Port Gibson occupies a commanding position among Mississippi towns, and its female college and male academy are educational institutions which attract pupils from all parts of the state, as well as other states. There are also two public schools which afford ample educational facilities for the youth of both races, the scholastic term extending over a period of six months. In the important matter of educating its youth, Claiborne County is by no means remiss, as is shown by its seventy-nine public schools, and the 110,000 annually paid for their support by the taxpayers.
That a Christian and moral people comprise the population is well attested by the fact that there are five white and three Negro churches, the former Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Catholic and Christian, the latter being Methodist, Baptist and Christian. The principal civic societies are also represented and have flourishing, well attended lodges and well equipped halls. A very good and well arranged hall serves to accommodate dramatic troupes who visit the place during the theatrical season.
The location is a healthy one, the town site being rolling and allowing of perfect natural drainage. Water of excellent quality is obtained from wells and cisterns, and is abundant and pure at all seasons. As a consequence of these advantages, there is no danger of the outbreak of dangerous fevers and epidemics, and such ordinary diseases as prevail are easily controlled by the resident physicians. The city government is a safe and conservative one, and is vested in a mayor and five aldermen.
The First Methodist Episcopal church in Claiborne County, Miss., was organized in 1828;
Hebron Methodist Episcopal in February, 1830
Presbyterian Church was organized in 1827.
The Masonic order was organized in Port Gibson, 1818, and was known as Washington lodge No. 17. Its charter was surrendered and a new charter was granted to Washington lodge No. 3, under which name the lodge still exists.
Grand Gulf lodge No. 41 was chartered February 6, 1840, under a dispensation granted January 10, 1839.
Franklin lodge No. 5, I. O. O. F., was organized at Port Gibson January 12, 1848.
The first academy in the neighborhood of Port Gibson was the Madison academy. It was situated about three miles from Port Gibson, on land belonging to William Lindsay. The tract was afterward owned by Dr. Dorsey and now is the property of Mrs. Clara Purnell. On the 5th of December, 1809, the territorial legislature passed an act of incorporation whereby “the school on the north fork of Bayou Pierre, in the neighborhood of Port Gibson, now under the direction of Henry C. Cox, is erected into an academy, hereafter to bear the name of Madison academy.” By the same act the following trustees were appointed: Samuel Gibson, Thomas White, Stephen Bullock, Peter Lyon, Thomas Barnes, Ralph Regan, Allen Barnes, Waterman Crane, Daniel Burnet, Samuel Cobun, Edan Brashear, Andrew Mundell and Hezekiah Harman. The act provided that students of all denominations should enter the institution on equality and be admitted to the same advantages. The trustees were authorized to raise by lottery, for the benefit of the academy, a sum not exceeding $2,000. In 1810 Mr. Lindsay gave the academy twenty-four acres of land, including the buildings in which the institution was established. It would seem, however, that it did not prosper, owing probably to the fact that its situation between the two forks of Bayou Pierre rendered it difficult of access during the frequent occurrence of high water. It is likely that there were a few boarders, but its chief patronage must have been from day scholars. At any rate, whatever the reason may have been, the legislature in 1814 authorized the trustees to remove the academy to a “more eligible site, not to be more than three miles from Port Gibson.” There are no means of learning to what place whether to Port Gibson or elsewhere the school was removed, nor what its after fortunes and fate were.
St. James’ Church, Port Gibson, dates its history from the 9th of April, 1826, when the Rev. Albert A. Muller visited Port Gibson and organized a parish of the Protestant Episcopal Church, under the name of St. John’s Church. On the 17th of May in the same year eleven clerical and lay delegates, representing this newly organized parish and three others, met in convention in Trinity church, Natchez, for the purpose of organizing a diocese of the Protestant Episcopal church in the state of Mississippi. St. John’s church was represented by the Rev. John Wurts Cloud, rector-elect, and the Hon. Joshua G. Clarke, chancellor of the state, and Mr. I. W. Foote, lay delegates.
In 1848 a reorganization of the parish was effected under the Rev. F. W. Boyd, and its present name of St. James’ church was adopted. Under a succession of rectors services were held in the courthouse and in hired rooms. In 1860 a further and final reorganization was effected and the sum of $5,000 was promptly subscribed toward the purchase of land and the erection of a church edifice. A lot was selected and partly paid for, but during the Civil war which ensued, although the organization was kept alive, the results of the previous efforts to secure a place of worship were engulfed in the general disaster. The amount subscribed was not realized and the purchased lot was lost. After the war a ladies’ aid association was organized and incorporated. Its energy was soon rewarded by success in raising $2,500, with which a plat, of ground on the corner of Church and Jackson streets was purchased. It contained a dwelling house (a small portion of which, said to have been originally built of logs and more recently clapboarded, is, as is claimed, the oldest building in Port Gibson,) which being removed so as to front on Jackson street, was converted into a rectory, leaving ample space for the erection of a church upon the corner. In the meantime the congregation worshiped in the brick building (now used by a colored congregation) on Church Street, in the northern part of the town. At this time (1869 to 1876) the rector of the church was the Rev. James S. Johnston, now bishop of western Texas.
In 1881, under the energetic administration of the Rev. Nowell Logan (now rector of Holy Trinity church, Vicksburg), the work of raising funds for the building of a church was renewed, and with success. On the 30th of October, 1884, the cornerstone of a handsome brick church, designed by W P. Wentworth, architect, Boston, was laid by the grand lodge of F. & A. M. of Mississippi. The building was completed early the following year, and presents a very attractive appearance, both without and within, being one of the most prominent of the few striking architectural features of the town. The total cost was $5,600. Of its stained-glass windows, the triple lancet over the altar is a memorial of the late Rev. Charles B. Dana, D. D., who was rector of the parish (1861-1866) throughout the gloomy period of the Civil war. One of the side windows is a memorial of Mr. Charles A. Pearson, a devout layman of the parish who died in 1878. A fund has been raised by the Sunday-school guild toward the purchase of a peal of bells, which will be placed as soon as sufficient tower room can be erected.
The parish received its charter in 1882 and the Ladies’ Aid association deeded the property, church and rectory to the incorporated parish. But the association has continued its existence and still renders efficient service in the parochial work. The parish made material progress during the rectorate of the Rev. Mr. Logan (1881 to 1888). It now reports seventy communicants. Its present vestry is composed of Dr. W. Myles and Capt. N. S. Walker, wardens, and Capt. W. W. Moore, Capt. A. K. Jones, chancery clerk, John A. Shreve and Senator Stephen Thrasher vestrymen. The present rector, the Rev. Arthur Howard Noll, entered upon his duties in October, 1889. He is a New Jerseyman by birth, and was called to the bar of that state in 1876. He was engaged in railways in Mexico 1882-5, and then prepared for the ministry. He entered upon his missionary work a deacon in 1887 in western Texas. He was ordained a priest in Eagle Pass, Tex., in 1888, by the Rt. Rev. James S. Johnston, bishop of western Texas, wholly unconscious that in a year’s time he was to become the successor of that prelate in his first parish.
Ministers of the Methodist church preached occasionally at Port Gibson before 1820, but no regular organization was made until 1827, when Rev. Thomas Griffin gathered some persons into the church. Port Gibson at that period was considered quite an irreligious community, and Mr. Griffin met great opposition. Among the early members were the Humphreys and Jeffries families, Joshua Kelley and his wife, Mrs. Isabella Kelley, Thomas Loury and Mrs. Susan Loury, James S. Mason and J. L. Foote. Of these, Mrs. Kelley, Mrs. Loury and Mr. Foote still survive. In the early history of the church it was favored with the ministrations of those eminent men, Dr. William Winans, Dr. Bill Drake, Rev. John G. Jones and Rev. Elias Porter. For a time the congregation, as all others, worshiped in the courthouse. A church was erected in 1830, which was in a few years destroyed by fire. Another was then built on the same spot. This was removed, and the present imposing brick structure was completed on the old site in 1859, costing $20,000. The church now numbers one hundred and fifty. Rev. E. H. Moureger is the present pastor (1890).
Besides Port Gibson, the towns of Claiborne County are Grand Gulf, Rocky Springs, St. Elmo, Hermanville, Carlisle, Tillman and Martin, all, except Rocky Springs and Grand Gulf, on the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas railroad. The history of Grand Gulf is interesting in its way. It was once a bustling little river city and handled forty thousand bales of cotton every year. Its first and a subsequent location caved into the river; it was three times visited with destructive fires, the last time burned by Federal troops; a cut- off of the Mississippi placed it two miles from the river, and its only railway, extending from Grand Gulf to Port Gibson, was not only abandoned, but taken up, and Grand Gulf is little more than a memory.
Source: Biographical and Historical Memories of Mississippi, Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1891