Three manuscript volumes, 1838-1876, account books belonging to John Gibbs (1810-1880), of Union County, contain a record of legal proceedings, financial exchanges, and agricultural accounts.
John Gibbs served as justice of the peace and Baptist preacher at Lower Fairforest Church for many years in Union County. These account books document payments from Gibbs for work performed and payments due and ‘book debt’ owed to Gibbs by neighbors who borrowed such staples as corn, salt, coffee, and bacon. Records of legal proceedings discuss such matters as debts and the identification of stray horses and other livestock as well as notes regarding assault and battery and other crimes.
The earliest volume, with entries 1838-1851 constituting a record of legal cases and farming operations during the late antebellum period, including a contract for hiring out the labor of African-American slaves, also served as a daybook, 1860-1865.
The daybook hints at conditions on the Confederate home front during the Civil War, with notations on the value of work performed by various persons—picking cotton, plowing field, splitting rails, killing hogs—and the amount due for the labor. Gibbs may have questioned the future worth of Confederate currency, for in an entry dated 4 March 1861 he attested that he would not “sign with nor ask anyone to assign with me any note for any amount whatever from this date till my days are ended here belowe.” In a later entry, ca. 1864, Gibbs listed the currencies from various Confederate states that he held prior to a trip to Virginia.
Other travels briefly noted include plans to leave for Tennessee on 1 October 1863. The entry that follows may refer to relocation of slaves for work detail on the coastal areas to build fortifications—“Fletcher left for the coast the 12th of Sept. Saturday, 12 oclock and returned on the 6 Dec. following Sunday night—J. Gibbs.”
Genealogical materials of interest to Union County families contained in this volume include “A List of the Persons Married by Me Since 1838,” listing names and dates of twenty-nine couples wed by Gibbs, ca. 1838-1850. Several entries identify children or step-children, including an entry, 8 April 1850, in which “John Gibbs, Jr.” expressed plans to revise his will to include his “present wife Mary and her two children, Martha and Frances Medora.” A later entry lists property distributed among his children—“An Account of property delivered to my children,” 12 January 1861—with bequests that included an African-American slave, Martha, as well as household goods and livestock distributed to Susan Eliza Stanley, eldest daughter Jane Rachael Gibbs, Mary McBright, Sharlott Gregory, and Amanda Baley.
A volume of personal accounts and “Book for Criminal Cases,” 1841, 1844-1860, includes legal notes concerning debts, assault and battery, search warrants, and the return of stray livestock. Personal accounts document debts owed to Gibbs for molasses, meal, and other goods, including pork and offal after hog killings, and a record of times and tasks worked by various persons identified by name and debts paid or recompense due.
The third volume, 1870-1876, consists largely of labor agreements between Gordon Williams (b. 1840) and various sharecroppers/laborers identified by name, including Elick Robinson, Emanuel Geeter, Alf Geeter, Jack Jones and others. Entries also record Williams’ accounts of goods purchased from P.M Cohen. Williams lived in the Boganville community of Union County near West Springs, and he may have been a son-in-law of John Gibbs, who was also listed as a resident of Boganville in the 1870 census.
Also included is a list of land under cultivation by Williams and others, each of whom worked various tracts around the farm—identified in such ways as “at the house,” “in the bottoms,” “in the big field,” “sandbar,” and “new ground.”