In 1799 Tobias Gibson made an epic journey from the Carolinas to establish Mississippi’s first Methodist church, near Natchez. Gibson was born on 10 November 1771 to Jordan Gibson and Mary Middleton Gibson, who lived along the Great Pee Dee River in South Carolina. In 1789 Tobias Gibson met Francis Asbury, who was organizing a Methodist meetinghouse near the Gibson family home. In 1771 John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had appointed Asbury to go to America and minister to the emerging Methodist societies in the colonies. Friendship with Asbury influenced Gibson’s entire life, and he entered the itinerant ministry in February 1792 and served appointments to the Bush River and Santee Circuits in South Carolina.
Gibson briefly served the Union Circuit after being ordained an elder in 1794 and then became Bishop Asbury’s traveling associate. On 20 March 1794 Gibson rescued Asbury from the swirling Catawba River during a trip to the Kentucky Conference. Asbury appointed Gibson to Kentucky’s Lexington Circuit in 1794, Tennessee’s Holston Circuit in 1795, and South Carolina’s Edisto Circuit in 1796 and Charleston Circuit two years later.
In 1799 Asbury appealed for a volunteer to go to the “Natchez Mission” in the newly formed Mississippi Territory. Gibson responded, and after serving with the Little Pee Dee Circuit in South Carolina and Anson Circuit in North Carolina, he made his pioneering trip to Natchez.
Gibson’s journey took him through the Cumberland Gap and Nashville, Tennessee. There, he sold his horse and descended the Cumberland, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez by canoe and flatboat, arriving during the summer of 1799. Gibson traveled an estimated one hundred thousand miles in his tenure as a Methodist circuit rider, visiting small settlements, holding camp meetings, and spreading Wesleyan theology.
Gibson became engaged to Sarah Griffing, daughter of Judge John Griffing, but they never married because of Gibson’s declining health. Gibson preached his last sermon on New Year’s Day 1804 and died of tuberculosis on 5 April of that year.
- William L. Jenkins, Mississippi United Methodist Church, Two Hundred Years of Heritage and Hope (1986)
- William L. Jenkins, Tobias Gibson: Mississippi Methodist Missionary by Rivers and Long Roads (1999)
- Randy J. Sparks, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks: Evangelicalism in Mississippi, 1773–1876 (1994)