Blacks@Dartmouth 1775 to 1960

Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs

Clergyman, Abolitionist, and Reconstruction Politician

alumnus image

Dartmouth College A.B.

Class of 1852

Born  1821  Philadelphia PA

Died 1874 Tallahassee FL

Quotes from Biographical Sources

After Augustus Washington's departure in 1844, President Lord converted to the pro-slavery persuasion sometime in 1847. However, less than a year later he admitted another powerfully articulate abolitionist black student, Jonathan Gibbs Jr., no doubt one of the most accomplished men ever to graduate from Dartmouth College. Born in Philadelphia to a Baptist mother and a Methodist father, perhaps wanting to offend neither, Gibbs became a Presbyterian minister.

Following on the heels of Augustus Washington, Gibbs prepared for college at Kimball Union Academy. Rejected for admission by at least three other colleges, he entered Dartmouth in 1848. He culminated his brilliant academic career at the College by being chosen to give one of the commencement addresses, ostensibly the second black to do so, following John Russwurm's 1826 commencement speech at Bowdoin. While at the College Gibbs was deeply involved in the abolitionist movement, numbering among his friends the leading abolitionists of his day — Frederick Douglass, William Still, William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Sumner, William Wells Brown, and Stephen Smith.

After graduating from Dartmouth in 1852, Gibbs immediately entered Princeton Theological Seminary where he completed his course of study in 1855. In that same year he assumed the pastorate of the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy, N.Y. Knowing Lord's sentiments on the slavery issue, Gibbs nevertheless "begged Dr. Lord as a special favor to preach his ordination sermon, giving as a reason that his college was the only one which would endure his presence. Few members of the Presbytery were willing to attend the ordination; one of them, a flaming anti-slavery champion, attended but slipped into a back seat and took no part. Owing to the dearth of brother ministers, Dr. Lord was obliged to make the installing prayer as well as to preach."

Gibbs later combined the ministry with politics, moving to Florida, where in 1867 he was appointed the only black Secretary of the State in the Reconstruction South and the first black cabinet member in that state's history. That landmark appointment was followed by another— as Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Florida in 1873. He died suddenly one year later of a mysterious and suspicious cause. It was rumored that he was poisoned.

Hall, Raymond L. (Nov 1986). A Reaffirmation of Mission: The Saga of the Black Experience at Dartmouth. Dartmouth Alumni Magazine 79(3), 35-41.

Other source(s)

  1. Gibbs, Jonathan Clarkson(1828–1874) - Minister, politician, educator, Chronology, Serves as Secretary of State, Becomes Superintendent of Public Instruction. Retrieved from
  2. Gibbs, Jonathan C. (1856). Sermon. Black Abolitonist Archives, 1-19.
  3. Williams, Learotha, Jr. (2003). “A wider field of usefulness”: The life and times of Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, Ph.D. thesis, Forida A&M.
  4. Letter from Rev. J.C. Gibbs. (1865). The Christian Recorder, May, 6, 1865. Retrieved from Accessible Archives.

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