John Gibson (1699 – 1763) was my 6 x great grandfather. He married Mary Greene, daughter of London goldsmith Joseph Greene and his wife Mary Byne, at the church of All Hallows, London Wall, on 8th July 1729. In the last post, I listed the name and birth dates of John and Mary Gibson’s seven children, and noted the family’s purchase of the manor of Woodredon near Waltham Abbey in Essex. I also mentioned that two of the Gibsons’ daughters had married the sons of their Essex landowning neighbours, though one of those marriages, between my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson and John Collins of Epping, seems to have been shrouded in secrecy.

A degree of mystery also surrounds the life of Elizabeth’s father. John Gibson died of a fever in 1763, at the age of sixty-four, but to date I’ve been unable to discover his will. However, we have a document published in the following year, described as ‘A Declaration instead of a true and perfect Inventory of all and singular the Goods and Chattels and Credits of John Gibson late of the Parish of St Botolph without Aldgate Deceased which since his death have come to the hands possession or knowledge of Mary Gibson Widow the Relict and Adminstratrix of all and singular the Goods Chattels and Credits of the said Deceased’.


‘Two declarations’

The document is, in fact, two ‘declarations’ published together: firstly a ‘declaration instead of a true just and faithful account’ and then another declaration ‘instead of a true and perfect inventory’. If we try to reconstruct the story told by these texts chronologically, it would appear that in 1742 or thereabouts, an ‘extent’ was taken out by the Crown against John Gibson’s effects, putting his household furniture at risk of seizure. I understand that, in legal parlance, an extent is a writ to recover debts due to the Crown. To prevent this happening, John’s mother-in-law Mary Greene purchased these household effects. Some time after this, John Gibson was declared bankrupt. However, since the ‘extent’ had not been fully satisfied, John was arrested and spent several years in prison, until he was released by an order of Parliament, subject to giving security for his appearance when called on by the Crown.


Fleet Prison for debtors 

The documents also suggest that, in 1757, some years after being released, John Gibson purchased a brewing business in Rosemary Lane, Aldgate. However, because the ‘extent’ had still not been fully satisfied, John bought the premises and equipment for this business in the name of his mother-in-law, Mary Greene, even though she was not personally involved in running it. In February 1757, or so John Gibson’s widow Mary claims, Mary Greene signed a declaration confirming that John’s money had been used for this transaction and that she was the purchaser in name only. John was the day-to-day manager of the concern and, as his widow says, ‘growing …more regardless’ as the years passed and believing that the authorities ‘would not after so long a period of time trouble him’, mostly used his own name when carrying on this business.

It also appears that, on John’s death in 1763, his widow Mary took possession of the brewing business and sold it ‘upon a fair Appraisement’ to a Mr Holdbrook, using the proceeds to help pay off her late husband’s debts. Despite this, however, one of John Gibson’s debtors, a maltster by the name of John Soundy, took out a commission of bankruptcy against Mary Greene, suggesting that she was liable for the debt. He and one Joseph Burch, described by Mary Gibson as a creditor of John’s ‘but … pretending to be a Creditor of the said Mary Greene by reason of her Name having been made use of by the deceased’, were made assignees under the bankruptcy commission. In 1764, they took out an action against Mary Gibson for the ‘brewing utensils’, under the ‘pretence’ (as Mary puts it) that they really belonged to Mary Greene. As a result of this dispute, Mary Gibson declares that she is, as yet, unable to provide a ‘true and faithful inventory’ of her late husband’s property.

In other words, Mary Gibson was in dispute with her late husband’s debtors and creditors, who were using Mary Greene’s nominal ownership of the brewing business to extract money from her, to the extent of having her declared bankrupt. These declarations are evidence of Mary Gibson’s efforts to have her mother (who must have been at least eighty years old by this time) released from this financial burden. I’ve discovered a record of the bankruptcy of ‘Mary Green, late of Derby street, Rosemary-lane, Middlesex, Widow, and Brewer’, in a collection of miscellaneous memoirs and correspondence from August 1763.



‘The King against John Gibson’

But all of this begs the question as to how John Gibson come to be indebted to the Crown, and the nature of his business before he was declared bankrupt. Starting from the information in Mary Gibson’s two declarations, I embarked on a search for further details of the events she describes, and eventually came across a case that appeared to match the details of her story quite closely. One of the records that I found was a collection of ‘Reports of cases concerning the Revenue, argued and determined in the Court of Exchequer, from Easter Term 1743 to Hilary Term 1767’. In the section for Hilary Term 1743, the first case is ‘The King against John Gibson’ which was examined on Friday 3rd February.


Many of the details in the case match Mary Gibson’s account in her declaration, leading me to conclude that the person described in this document was probably my ancestor. If not, then there must have been two John Gibsons who had extents taken out against them by the Crown in 1742: not impossible, but fairly unlikely. Mary relates that in 1742 ‘or thereabouts’ the Crown issued an ‘extent’ against her husband: this report describes an extent ‘issued against [John Gibson] on the 17th of June 1742’ as a consequence of his being ‘indebted to the King in a large sum of money on several bonds for the duty of coals’. Moreover, the report refers to a commission of bankruptcy being issued against the defendant: again, Mary Gibson’s declaration mentions that her husband was declared bankrupt some time after the ‘extent’ was issued. Finally, the report notes that a new extent was required following the bankruptcy commission, which is consistent with Mary’s statement that even after the bankruptcy proceedings, the original extent was not ‘fully satisfied’.

Presumably it was the ‘new extent…against the defendant for the debt due to his majesty’ that led to John Gibson’s arrest and imprisonment. An entry in the Calendar of Treasury Books and Papers for 4th October 1742, nearly five months after the extent was issued, refers to a report from the Customs Commissioners, London, ‘on the frauds relating to coal duties’, in which John Gibson is described as an ‘agent or crimp for many of the masters of ships in the coal trade’.

Following a detailed official report of the case, there is this intriguing entry in the records, dated 7th October 1742 (my emphases):

“The Commrs Customes to inform my Lords whether a state of the case relating to the rescue of Gibson has been laid before the Attor. and Solr. Gen.” “What step to be taken relating to the process to seize the estates of Deacon upon the certificate of the Comptroller.”

And then, on 21st October:

A copy of the report by Rd. Swainston, Solicitor of the Customs, 1742, Sept. 28, containing in accordance with the Treasury minute of August 17 last a general return of the several matters referred to and transacted by him since Deacon’s death, and in particular concerning his proceedings against John Gibson, agent or crimp for many of the masters of ships in the coal trade, and other crimps concerned in the bonds found in Deacon’s office; further as to his proceedings with Mr. Woodward, late clerk to the Collector of Coal Duties, and Mr. Savage, the late Comptroller; further as to the violent rescue of said Gibson.  

What are we to make of the reference to John Gibson’s ‘violent rescue’? I’ve found a claim in another source that ‘Gibson was rescued by force from the Sheriff’s Officers’, but no further details of this dramatic event.


Merchant ships on the Thames

Perhaps the best source for understanding the whole sorry story is William J Hausman’s book Public Policy and the Supply of Coal to London, 1700 – 1770, which includes an appendix on the case of William Deacon, the man at the centre of the fraud case. Some of this account is available online, and it’s worth quoting from it at length (again, emphasis added by me):

William Deacon, the Collector and Receiver of Coal Duties, died in London in June of 1742. This otherwise unremarkable event created a stir within the coal trade and government which lasted for eight years. In Deacon’s office were discovered over £125,000 worth of uncancelled bonds for coal duties, representing the largest single case of negligence and fraud in the coal trade in the century. The subsequent investigation shed much light on the workings of the trade, especially regarding the relationships and fate of several prominent lightermen, crimps, or coal factors. 

The first governmental report was issued on July 17, 1742. The initial finding by the Customs Commissioners was that ‘great frauds have been committed by the Collusion of Mr Deacon and Mr Savage, his Comptroller with the Masters of Ships or their Crimps, in secreting these bonds.’ The primary concern of the Commissioners at this point was ‘to secure the Debt due to the Crown.’ They took action against the crimps and masters whose names were on the uncancelled bonds. Three promiment lightermen (or crimps) were named as the major offenders:  John Gibson, William Williford, and Sir Maltis Ryall. The estates of the three men were seized, and their holdings inventoried…

A Solicitor’s Report of October 4, 1742, made the charges more specific. The Solicitor reported that, ‘Mr Deacon had given …large Credit to Gibson and other Crimps…by omitting to insert a true State of Bonds in the Weekly Certificate’. He appended both the yearly debt due to the frauds and that owned by Gibson. […] The other major offenders specifically named were Williford (now deceased) and Ryall (insolvent).

A report on December 22, 1742, explained the procedure for paying the coal tax in the port to show how the frauds were committed:

Master delivers his Cockett…to the Collector of the Coal Duties…The Crimp and Master then give Bond or make a Deposit with the Collector and Comptroller of the Coal Duties, for about double the amount of the Duties on the Quantity of Coals expressed in the Cockett.

The Collector then gave the master a warrant to give to the coal meter. The meter supervised the unloading of the coal and certified on the back of the warrant the correct amount delivered. The warrant was then carried back to the collector, who determined the exact duty owed. The duty was satisfied with either notes or bonds. It was by accepting the bonds of the crimps and then failing to report the existence of the bonds to the Comptroller General that the fraud was perpetrated. The Comptroller General, not knowing the bonds existed, never demanded their payment. But the ship masters, according to custom, entrusted enough cash or bonds with their crimps to pay the taxes, so that it was the crimps who ultimately benefited from the procedure (as well as Deacon, if he had been bribed).


On April 23, 1743, John Gibson began his defence. He sent a petition to the Commissioners of the Treasury alleging that he had been in partnership with Nicholas Furrs, that he was bound with Furrs in bonds of considerable value to the Crown, and that ‘this said Money was actually paid, but by neglect of taking up the Bonds, they have been put in Suit.’ He was placing responsibility in the matter squarely on Deacon, who was no longer able to defend himself. Gibson’s petition was referred to the Commissioners of the Customs… 


Gibson’s claims were rejected, but it was noted that he was insolvent and imprisoned. All hopes of regaining more of the uncollected duty were given up.  A Committee of the whole House was ordered to consider the matter the following week, but Parliament was adjourned, and nothing more was heard concerning the coal affair.

Gibson proved to be a most resourceful character, for on April 28, 1757, ‘Mr John Gibson, a Coal Factor’, was examined before a committee of the House considering a patent for a machine to unload coal.


Elsewhere, Hausman describes Gibson as the largest of the major coal dealers in London at the time. In a footnote, he states that ‘it is not known if Gibson was apprehended or turned himself in.’


‘He therefore humbly prays that he may be indulged with his Liberty’


Hausman relates that Gibson’s petition was actually a restatement of a pamphlet he had published previously, ‘The Case of John Gibson’, ‘stating his position that the bonds had been paid.’ The author adds: ‘In the petition it was noted that he regularly paid over £50,000 per year in coal duties and carried on one-fifth of the business in London’. I’ve found a copy of John Gibson’s pamphlet online (first page reproduced above) which I’ve transcribed as follows:

In the year 1721, he entered into a Partnership with Nicholas Furs, who was then, and had long been, a Coal-Factor at the Port of London; and he, Gibson, was to have the first Year 50l. the next 100l. and then the Stock was to be made up, which was done, and he equally concern’d with Furs.

By the Nature of this Business the Factors and Masters of Ships give Bonds for the King’s and Church Duties, payable at three Months after Date, for so many Coals as shall appear to be delivered out of each Ship respectively by a Certificate signed by one of the 15 Sea-Coal Meeters, with a Proviso, that if the said Duties are paid in 16 working Days, the Obligors should be allowed two one half per cent. Discount, and for the Management of these Duties, the Commissioners of the Customs appoint a particular Collector and a Comptroller to be a Cheque upon him, who is to deliver all Bonds over to the Commissioners or their Solicitor, to be put in Suit, if not paid in 14 Days after they become due.

In the Year 1723, soon after the Stock was made up, Furs took Care of the Afffairs of the Compting-House, and the Management of the Business without Doors was left to Gibson; and to induce Gibson to Sign all the Bonds, and that he might run but half the Risque, Furs gave one Bond to the Crown; in a large Penalty, to be answerable for every Thing Gibson agreed for, which Bond must be in the Custody of the Commissioners of the Customs.

From Christmas 1720, to Christmas 1729, Gibson carried on the Business in Partnership with Furs, and the Partnership being then expired, Gibson agreed with Furs to give him 300l. a Year for 12 Years, on Condition he would quit the Business wholly to Gibson, and never act in it more; which Annuity was paid, and that together with Furs’s Stock, then drawn out of Trade, amounted to several thousands Pounds.

From 1729 to June 1742, Gibson carried on the Business on his own Account, and the Method was generally to pay the duties to the Receiver General’s Certificate and carry to the Collector’s Office, to have Credit given for the Sum so paid; Yet the Collector would sometimes (for Reasons best known to himself) direct the Money to be paid to him for a Week, or so near Quarter Days, which all the other Factors comply’d with as well as Gibson: But the Collector being frequently absent, and the Office always in a Hurry and great Confusion, by the Ships arriving in large Fleets, Gibson could never get the Bonds regularly deliver’d up to him, notwithstanding the Duties he was engaged for, were regularly discharged; and he usually paid so large a Sum as near 50,000l. a Year, having almost one fifth Part of the whole Business. And altho’ he had experienced,  by the Hurry and Confusion of the Office, that he could not get his Bonds regularly delivered up, yet, for the Benefit of the Discount, paid in his Money daily, as the Loss of two one half per Cent. on the Sum he dealt for, would soon prove his Ruin; and whatever Bonds he did get, some of them were cancell’d, and others not: But this being the Case of other Factors, as well as Gibson, and he apprehending the Entries of Money received, were (as they ought to be) for the identical Bonds, which in Consequence must be a Cheque upon any Neglect of not delivering up, or not cancelling them, rested satisfied as well as the other Factors, more especially as none of them was put in Suit, or even any Demand made of them.

Mr. James Deacon was Collector of these Duties upwards of 30 Years, and in June 1742 died, and soon after his Death, several hundred Bonds given by the Masters of Ships and Factors, most of them in the Years, 1723, 1724, 1725, 1726, 1727, 1728 and 1729, and all of them before the Year 1737, was found in his House, and not under the Comptrolers Lock and Key (where they ought to have been, if unpaid, as other Bonds were) many of them wrote on the Back paid, and the Day of the Month when, the Seals tore off others, and the rest uncancelled, amounting together, as he is informed, to the Sum of 200,000l. or upwards, which were delivered over to the Commissioners.

Thereupon Extents were taken out against one Factor, and the Effects of another then deceased, and Letters wrote to the several Masters, who were Obligors with the Factors for Payment; and Gibson being informed by the Soliciter to the Commissioners of the Customs, that an Extent would be taken out against him: Whereupon there being three Bonds then due to the Value of about 350l. and others growing due, which together would amount to about 4,500l. (And was the whole Ballance then owing by Gibson?) He some Days before the Extent was executed, deposited with Mr Hughes for the Commissioners of the Customs Cash, to the Value of about 1700l. and delivered a Bill of Sale for one Ship and Freight then due, worth 1500l. and assigned over his Property in Parts of Ships, worth 1600l. amounting in the whole to 4,800l.

Upon this, Gibson waited on the Commissioners of the Customs, who declared he had acted honourably, but that they had examined the Accounts, and also the Comptroller’s, and his Debt appeared to be near 8000l. which greatly supprized him, knowing it could not exceed the aforementioned Sum of 4,500l. however, he had Assurances from them, that they would act with him in Return for what he had done, in the best Manner they could.

Notwithstanding which, in less than an Hour, an Officer went into his Compting House, seized his Books and Papers and about 3 or 400l. in Cash, and some Days after, all his Goods and Effects, to the Value of about 450l. so that what was deposited, and what was seized, by Virtue of the Extent, amounted to about 5,500l. which was more than was really due, but cannot State the exact Sums, by Reason his Books are in the Hands of the Commissioners of the Customs, or their Officers, or the Assignee of the Commission of Bankruptcy.

The Sum of 8000l. must be made up, by tacking the old Bonds of almost 20 Years standing (which ought to have been delivered up or cancelled) to those then which were just then due, notwithstanding the Collector is obliged to pass his Accounts annually, and Deacon had passed his Accounts to Christmas 1737, and had a Quietus est thereon, therefore the old Bonds, if they had not been paid, but have been delivered over long since, to be put in Suit.

Gibson’s Case being thus circumstanced, and he having given full Satisfaction for the Debt ready due to the Crown (if his Effects have been made the most of) and having given the Extent Preference to the Commission of Bankruptcy, some of his private Creditors brought Actions against him, and two Judgments being obtained, he was so terrified with the Miseries of a Gaol, that he has absconded ever since his Surrendering himself to the Commission of Bankruptcy, until September 1748, but with out any Design of Defrauding the Crown (which it was not in his Power to do, the Commissions of the Customs being possessed of all his Effects) and is now a close Prisoner in the Fleet, whereby his Wife and Nine small Children are reduced to the greatest Miseries.

He therefore humbly prays that he may be indulged with his Liberty, so that he may be able to get his Bread, which he humbly Hopes he is intitled to, for the following


First, For, that if Gibson’s Accounts is fairly stated (abstracted from the old Bonds found after the Collector’s Death) his Debt to the Crown cannot amount to more than 4,500l. as before-stated. 

Secondly, For, that the Commissioners are possessed of all Gibson’s Effects, to about the Value of 5,550l. which overpays the said Debt.

Thirdly, For that is manifest, the old Bonds were duly paid, or otherwise they would have been in the Custody of the Comptroller, and delivered over by him to the Commissioners to be put in Suit, especially in the Year 1737, when the Collector and Comproller passed their Accompts in the Pipe Office, and obtained a Quietus est thereon, (so that in fact they have accounted for these very Bonds with which Gibson is now charged) which they could not have done but by having a State of their Accounts certified by the Comptroller General to the Commissioners of the Customs, and by them to the Lords of the Treasury, and it is impossible that if these Bonds were not paid, it could not be kept a Secret from the Comptrollers of the Coal Duties, and in Consequence must be known to the Commissioners, as these Duties are collected by Certificates signed by some of the 15 Sea-coal Meeters; which Certficates are compared Quarterly, or oftner, with the Collector’s Accompts: so that by them, and the Duty collected for Meetage, the Comptroller and Commissioners must know to a Farthing, what Sums, Bonds were given for, and what Sums remained unpaid; and more especially as one of these Commissioners was all the Time one of the Sea-coal Meeters also. 

Fourthly, For that neither Masters or Factors, who are Obligors in these Bonds, ought to suffer for the Neglect, either of Collector of Comptroller, mediately under their Inspection and Power; therefore as these Bonds were never so much as demanded, till after the Death of the Collector, they ought not to be put Suit at this Distance of Time, but cancelled or delivered up. 

Fifthly, For that if these Bonds had not been paid, and had been put in Suit when due, Gibson had not paid the Money he did to Furs, who is since dead, but he and the Commissioners would have availed themselves on Furs’s Effects. 

Sixthly, For if there had been any Embezlement by the Collectors, the Fraud had been carried on by the Combination of Gibson, he could never have rested till the Bonds had been delivered up or cancelled, because otherwise it would be actually giving the Collectors so much Money out of his Pocket, which he and the other Obligors, were obliged to pay. 

Seventhly, For that Sir Maltis Ryall, under the Power of an Extent, has been indulged with his Liberty, and others against whom several of these Bonds are outstanding, have not had any Suit at all commenced against them.

Therefore what Gibson desires, is no more than has been granted to others in the like Circumstances.


Careful readers will note a discrepancy between the words highlighted in bold in this account and the biography of my ancestor John Gibson, as related in my previous post. This John Gibson talks about the sorry plight of his wife and nine children, whereas I have only found records for seven children, of whom two were yet to be born in 1742. On the one hand, this introduces the first note of doubt into my claim that John Gibson, coal factor and fraudster, was my ancestor. On the other hand, it could be that John and Mary Gibson had other children, records of whose births and baptisms I’ve yet to find or, given that he was already thirty years old when he married Mary, that John had been married before and had additional children from that first marriage.


Woodredon or West Ham?

However, there’s a further discrepancy in some other documents about the case that I’ve uncovered. In my search for more information about Gibson’s erstwhile partner Nicholas Furrs, I came across a puzzling entry in the Treasury records. On 21st April 1743, at the Treasury Chambers in Whitehall, with the Earl of Wilmington, the  Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a number of other government officers present, a petition was read ‘from John Gibson, late of West Ham, merchant, concerning his coal bonds with Nicholas Furrs, a coal merchant’ (my emphasis). What’s puzzling about this brief reference is John Gibson’s address. As far as we know, my ancestor lived at Tower Hill, in the parish of St Botolph’s, Aldgate, and maintained the country estate of Woodredon, at Waltham Abbey in Essex. This was the first time I had come across any mention of him living in West Ham.


West Ham and surrounding area, on a map of 1786

However, this was not the only document to make the connection. In the previous summer, two issues of The London Gazette had included references to John Gibson’s bankruptcy, and both gave his address as West Ham. Here is an extract from the edition of 22nd – 26th June (my emphasis):

Whereas a Commission of Bankrupt is awarded and issued forth against John Gibson, of West Ham, in the County of Essex, Merchant, Dealer in Coals, and Chapman, and he being declared a Bankrupt, is hereby required to surrender himself to the Commissioners in the said Commission named, or the major Part of them, on the 10th and 17th of July next, and on the 7th of August following, at Three of the Clock in the Afternoon on each of the said Days, at Guildhall, London, and make a full Discovery and Disclosure of his Estate and Effects ; when and where the Creditors are to come prepared to prove their Debts, and at the second Sitting to chuse Assignees, and at the last Sitting the said Bankrupt is required to finish his Examination, and the Creditors are to assent to or dissent from the Allowance of his Certificate. All Persons indebted to the said Bankrupt, or that have any of his Effects, are not to pay or deliver the same but to whom the Commissioners shall appoint, but give Notice to Mr. Hooper, Attorney, in Threadneedle-street, London.

And this is from the edition that appeared on 7th – 10th August:

Pursuant to an Order made by the Right Honourable the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, for enlarging the time for John Gibson, of West Ham in the County of Essex, Merchant, Dealer in Coals and Chapman, a Bankrupt, to make a full Discovery of his Estate and Effects for Forty nine Days, to be computed from the 7th of August instant; This is to give Notice that the major Part of the Commissioners named in the said Commission will meet on the 25th Day of September next, at Three in the Afternoon, at Guildhall, London, when and where the said Bankrupt is required to surrender himself, and make a full Discovery and Disclosure of his Estate and Effects, and finish his Examination; and such of the Creditors of the said John Gibson, as have not already proved their Debts, may then do the same, and the Creditors are to assent or dissent from the Allowance of his Certificate.

What are we to make of this? Obviously, it casts serious doubt on my theory that the John Gibson who was convicted of fraud, made bankrupt and imprisoned in the Fleet was my ancestor, and presents the possibility that this was a completely different John Gibson residing, not in Aldgate or Waltham Abbey, but in West Ham.

However, given the close match between what we know of ‘my’ John Gibson’s experience of bankruptcy and imprisonment, and that of John Gibson, coal factor of West Ham, might there be an alternative explanation? Might it be that my ancestor did actually purchase property in that part of Essex, despite already owning the manor of Woodredon at Waltham Abbey?

At the same time, if the Gibsons owned property in the vicinity of West Ham (at that time a quiet Essex village, and not the bustling London suburb that it would become when later generations of my family lived there), it might help to explain another mystery involving the Gibson family, and one that I’ll relate in the next post.