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Tobias Gibson: The Man Who Brought Methodism to Mississippi

Until 1798 Catholic Spain controlled the Mississippi Territory and prohibited Protestant activities, but when control of the region was transferred to the United States Government Methodists began seeking missionaries to go to the new acquisitions, chiefly the Natchez Country the most populated area and the seat of the territorial capitol, then at Washington, Mississippi. Bishop Asbury, who himself logged thousands of miles each year to cover his Kentucky Circuit, sought the right person to bring Methodism to the Natchez settlers. In January, 1799, Tobias Gibson who, though young, had already served eight years in the Conference, was chosen.

Tobias Gibson, born in South Carolina in 1776, began his journey into the Mississippi wilderness soon after his appointment, riding by horseback from South Carolina to Nashville, paddling by canoe from Nashville to Cairo, Illinois, then by flatboat down the Mississippi to Natchez and Washington. He arrived in March or April, 1799. His first service was probably held in a schoolhouse in the town of Washington and his first congregation was organized there. He went on to establish ministries in such places as Woodville and Port Gibson. For three years he was the only Methodist preacher within 500 miles of his advanced post. He preached from Walnut Hills (Vicksburg) to Loftus Heights (Fort Adams) and by the end of 1799 reported 60 members. He traveled during the next three years preaching in such places as John Griffing's, on Clark Creek, south of Port Gibson at Grindstone Ford, Rocky Springs, at St. Albans and near Warrenton, forming societies (congregations) at many of them.

During his third year, 1802, Gibson contracted consumption and felt, in his weakened condition, he need a helper. He traveled on horseback up the Natchez Trace, through the wilderness, to attend the annual conference in north of Nashville where he was greeted with great affection by Bishop Asbury. His appeal for help was approved and Moses Floyd was appointed his helper in the Natchez Country. During 1803 Gibson and Floyd worked together, joined by the fiery Lorenzo Dow.

His health improved and Gibson considered marriage to Sarah Griffing and an engagement was announced; however, his health again declined and he called off the marriage, focusing on the interests of his Methodist societies. He again traveled to the annual conference in 1803 and asked for more help. Hezekiah Harriman and Abraham Amos were appointed to help. Gibson returned to his brother Stephen Gibson's house near Warrenton. He preached his last sermon on New Year's Day, 1804, almost exactly five years after his appointment to the Natchez Country. He died at Stephen Gibson's home on April 5, 1804 and was buried about four miles south of what would be Vicksburg. In 1938 the grave and marker were moved to the churchyard of Crawford Street Methodist Church in Vicksburg.

Tobias Gibson established sixty Methodist congregations in his five year's as a missionary to Mississippi. He left behind a great legacy, the foundation for Methodist growth in the state which would thrive to the present time. Mississippi Methodism celebrated its bicentennial in 1999.

Source: The Mississippi United Methodist Advocate. November 27, 1974. This title and related information are available in the J. B. Cain Archives.

For further information, see Tobias Gibson biography by W.L. Jenkins .