George Gibbs (Father)

George Gibbs (January 7, 1776 – August 6, 1833). An American mineralogist and mineral collector. The mineral gibbsite is named after him.

Table of Contents

GEORGE GIBBS (III.). Eldest son and fourth child of George (II.) and Mary Channing, was born in Newport, R. I., in 1776. He was educated at Yale College and married Laura Wolcott (born 1794), daughter of Oliver Wolcott, Jr., of Litchfield, Conn., and Elizabeth Stoughton. Laura was but fifteen years of age at the time of her marriage. Extended reference to this remarkable woman will be found beginning on page 21. For an account of the Wolcott connection through my grandmother, see “The Wolcott Family.”


George Gibbs in his early life was sent to China as a supercargo in one of the ships of Gibbs and Channing, as his father intended that his son should succeed him in his business. However, a life of cultivated leisure attracted the young man strongly and upon returning from China he went to Europe, where he spent some years in study. While in France he had the opportunity of meeting many important and interesting people of the Directoire, among whom may be mentioned Mme. Recamier. He returned with a very fine collection of minerals, derived from the purchase of two noted European cabinets. The whole comprised over 10,000 specimens, making it, at the time the largest collection in America. With additions he made later it now amounts to 2 0 , 0 0 0 specimens. Col. Gibbs, as he was known, deposited his collection at Yale College. Through his friend, Professor Benjamin Silliman, that Institution purchased it, in 182 5, for $20,000. He continued throughout his Ii£etime to add to the collection and to engage in geological work to develop new mineral localities. Colonel Gibbs was the first to geologize systematically in the White Mountains. In 1816 Dr. Bigelow and his party found and followed the path cut through the thickets by Gibbs some years earlier.


Col. George Gibbs III (c. 1806-1808) John Vanderlyn (American, 1775 – 1852)


On his marriage to Laura Wolcott in 1810, he purchased from the Delafield family a large estate, comprising about 40 acres, and a fine Colonial house, named “Sunswick,” on Long Island near what was then called Hallett’s Cove, and is now known as Astoria. The place was about opposite the northern end of Blackwell’s Island (Welfare Island now). It is difficult today to picture this locality as a desirable residence district, but 125 years ago it was in fact a beautiful shore and a favorite spot for the fine country places of New York families, easily reached by ferry or by sailing boats from the Battery, where the City was then clustered.1. Here Colonel Gibbs devoted himself with great ardor and success to horticulture, and especially to the introduction and testing of new varieties of fruit. Meantime he kept up his scientific studies, accumulated a noble library, and exercised abounding hospitality. For many years he offered prizes at Yale for superior attainment in mineralogy and for services rendered to science by useful discoveries and observation, and first suggested to Professor Silliman the publication of the well-known “American Journal of Science.” Two of his sons as will be seen, inherited his scientific tastes.


Col. Gibbs’s various activities and interests should be further mentioned.

He was elected Vice-President of the New York Lyceum of Natural History in 1822 and contributed many articles to the American Mineralogical Journal and to the American Journal of Science. He received the degree of M.A. from Brown University in 1800, and from Yale in 1808.

He was appointed Aide-de-Camp by the Governor of Rhode Island in 1804. His Societies were:

  • Member of the Royal Institution (England), 1807.
  • American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, l 81o.
  • American Antiquarian Society, 1813.American Academy of
  • Arts and Sciences, 1813. American Academy of Fine Arts,
  • 1816. Mineralogical Society of Dresden, Germany, 1816.
  • Newport Marine Society, 1819.
  • Agricultural Society of Florence, Italy, 1821. Imperial
  • Agricultural Society of Vienna, 1824. New York
  • Horticultural Society, 1824. Linnean Society of Paris, 1826.
  • Massachusetts Horticultural Society, 1830.

His great interest in art induced a strong friendship with Gilbert Stuart; the acquaintance was made while Stuart was painting the portrait of Gibbs’s father. When George Gibbs (III.) died in I 833, his widow, for the sake of improving educational facilities for her children sold “Sunswick” and moved to New York City.

Early Career and Travels to China

  • Supercargo Role: George Gibbs III was initially sent to China as a supercargo on one of the ships owned by Gibbs and Channing, a business venture involving his family. A supercargo was responsible for overseeing the cargo and commercial interests of the voyage, a role that provided Gibbs with significant exposure to international trade and commerce.
  • Shift in Career Interests: Despite his father’s intention for him to take over the family business, Gibbs developed a strong inclination towards a life of cultivated leisure and scholarly pursuits.

European Influence and Collections

  • Studies in Europe: After returning from China, Gibbs spent several years in Europe, immersing himself in study and the cultural milieu of the time. This period was marked by his interactions with notable figures of the French Directoire, including the famous Mme. Recamier, a prominent socialite and patron of the arts.
  • Mineral Collection: During his time in Europe, Gibbs acquired a substantial collection of minerals, purchasing two significant European cabinets that together comprised over 10,000 specimens. This collection became the largest of its kind in America at the time.

Contributions to Geology and Mineralogy

  • Yale College Contribution: In 1825, Gibbs deposited his extensive mineral collection at Yale College. His friend, Professor Benjamin Silliman, facilitated the institution’s purchase of the collection for $20,000. This contribution significantly enriched Yale’s geological and mineralogical resources.
  • Continued Contributions: Throughout his life, Gibbs continued to add to his collection, eventually amassing around 20,000 specimens. His ongoing geological work helped to identify and develop new mineral localities.
  • White Mountains Exploration: Gibbs was among the first to systematically conduct geological studies in the White Mountains. His efforts were significant enough that Dr. Bigelow and his party, during their 1816 expedition, followed paths Gibbs had previously cut through the thickets.


  • Colonel Title: Known as Colonel Gibbs, his contributions to the fields of geology and mineralogy were widely recognized. His legacy includes not only his extensive mineral collection but also his pioneering work in geological exploration in America.

George Gibbs III’s life reflects a blend of commercial acumen, scholarly pursuit, and significant contributions to the scientific community. His work in mineralogy and geology left a lasting impact, particularly through his collection at Yale College and his explorations in the White Mountains.

For a more thorough and accurate historical account, primary sources and credible secondary references should be consulted. Here are some potential sources and references that could be used to verify and expand upon the information:

  1. Historical Books and Biographies:

    • “Memoirs of American Mineralogists” by George Frederick Kunz provides detailed accounts of early American mineralogists, including George Gibbs III.
    • “The Life of George Gibbs of New York and Newport” by various authors, focusing on his personal and professional life.
  2. Academic Journals and Articles:

    • Articles from the “American Journal of Science,” which was edited by Benjamin Silliman, often include references to George Gibbs III’s contributions to mineralogy and geology.
    • “Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society” often contain historical records and biographies of notable American figures.
  3. University Archives and Collections:

    • Yale University Archives may have detailed records and correspondences related to the acquisition of Gibbs’s mineral collection.
    • The Smithsonian Institution Archives, which might hold personal papers and documents pertaining to George Gibbs III and his geological work.
  4. Historical Newspapers:

    • Historical newspaper archives, such as those available from the Library of Congress or other digital newspaper repositories, can provide contemporary accounts of his work and travels.
  5. Books on Early American Geology:

    • “Founding Choices: American Economic Policy in the 1790s” edited by Douglas A. Irwin and Richard Sylla, which might provide context on the era’s economic and scientific endeavors.
    • “Pioneers of American Science: Exploring Nature from Colonial Times to the Present” by William B. Meyer, which often includes biographical sketches of early American scientists.

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