02 Feb BHM Celebrates Mifflin Wistar Gibbs
Mifflin Wistar Gibbs
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he moved to California as a young man during the Gold Rush. Angered by discriminatory laws passed in 1858, he and several hundred other American blacks moved that year to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where he worked for ten years.
After the American Civil War, Gibbs and many of the other black settlers returned to the United States. In the late 1860s, he settled in the capital city of Little Rock, Arkansas, and became an attorney. He was active in Reconstruction politics, and in 1873 Gibbs was elected as a city judge, the first black judge elected in the United States. In 1897, in the William McKinley administration, he was appointed as American consul to Madagascar.
Gibbs was the second of four siblings, the eldest being his brother Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs. Their father was a Methodist minister. As a young adult, Gibbs became active in the abolitionist movement and worked for Frederick Douglass. He was also involved in the Philomatheon Institute of Philadelphia, a literary organization which included Douglass, Charles Burleigh Purvis, William Whipper, and Izaiah Weir. Philadelphia had long had a flourishing free black community, as people had found work there even before the revolution and slavery was abolished after the American Revolutionary War
Emigration to Victoria
Starting in 1858, Gibbs led an estimated six hundred to eight hundred African Americans, many with families, from California to British Columbia, where some settled on Vancouver Island. They comprised a major portion of the early frontier community. Gibbs became a naturalized British citizen in 1861, together with fifty-two other American blacks from the emigrant group. Gibbs worked as a merchant and also became involved in politics during his ten-year stay in Canada.
In the 1860 Vancouver Island Legislative election, the vote of the black community in the election for the Vancouver Island Legislative Assembly defeated Amor De Cosmos. He railed against blacks having the franchise and worked to prevent their voting in the next election.
Victoria City Council
Gibbs ran in 1862 in the first race for a Victoria City Council seat; he placed seventh in this race, having missed winning a council seat by four votes. He was elected to Victoria City Council in 1867 and served in that body until 1869.
In 1868, Gibbs was the Salt Spring Island delegate to the Yale Convention, an important step toward British Columbia’s decision to join Canada in the confederation.