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Gilbert family of Antigua.

Nathaniel Gilbert I had emigrated to Barbados in 1661 and settled in Antigua in 1698. Two of his grandsons, Nathaniel and Francis, became followers of John Wesley and were involved in introducing Methodism into Antigua.

His grandson, Nathaniel Gilbert III (1721-1774), son of a prosperous planter, was articled at Gray's Inn, London in 1741 and called to the Bar in 1747. Returning home, he was elected to the island's Assembly, where he served with his father. His interest in Methodism was kindled by a chance reading of John Wesley's Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion which his younger brother Francis had sent to him. Visiting Francis in England in 1757-1759, he heard Wesley preach on Kennington Common and in his brother's Wandsworth home, where Wesley baptized two of the family slaves. Back in Antigua, he began services for his family and domestic slaves and then more widely in the open air (in effect, the start of Methodist overseas work). He formed a society which grew from 30 to 600 members in three years and was led after his death by two local women. Re-elected to the Assembly, he was Speaker from 1763 until retiring from public life in 1769. He died on 22 April 1774

His son, Nathaniel IV (1761-1807), went out as the first chaplain to the new settlement of Sierra Leone, where he was joined by his cousin Melvill Horne. One of his daughters, Mary (c.1751-1768) died in Chester and an Extract of her journal, edited by her aunt Mary (see below) was published in 1768 (6th edition, 1813).

His younger brother, Francis Gilbert (1725-1779), at first a profligate, was the first to come under th influence of John Wesley. He was converted and for a few years (1758-1764?) served as an itinerant. Returning to Antigua at least twice (1763-1764 and 1773-1775), he tried to take up his brother's work, but had to return to England in poor health and died on 7 January 1779. His wife Mary (née Walsh; then Mrs. Leadbetter, but widowed in 1758) was back in Antigua in 1781-1791, following his death. John Baxter, still working in the dockyard in English Harbour at that time, gave her a great deal of responsibility over affairs in St. John's. She helped to build up the society there and in 1783 supervised the building of the first purpose-built Methodist chapel in Antigua.

One of Nathaniel's sisters, Grace, married Thomas Webb; another, Mary, was the mother of Melvill Horne.

Sir George Gilbert Scott, Anglican architect and church restorer, was a great-grandson of Nathaniel Gilbert. The evidence indicates that Nicholas Gilbert was not related to the Antiguan family, despite statements to the contrary.

Sources

  • F.F. Bretherton, 'John Wesley and the Gilberts of Antigua', in WHS Proceedings, 13 pp.7-8
  • Frank Baker, 'Francis Gilbert and Methodist Ordination', in WHS Proceedings, 27 pp.146-48
  • F. Baker in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, Jan. 1960, pp.9-17
  • E.W. Thompson, Nathaniel Gilbert, Lawyer and Evangelist (1960)
  • Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography
  • Robert Glen, 'A Tangled Web: the Gilberts of Cornwall and the Gilberts of Antigua, in WHS Proceedings, 53 pp. 216-25
  • Paul Cheshire, 'John Walsh, Mary Leadbetter and "A Short Account of Miss Mary Gilbert"', in WHS Proceedings, 55 pp.16-18

Entry written by: RG
Category: Person

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