Lorenzo Gibson (1804–1866)

Early Arkansas, especially Little Rock (Pulaski County), benefited from contributions made by Lorenzo Gibson in the areas of medicine, law, business, and public service. He established a mercantile business in Little Rock in 1833, practiced medicine, and served as the state representative for Pulaski and Hot Spring counties.

Lorenzo Gibson was born on May 27, 1804, to William R. Gibson and Frances Hampton Gibson in Clarksville, Tennessee; he had at least four younger brothers. Gibson moved from Tennessee to Little Rock in 1833 and established a mercantile business with his brother. Their store was located in a building that had just been built by Chester Ashley, a prominent Little Rock land speculator and, later, United States senator. In the May 29, 1833, issue of the Arkansas Gazette, the store advertised goods at a cost “lower than ever sold in the place,” including a wide variety of material, shoes, hats, books, hardware, Queensware, nails, groceries, and liquors. The store’s success prompted the brothers to establish stores in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and Rockport (Hot Spring County), possibly making the Gibson brothers the first chain store owners in Arkansas. After the establishment of his business, Gibson returned to Tennessee to marry Caroline Louisa Thomas of Nashville, Tennessee, on November 24, 1833. Six of their children lived to adulthood.

When the financial crash of 1837 forced Gibson to leave the mercantile business, he moved to Rockport, where he was appointed postmaster. Gibson moved between Rockport and Little Rock until he settled permanently in Little Rock in 1849.

Although Gibson studied law and was admitted to the bar at Clarksville, Tennessee, he abandoned legal practice because of health reasons and adopted the medical profession. While there was a school of medicine located in Nashville, Tennessee, the hometown of Gibson’s wife, there is no evidence that Gibson attended. Possibly his training was attained through an apprenticeship, which was common at the time—no matter how his training was achieved, he was recognized in Little Rock as a doctor. When he ran for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1840, the Arkansas Gazette said that Gibson “is, we believe, a physician, at any rate they call him ‘Doctor.’” Susan Fletcher, who moved to Little Rock in 1864, said that both Gibson and Dr. John J. McAlmont “practiced in my family and were known to me.”

Gibson represented Pulaski County in the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1838–1839, 1840–1841, and 1856–1857. In 1842–1843, he represented Hot Spring County. In 1844, he was Whig candidate for governor and received more than 7,000 votes, compared to Thomas S. Drew’s winning count of 8,859. President Zachary Taylor, also a Whig, appointed Gibson to the position of Surveyor General of Arkansas (1850–1853). Although he received a large number of votes, Gibson was defeated in his bid for a seat in Congress in 1865.

At the time of his death on September 28, 1866, he was seeking the office of United States senator. Both Gibson and his wife are buried in Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock.

For additional information:
Ewbank, Lynn. “‘Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief’: The History and Contributions of the Lorenzo Gibson Family.” Pulaski County Historical Review 34 (Summer 1986): 30–37.

Herndon, Dallas T. Centennial History of Arkansas. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922.

Fletcher, Mary P. “Some Little Rock Doctors and the Conditions under which They Practiced.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 2 (March 1943): 20–31.

Lynn Ewbank
Arkansas History Commission


    I am the great-grandson of two of Lorenzo Gibson’s daughters, Mary E. and Corinne L. Three cousins and I research the family. My siblings, paternal first cousins, and I are Gibson’s closest living relatives since my Uncle Frank Gibson Thibault Sr., MD, died in 1994 at the home of Frank Jr., MD, my close collaborator, named for Gibson’s son Frank Trapnall Gibson. Each of us got 1/8 to 3/32 of our genes from Lorenzo Gibson. Our Thibault grandparents were first cousins, each a child of a Lorenzo Gibson daughter.
    Although Mary P. Fletcher’s article listed in the sources says that Lorenzo Gibson was her “family physician,” the Fletchers came to Little Rock in 1864, Gibson died in 1866, and Mary was born “about 1870,” according to the census in 1930 and 1940. Her “family physician” described in the 1943 article was more likely Lorenzo’s son Lorenzo P. “Len” Gibson, MD, who became med school faculty and president of the Arkansas Medical Society. He lived in the old Gibson house at 215 Center St. in the 1880 census with the profession “Doctor.” The 1890 census was destroyed. The 1893 and 1894 city directories show him as Secretary of the State Board of Health and Physicians. He lived on 7th St. in the census of 1900 (“Physician”) and 1910 (“doctor”). The Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929, shows his death date as “29 Dec 1919.” This seems a more likely “family physician” for Mary.
    As an interesting note, Lorenzo Gibson was running for U.S. Congress in 1865 and U.S. Senate in 1866 when he died of apoplexy. He reportedly expanded from the slender young gentleman in the painting to a man needing a chair specially made to contain his capacious posterior—advanced morbid obesity in one who stood 5’2”. The admonition “Physician, heal thyself” would have been apt.

    Dr. Henry C. Thibault