Gilbert Family

circa 1750 - 1867

It's not known where in Europe the Gilbert family originated from but it is an English, French and German name derived from the Norman personal name "Giselbert" which is composed of two German elements; "Gisil" which means "pledge", "hostage" or "noble youth" and "bert" meaning "bright" or "famous". According to statistics from the New York Passenger Lists, most Gilbert immigrants came from England or Great Britain. About 14% came from Ireland and 13.5% from Germany. In 1840, the majority of Gilbert families in the US lived in New York or Pennsylvania.

William Gilbert was probably born sometime in the mid-18th century and married Sarah Cowden, settling in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Cowden is an English and Scottish name which suggests William may have been from a similar background. It is unknown where either of them were born, possibly in Pennsylvania or abroad. They had two known children, both born in Pennsylvania:

  1. Charles (b. July 8, 1783)
  2. Israel (b. abt. 1790)

Israel was a successful shop owner in Chestnut Hill and later, a Justice of the Peace. He improved the neighborhood by erecting several new buildings and was considered a man of influence in the community. He was the first subscriber to the Germantown Telegraph, a newspaper started in 1831 by P.R. Freas & Co., a company founded by the Mayor who Israel was good friends with. He lived in a stone house on Main Street (now Germantown Ave) above Springfield Ave where his shop (later his office) was adjoining the house.

Charles was born on July 8, 1783 in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He married a woman named Jane Sutch (b. about 1788), the daughter of Daniel and Ann Sutch.

Jane and Charles lived in Springfield Township, Montgomery County and had eight surviving children:

  1. Daniel S. Gilbert (b. abt. 1817)
  2. Ann Sutch Gilbert (b. Nov 1822)
  3. Seth Gilbert (b. 1823)
  4. Charles Gilbert Jr. (b. December 1823)
  5. Henrietta Gilbert (b. March 9, 1826)
  6. Harrison Gilbert (b. abt. 1829)
  7. Augustus Gilbert (b. abt. 1834)
  8. Emeline Gilbert (b. abt. 1838)

This would have made Jane about 50 years old when she gave birth to Emeline. There was also an unnamed male infant born in 1836 and buried in December of the same year, having died of immaturity. Seth and Charles Jr. may have been twins since records indicate they were born the same year, though since Charles was born in December it’s also possible Seth was born early in the year and they are merely “Irish Twins” (siblings born within a year of each other).

Charles was a farmer and owned at least two different properties. The first 64 acre property he bought in 1820 from Jesse Rex for $7,710 was off Church Road between Flourtown and Oreland and became known as the Gilbert Farm although it had a few other owners before it came into Charles’ possession. This was considered a high sum for the times which means the land was very valuable. Today, the purchasing power for this amount would be $153,000 but the “prestige value” or economic status value would have been more like five million.[1] 

The second 29 acres Charles owned had been inherited from his father William upon his death in 1831. It was located further north in Fort Washington, on the corner of Susquehanna and Pinetown Roads. It was later known as the DePrefontaine Farm, after John DePrefontaine who acquired it in 1856 from Howard Cadwalader who had purchased it from Charles in 1855. Most likely, the Gilbert family’s main residence was the Church Road property since that was their first property.

In 1850, Charles’ real estate was worth $14,435, about $429,000 today or in “prestige value”, about six million. Even merely in comparison to our other ancestors from this area during this time period, it is obvious this sum is very significant and he was the wealthiest of our family tree at this time.

His sons Harrison and Augustus worked on the valuable farm with him, as well as a laborer and boarder named Charles G. Davies who was only 15 years old. At first glance, it seem he could have been the son of Jane’s sister, Sarah Sutch who married William E Davis. William had died before 1850 by which point Sarah was 60 years old, so it makes sense that Sarah might not have been able to look after their son on her own and therefore he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle. However, in Charles Gilbert’s will, he names Charles Gilbert Davis as his grandson. The two Davis’ seem to be one in the same, which is strange because Gilbert’s eldest daughter, who would have only been barely old enough to have a child at the time Davis was born around 1835, only ever married Casper Weiss in 1838 (three years after Davis was born) and Gilbert’s younger two daughters were too young to be the mother of Davis. The fact that Davis also carried the Gilbert name supports the idea of him as Charles Gilbert’s grandson so it seems possible he was the child of an unknown older daughter of Gilbert, maybe even from a previous marriage. This would make sense because Charles Gilbert and his wife Jane Sutch didn’t have their first known child until about 1817, when they would have been about 33 and 29 respectively, so there was plenty of time prior to this for them to have had previous children who names have been lost to history. However, if this is the case, Charles Gilbert makes no mention of them in his will, despite the fact that he names all his other living children by name. Of course, this could just be an indication that these unknown children were deceased by the time the will was made. Normally in that case, any grandchildren by them would be listed instead, which is exactly the case with Davis, supporting this theory. Since no other grandchildren are named, that suggests there is only one unknown child by Gilbert and she only had one child, Charles Gilbert Davis. The idea that she died prematurely is also supported by the fact that Davis is living with the Gilbert family by 1850 and through to 1860. Perhaps Davis’ father also died and he went to live with his grandparents after being orphaned. We may never be able to uncover his parent’s names since they likely died before the 1850 census, the first census to list all family members, and Davis may have died before death registration was mandatory.

In 1860, Charles Gilbert’s combined real estate and personal estate was worth $17,000, which today’s equivalent would be about $474,000 dollars, though again, its prestige value was up around six million. By this point, he was about 78 years old so it's not surprising to see Charles Davies and Augustus were still living there to help on the farm. Emeline had presumably married and moved out, as had Seth, who married a woman named Caroline Haas and had several children. Seth was a farmer living next to his cousin Curtis (son of Israel) but when he was younger, had apprenticed at his uncle Israel’s shop. Also like his uncle, he became a Justice of the Peace and was considered a man of importance in the community. Ann had married Joseph Casper Weiss and had several children as well. Harrison died on February 4, 1859, when he was only 30 years old; he does not appear to have been married. Charles Jr. was a farmer his whole life and married a woman named Elizabeth (maiden name unknown) and they had at least three children together. Daniel married a woman called Mary but her maiden name is unknown; they had five children.

There is evidence that members of the Weiss family stayed in touch with descendents of the Gilbert family. In 1903, Bessie R Weiss, the daughter of Joseph C Weiss Jr., visited her cousin Mary Ann Rorer, the daughter of Henrietta Gilbert. Bessie and Mary Ann were first cousins once removed which would make Bessie second cousins with Mary Ann’s daughter, Emma Sarah Fallows.

Henrietta is strangely missing from the 1860 census. She was not living with her parents but had not married her husband, George Rorer, until after 1861 since he can be found in the 1860 census living unmarried with his parents. Where Henrietta was living during this time is unknown. It's possible she had married someone else before George who died prematurely. This might explain why she was in her mid-thirties by the time she married George, who was six years younger than her. To read more about their life together, see the Rorer Family Chapter.

Charles died on January 6, 1861 and Jane followed him six years later in March of 1867. They had been members of the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield located in Flourtown, which was founded in 1855, and are buried there in the front graveyard. Curiously, behind their graves are four headstones with Gilbert names but no dates. They might be the names of Charles and Jane’s son Daniel, his wife Mary and two of their children, Anna and Harrison. The dates were never engraved which could be because the headstones were purchased prior to their deaths and never applied afterwards or they may have even been buried elsewhere. Only one of Charles and Jane’s children, Seth, was indeed buried at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield; he was buried in the back graveyard in a different plot from his parents but with his wife and son David.

In his will, Charles named the executors of his will as his sons Charles and Harrison. He instructed that his wife should have much or many household goods and furniture she might want, in addition to two thousands dollars. He then willed that his estate be divided up into eight even parts among seven of his children and one of his grandchildren. This suggests that Emeline was deceased by the time the will was made on April 4, 1852 since she is not mentioned within it. The fact that his will was made nine years before he died suggests that his death came suddenly and unexpectedly or he likely would have updated it soon before he died.

In a book published in 1904 titled ‘Biographical Annals of Montgomery County Pennsylvania Containing Genealogical Records of Representative Families, Including Many of the Early Settlers and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens’, the Gilbert family are described as “among the best known citizens of that section of Montgomery County”.

© Robin Bauer 2010-2013

Citations:

  1. Measuring Worth. University of Illinois, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2013. <http://www.measuringworth.com/>.

Sources:

Gilbert Photos and Documents

The gravestones of Charles Gilbert and wife Jane Sutch with the four undated headstones of their son and his wife and children in the background.

First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania where the Gilbert family were members and are buried.

Google Maps showing Susquehanna and Pinetown Roads, one of the corners at which was the property owned by first William and then his son Charles Gilbert.

Henrietta Gilbert in her old age when she was known as Mrs. George Rorer.

Israel Gilbert, son of William Gilbert and brother of Charles.