Biography of Hon. James Alexander Gibson

Hon. James Alexander Gibson, a member of the Supreme Court Commission of the State of California, was born August 21, 1852, in the city of Boston, and is a worthy representative of the best mental product of the Athens of America, and an honor to the bar of Southern California. His father, Thomas Gibson, was of Scotch-Irish descent, and a machinist by trade. He left his native land when a youth to accept a clerkship with his uncle at St. John, New Brunswick, then a prominent merchant there, where he remained for some time before coming to the United States. His wife, Judge Gibson’s mother, was born of English-Irish parents, in Ireland.

When the war of the Rebellion broke out his father responded to the call of his adopted country, and was assigned to General N. P. Banks’ command, and during the disastrous Red River expedition was mortally wounded. The subject of this memoir was thrown upon his own resources at an early age, and his school advantages were limited to the common schools of Massachusetts. But, born with a dominant thirst for knowledge, the lack of educational opportunities only served to stimulate the boy’s insatiable appetite for learning, and he eagerly devoured the contents of every accessible book on literary and scientific subjects, especially works upon astronomy and navigation. He started to learn the printer’s trade in the office from which William Lloyd Garrison and Senator Sergeant of California graduated; but having reached the romantic period of youth, and possessing a longing desire to become a navigator and explorer, the monotony of the composing-room became unendurable to the adventure loving youth, and he left the office before completing the trade. A natural fondness for study and for intellectual pursuits gave the active, ambitious young mind also a bent toward the legal profession; and while struggling with the problem whether to choose a seafaring life, with an innate longing to wrest from nature her secrets in unknown seas and lands, or strive for forensic and judicial honors, older heads, friends of his father, interposed and advised him to learn a trade and study mechanical engineering and thus master a tangible and permanent business. Yielding to their counsel young Gibson sought and obtained a position with the Walworth Manufacturing Company, one of the largest firms in New England, and remained with them until He became an expert mechanical draughtsman, and also a practical mechanic at the lathe.

However, on reaching mature years and thought, he decided to enter the profession of law and shaped his studies to that end. First crossing the continent to California he located in Colton, San Bernardino County, and studied in the office of Mr. William Gregory, formerly from the city of Philadelphia, now a prominent member of the bar at Portland, Oregon. In June 1879, Mr. Gibson was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in San Bernardino as a partner with Major H. S. Gregory. He subsequently formed a law partnership with Hon. Byron Waters, and still later with Hon. John L. Campbell, present Superior Judge.

In 1884 he was elected on the Republican ticket to the Superior Bench of San Bernardino County, and filled that office with distinguished ability for over four years, until he resigned to accept the judicial position of Supreme Court Commissioner, to which he was appointed by the Supreme Court on May 16, 1889, for the term of four years. Though perhaps the youngest man to occupy so exalted a judicial position in the history of the State, Judge Gibson has already fully demonstrated his eminent fitness in both natural and acquired qualifications for the high office. Being a zealous student and an indefatigable worker, lie has compensated by personal effort for the lack of a university education. In addition to his extraordinary legal attainments he is also a fine literary scholar and gentleman of broad general culture. He is of a philosophical type of mind, and his written opinions are lucid and logical analyses of the questions at issue, dealing with the philosophy and equity of the law in its applications to the cases under adjudication rather than with superficial interpretations or technicalities. His citations from the books are limited to a few well-selected cases that are plainly analogous to the one under consideration. In addition to these high mental qualities, Judge Gibson possesses an inherent love of justice, forming a combination which admirably adapts him for most successful labor on the bench. He has also served efficiently in the National Guard of California as Major and Assistant Adjutant-General and as Engineer Officer on the First Brigade staff.

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In 1882 Judge Gibson united in wedlock with Miss Sarah Waterman, of Colton, a native of Missouri, born near St. Joseph, in which city her father, now of Arizona, was formerly a prominent merchant. Mrs. Gibson was educated at the Western Female Seminary at Oxford, Ohio, and was a model of her sex. She was ever a living inspiration to her fond husband, encouraging him. at every step in his rising and honorable career by her wifely devotion and stimulating words of love. She suffered for a year with bronchitis, and in spite of every effort human knowledge and medical skill could devise to stay its progress, on December 2, 1889, she passed away, buoyed with the Christian’s hope that she entertained from her youth, leaving her sorrowing husband and two bright, lovely children, Mary W., aged seven years, and James A. Gibson, five years of age, both of whom were born in the county of San Bernardino. Thus was the measure of their domestic bliss ruthlessly cut short in the noontide of its realization by the untimely removal of the noble wife and mother.



The Lewis Publishing Company. An Illustrated History of Southern California embracing the counties of San Diego San Bernardino Los Angeles and Orange and the peninsula of lower California. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. 1890.

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