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Gibbs, Sarah Elizabeth Smith (1844–1918)

Donald R. Walker Biography Entry

Sarah (Sallie) E. Gibbs, businesswoman, daughter of Thomas Jefferson and Mary Washington (Ledbetter) Smith, was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on October 18, 1844. Her family moved to Grimes County, Texas, in 1859. Shortly afterward Sallie returned to North Carolina to complete her education; she graduated as valedictorian from the Greensboro College for Young Ladies in 1861, returned to Texas after the Civil War, and, on January 30, 1866, married Sandford St. John Gibbs, a successful merchant, banker, and landowner from Huntsville. For the first years of her marriage, Sallie devoted most of her efforts and energies to the rearing of her six children. When her husband died in 1886, she was named executrix of the estate, which consisted of land, cash, and other assets, with a total value of $282,600. The cash, accounts receivable, and various warrants and bonds totaled $155,380. The land assets of just over 30,000 acres included city lots, located primarily in Huntsville, and rural areas in Walker County. In 1890 Sallie Gibbs and her eldest son, along with several other prominent persons in Huntsville, organized the Gibbs National Bank, now the First National Bank in Huntsville. She maintained effective control of two-thirds of the bank stock throughout her life and, according to bank records, was a valued source of advice and counsel during the early years of the institution.

The beginnings of her control over the Gibbs lands coincided closely with the advent of commercial lumbering in the East Texas forests. Most of her lands had dense stands of trees, and Gibbs was able to realize handsome profits from the sale of timber, especially pine, to the lumber companies. In addition, she worked out several arrangements by which she would locate and purchase timberlands and sell the pine to the lumber companies at modest, though profitable, prices, while retaining possession of the land itself, all the hardwood timber, and all the mineral rights. All told, during the years she directed the various Gibbs business interests, she increased and consolidated the real estate holdings to a total of 140,000 rural acres and all or part of eighty-five city lots in Huntsville. She retired in 1917 and left her real estate holdings as a total unit to all of her children to manage. Gibbs died in Huntsville on May 27, 1918.

Wilbourn Sandford Gibbs Papers, Gibbs Brothers and Company, Huntsville.


  • Women
  • Business

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Donald R. Walker, “Gibbs, Sarah Elizabeth Smith,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 21, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: