“An interesting story is told of another Anderson man of long ago,” says Louise Ayer Vandiver in her 1928 book Traditions and History of Anderson County [SC]. “He was Walter M. Gibson, and lived near Sandy Springs. He was an adventurer, and it is said was once prime minister of the Sandwich Islands.
“Being banished during a revolution, he went to one of the South Sea islands, where he always claimed he was made King, but after a time was banished from there, too. Later he was imprisoned by the Dutch for attempting to investigate a revolution in Java. He said that he managed to escape, and found his way to America, finally drifting up country until he reached Pendleton district, and there he settled down to spend the remainder of his days in peace and quiet.”
Gibson’s wife, Rachel Margaret Lewis, is indeed buried in Anderson County, but if Louise Vandiver had taken the time to actually visit the tombstone, she would have seen this inscription:
“Rachel Margaret Lewis, b.06-17-1818, d.05-14-1844, h. walter m. gibson; walter was born in brighton england in 1823/ died in san francisco in 1888/ embalmed in alcohol until 1904 when his remains were carried to the hawaiian islands where he had served as prime minister/ cremated and the ashes scattered.”
Gibson did spend a portion of his young life in Anderson County before moving on to his high adventures elsewhere. Mary Laurence Hanley & O.A. Bushnell pick up the early years in Pilgrimage and Exile: Mother Marianne of Molokai:
“Gibson’s earlier past, we can suspect, was more imagined than real. As he disclosed it, his story is a fabrication of contrived obscurities, attested accomplishments, and—alas!—of documented embarrassments. He told so many tales about himself—partly to confuse opponents, partly to beguile admirers, and mostly to protect his privacy—that separating fact from fancy has provided a game for historians ever since.
“He claimed that he was born aboard a ship at sea, during a perilous storm, and naturally, of parents most noble. For reasons he never made quite clear, the infant babe, a changeling child, was brought up by a farm family in England. Perhaps he told the truth, perhaps he preferred to believe the pleasing delusion—which, after all, is a necessary component in legends about all the world’s great heroes.
“More than likely, however, as diligent biographers have stated, in truth he was the infant born to a farm family in Northumberland, who was baptized Walter Murray Gibson in the village church at Kearsley on March 9, 1822.
“During the early 1830s the Gibson family migrated to North America. They settle first in Montreal and then in 1837 moved to New York City. When he was fifteen Walter left home, to make his fortune.
“In South Carolina he met Rachel Lewis. If his account can be trusted, she was the daughter of a prosperous planter, ‘a fair gentle girl of my own age…We rambled hand in hand to gather wild grapes and muscadine, then we would rest…at the foot of some great tree, and talk of our…fancies; and then without any thought as to mutual tastes, character, or fitness…but listening only to the music of our young voices, to the alluring notes of surrounding nature, and having only our young faces to admire—we loved; and long ere I was a man, we were married.’
“So did the man Gibson, at the age of thirty-three, limn the portrait of the tender and innocent youth he wanted the world to see. In fact, as researchers have discovered, Rachel was several years older than he.”
“Six years after that precipitated marriage Rachel died, leaving Walter a widower with three children. He never married again—but whether he stayed unwed out of enduring inconsolable sorrow or out of sheerest relief at being a free man once more, is a question he was too subtle ever to answer.
“Boredom, if not grief, drove him from that southern home. Entrusting his children to Rachel’s kin, he returned to New York City.”
sources: Pilgrimage and Exile: Mother Marianne of Molokai, by Mary Laurence Hanley, O. A. Bushnell, University of Hawaii Press, 1991
Traditions and History of Anderson County, by Louise Ayer Vandiver, Ruralist Press, 1928