Robert M. Gibson was born in Taylorstown, Washington County, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 1828. His parents were Robert MacDowell and Sallie Wishart Gibson, both born in Pennsylvania. Gibson was educated at Watrings Academy in or near Taylorstown. As a young adult, Gibson taught school in Washington County and Illinois and worked in a Washington County attorney’s office, and then became an attorney himself without having attended college or law school.
Robert Gibson and his wife Eliza were married in the 1850’s. Eliza Gibson had been born in Pennsylvania to parents who were natives of Pennsylvania.
Robert Gibson practiced law in Washington County between 1853 and 1868, when he moved to the Pittsburgh area, opening an office at 103 Fifth Avenue in what is now Downtown Pittsburgh. Gibson and his family rented a home at Wilson and Liberty Streets in Pitt Township (now 32nd Street and Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Strip District) in 1868 and 1869. In September 1869, Robert Gibson bought a lot containing two houses at the southwestern corner of Beech Street (now Beech Avenue) and Freemont Street (later Grant Street, now Galveston Avenue) for $18,000. Gibson and his family began living in one of the houses, then known as 148 Grant Street.
The 1870 manuscript census enumerated Robert Gibson and his family at 148 Grant Street. The census reported that Robert Gibson, 41, was an attorney and that Eliza Gibson, 34, kept house. In 1870, the Gibsons had six children: John, 11, Sallie, 11, Lucy, nine, Amanda, five, Robert Jr., five and Barnett L., one.
The 1870 manuscript census, the last census to provide information on assets of persons enumerated, reported that Robert Gibson owned real estate worth $25,000 and had a personal estate of $2,000.
One servant lived with the Gibson family at 148 Grant Street in 1870: Mary Snyder, 21, who had been born in Pennsylvania.
In 1870, Robert Gibson formed a partnership, Weir & Gibson, attorneys, with H.W. Weir of Bidwell and Sheffield Streets in Manchester. The firm was located at 100 Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh. Robert Gibson and his family lived at 148 Grant Street until 1875, when the Gibsons moved to their newly built home at 81 Beech Street.
The 1880 manuscript census enumerated the Gibson family and their servants at 81 Beech Street. Five of Robert and Eliza Gibson’s children lived at home in 1880: Sallie, 20, Lena, 18, Amanda, 15, Robert Jr., 14 and Barnett L., 12.
Four servants lived with the Wilson family at 81 Beech Street in 1880. Amanda Holmes, 47, was an African-American woman who had been born in Virginia to parents born in Virginia. Amanda Holmes was reported to be married, but not living with her husband. Her sons Silas, 15, and Burnett, 11, both born in Texas, were also servants of the Gibson family. Sarah Thompson, 40, was a white woman who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania. Like Amanda Holmes, Sarah Thompson was married but not living with her husband.
The census also reported that Amanda and Burnett Holmes were not able to read or write, and that Silas and Burnett Holmes did not attend school.
Robert M. Gibson died at home at 81 Beech Avenue at age 54 on November 26, 1882. His death was attributed to lung disease and overwork. Within a few months after Gibson’s death, Wilson Beall of Wellsburg, West Virginia,
instituted foreclosure proceedings against Gibson’s widow Eliza.
Eliza Gibson was listed as the widow of Robert Gibson and living at 81 Beech Avenue in the 1883 Pittsburgh city directory. She was not listed in subsequent directories, indicating that she and her children had left the Pittsburgh area.