William Gilbert, of Scotch-Irish (Ulster-Scot) heritage, came to America and settled first in Philadelphia, where he met and married Sarah McCanless, who was born there in 1737. They traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, from Philadelphia and then came to Old Tryon County.
In 1777 and 1778, he was assessor of taxes and, in 1778, collector of taxes. Mr. Gilbert held the office of justice of the peace in Old Tryon County, taking his seat in July, 1778. In 1779, he represented Tryon in the North Carolina House of Commons.
On February 8th, 1779, he was forced to resign his commission as justice of the peace on the charge of duplicating his vouchers as commissary of militia of Tryon County. His guilt or innocence can never be known. Despite the charge, when Rutherford County was formed from Old Tryon, Gilbert represented the new county in the North Carolina House of Commons. He was selected in 1779, 1780, 1782, and 1783.
Gilbert was appointed justice of the peace for Rutherford County in 1781. At the October, 1781, term of the Rutherford County Court, he was chosen chairman of the court. The court vindicated him of the legislative charge of duplicating his vouchers by an order in October 1781, reading "On motion of William Gilbert, Esq., and testimony produced to the satisfaction of the court, it is ordered that the opinion of the court be entered on the records, to-wit: It is the opinion of the court that the said William Gilbert is not guilty of the charge laid against to the General Assembly, and we do certify that the said William Gilbert never plundered, nor was guilty of plundering, to our knowledge."
Gilbert was charged with treason, because Ferguson used the Gilbert home as his headquarters. Lyman Draper in his definitive history, King's Mountain and Its Heroes, on page 159, states Gilbert "was a Loyal friend of King George." In 1897, Flournoy Rivers wrote in a Nashville newspaper that "Draper seemed to have presumed that Gilbert was a Loyalist simply because Major Ferguson camped at Gilbert Town, as though an invading army would ever quarter on a friend while in an enemy's country. As a fact, the Assembly was then sitting at Hillsborough and Gilbert, being the county's representative in the House of Commons, was most likely absent there, and Ferguson, in his absence, most probably quartered on [Gilbert] as an object lesson by way of making treason odious, as it were."
North Carolina records indicate that on October 25th, 1775, Gilbert and others, including the Committee of Safety, signed the "Association Oath," expressing profound regret that "his Brittannic Majesty had been so ill-advised as to encroach on the undoubted rights of the colonists as Englishmen, with the firmly expressed intention of sustaining both the Continental and Provincial Congresses."
Despite his successful defense of the charges of treason, Gilbert continued to have legal problems after the war, being engaged in numerous lawsuits, and eventually lost his property. In 1786, 1787, and a portion of 1788, he lived in Charleston, South Carolina. He later returned to Gilbert Town to live at the home of his son-in-law, James Holland, where he died in 1790. He was buried on Ferguson's Hill above Gilbert Town.
Gilbert's wife, Sarah McCanless Gilbert, lived until 1822. She went with the James Holland family in 1790 to Maury County, Tennessee, and is buried at Holland's Ford on the Duck River.
James Holland married Gilbert's daughter Sarah. He represented Rutherford County in the North Carolina House of Commons and the Senate. He was elected to the first board of trustees of the University of North Carolina.
(Nancy Ellen Ferguson)