Benjamin Gilbert: He Who Wrestled with God (52 Ancestors #20)

Benjamin Gilbert was one of my Quaker ancestors.  As such, I’ll be including the dates as they were written in the various records.  The Quaker calendar was different before 1753.  Unless otherwise cited, all information in this post is from The Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, 1780-83 by William Walton and Frank H. Severance (1904).

Benjamin was born to Joseph and Rachel (Livezey) Gilbert in 1711.  He married, first, Sarah Mason in the sixth month, 1731, and, second, Elizabeth (Walton) Peart in 1761.

The children of Benjamin and Sarah were Rachel, Abigail, Sarah, Joseph, Benjamin, John, Sarah, Joshua, and Caleb.

U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, Abington, Montgomery, Pennsylvania,

U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, Abington, Montgomery, Pennsylvania,

The children of Benjamin and Elizabeth were Jesse, Rebecca, Abner, and Elizabeth.

In Rebecca Gilbert‘s story, I related some of the events of the Gilbert family’s capture by Indians.  Just after his release from captivity, on his way home, Benjamin died on a boat in the middle of the St. Lawrence River on the eighth day of the sixth month, 1780.  He was buried under an oak tree outside the fort at Coeur de Lac (Coteau du Lac), Canada.

From the tales told in the aforementioned book, it seems that Benjamin was a very good man.  Even so, he had some trouble with alcohol.  This trouble resulted in his being disowned by the Society of Friends twice during his life.

The first occurrence was while he lived in Richland, Pennsylvania.  He was disowned by the Society in the eleventh month, 1744/5.  They cited that he was “sometimes addicted to drinking spirituous liquors to excess.”  Being filled with remorse, he acknowledged and apologized for his behavior and was reinstated in the sixth month, 1749.

Shortly thereafter, Benjamin and his family removed to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and transferred their membership to the local Meeting.  Benjamin’s first wife, Sarah, died in the twelfth month, 1759.  This caused “irregularities” in Benjamin’s conduct that resulted in his being disowned in the sixth month, 1760.

Benjamin attempted a reconciliation with the Society in 1770, but the Friends thought it best that he remain on probation.  During this probation, Benjamin wrote and published A Discourse, showing that there can be no Salvation to that Soul who doth not know a being made perfect in this Life; A Discourse on Universal Redemption, wherein it is proved (by Scripture and Reason) that it is impossible; A Further Discourse upon Perfection and Universal Redemption; A Discourse upon what is called Original Sin; A Discourse upon Election and Reprobation; and A further Discourse on Baptism, in answer to two Sermons on Water Baptism.

In his first volume, Benjamin gives an account of his religious experience:

I was visited in the early part of my life, with the tender love of God; so that I could never get clear of that lively impression; though I often rebelled against it, and fell into practices that were destructive to body and soul to divert myself from this Divine Teacher.  And although this served my turn for a time, until the cool of the day came, and then I would hear the voice of the merciful God again, reproving me for sin:  and sometimes I have given up to it, joined with it, and took up a resolution to mend my ways by forsaking my sins, and living a more circumspect life.  And in this state I found joy and peace with God.

But for want of watchfulness I sustained loss; that is, by not taking care to keep from looking back on my former delights with a hankering mind.  So I gradually fell into my former lusts and pleasures, and went into greater extremes than before.  In this state I was like the troubled sea whose raging waves cast up mire and dirt.  In this way I continued, until I was met in a narrow lane, as Balaam was, so that I could not turn to the right hand, nor the left.  I saw that I must give up to the known will of God in my heart, or I must be shut out of his favour to all eternity.  This was a time of sore trial indeed.  Although the merciful God opened the way to heaven for me, yet it appeared afar off, and the way hard and difficult for me to walk in.  And when I looked the other way, I saw nothing but torment to be my portion forever; and that I must be hurried into it in an ignominious manner, if I did not give up to God’s will.

In this deplorable state the great and blessed God had compassion upon me, and drew the eye of my mind to himself (in the very same manner that I had beheld him in the days of my youth, and at times ever since), and gave me some ease, by refreshing my soul with His tender love, and also renewed my hopes of salvation.  In this state, I was willing to give up all – I was willing to forsake all.  I thought if the Lord would preserve me from sinning against Him, I did not care what I suffered, or where my lot was cast.  In this disposition, I found access to God, through His dear Son, my Saviour; and a blessed time it was.  I prayed to God to preserve me from sinning, and (if He pleased) to forgive all my past sins.  And I think I have not passed one day since, without feeling more or less of His Divine goodness in my soul.

Benjamin then moved, with his second wife and their children, to the wilderness near Blue Mountain, on Mahoning Creek in Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  In the fourth month, 1776, Benjamin went to visit friends and attended the monthly meeting.  He was reinstated to the Society of Friends, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also received.  At the next monthly meeting, his four children with Elizabeth were received as members of the Abington Meeting.

Frontispiece from The Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, 1780-83 by William Walton and Frank H. Severance (1904).

Frontispiece from The Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, 1780-83 by William Walton and Frank H. Severance (1904).

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