Gibson, William (1753–1838), Reformed Presbyterian minister, was born 1 July 1753 near Knockbracken, Co. Down, son of Robert Gibson, farmer, and his wife Susanna (née McWhirr). He was brought up as an orthodox presbyterian, but during his studies at Glasgow University (where he graduated MA 1775) he met William Gamble, a student studying for the covenanting ministry. This friendship, combined with a study of covenanting principles, convinced him to join the Reformed Presbyterian church, and after completing further theological training in Edinburgh he was licenced 19 May 1781. For some years he filled various temporary vacancies in the Irish reformed presbytery before he was elected (1787) minister of Milford, Co. Donegal, but, sensing that a sizeable and influential minority had not voted for him, declined the call. Instead he was ordained at Cullybackey, Co. Antrim (17 April 1787) and supplied the vacancy at Drimbolg, Co. Londonderry, until 1790. He encouraged the congregation at Cullybackey to raise sufficient funds to build a meeting house in which to worship. This was accomplished and a meeting house erected in 1789.
In the 1790s he was influenced by millenarianism and radical politics. When the second Irish reformed presbytery was formed in 1792, with only three ministers, including Gibson, it declared from the beginning its refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the non-covenanted secular government of the day. In 1796 Gibson toured Co. Antrim, preaching to large crowds and prophesying the immediate destruction of the British monarchy. He delivered six-hour sermons, always based on texts from Revelations, his favourite being ch. 18 (the fall of Babylon), inflaming many of his hearers with revolutionary fervour. It has been claimed that as a result the Reformed Presbyterian church was joined by individuals ‘distinguished by little else than hatred of the British government’ (Houston (1841), 2). As a consequence the United Irish movement made it a policy to target covenanting areas for recruitment. Although he always denied membership of the United Irishmen, Gibson refused to take an oath of allegiance at the insistence of a local magistrate and was forced to flee to America in October 1797.
He arrived (18 October 1797) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and lived there for two years as a supply minister for the small covenanting societies in Philadelphia, New York, and Vermont. He was accompanied into exile by two Reformed Presbyterian theological students, John Black and Samuel Brown Wylie (qv), and is credited with helping to establish the Reformed Presbyterian Church of America. He was one of the six ministers who constituted the Reformed Presbyterian presbytery at Philadelphia in May 1798 and was installed at Ryegate, Vermont from 10 July 1799 to 13 April 1815. While minister there he published two sermons (1802, 1803). He was moderator of the first synod of the American church in 1809 and again in 1816 and 1832. He moved to Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, 23 October 1817, retiring 27 May 1826 on the grounds of ill health. He was a supply minister at Paterson, New Jersey, and Philadelphia (May 1834–1836), and New York (1836–8), where he supplied the pulpit of his son Robert who was infirm. He died in New York 15 October 1838.
Gibson married (1788) Rebecca Mitchell of Londonderry; they had five sons and four daughters.