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Harold N. Gibbs Papers, 1940-1954

Biographical note

Born in Barrington, RI on October 31, 1886, Harold Nelson Gibbs grew to love the outdoors. An accomplished hunter and fisherman, Gibbs created a written record of the northern RI wildlife found in the early 20th century. A graduate of Barrington High School, Gibbs was employed as a fur trapper for the William M. Harris Company. He also worked as a commercial fisherman before being hired by the Warren Oyster Company as a watchman for the Nayatt and Warwick oyster beds (See Folder # 27). Possessing an inquisitive mind, Gibbs decided to study oysters. He combined scientific observation techniques and in depth research to learn more about the creatures he was protecting. An organized individual, Gibbs' recorded his findings and illustrated his notes (See folders # 16-21). Gibbs also spoke with J. Richards Nelson, head of Warren Oyster Company, who introduced Gibbs to his brother, Dr. Thurlow C. Nelson, a Rutgers University professor and expert on shellfish. These two brothers aided Gibbs in his independent study of marine biology. Turning his fishing boat, the Bahama, into a floating laboratory, Gibbs continued to pursue his scientific studies (See Folder # 10). His intelligence, enthusiasm, and meticulous record keeping not only earned him the nickname "Captain," but also led to Gibbs being widely acknowledged and respected as an expert in marine life. Gibbs' correspondence shows the great respect many individuals had for the Captain. One letter from J. Richards Nelson, President of a Long Island Oyster Company, indicates a research grant given to Gibbs by Nelson for the purpose of investigating methods of raising clams (See Folder #16). V.L. Loosanoff, Director of the Biological Laboratory for the The United States Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, contacted Gibbs to request the latter's help in replenishing the laboratory's supply of research clams (See Folder # 16).

Gibbs spent seven years as RI Administrator of Fish and Game, and, during his tenure, advocated for pollution legislation. Through his position and avid research, Gibbs viewed the devastating result pollution wreaked upon RI’s marine life. He worked tirelessly to educate others, help formulate clean water legislation, and convince RI taxpayers to approve a five million dollar bond for sewage treatment projects (See Folder # 26). Gibbs' advocacy resulted in water pollution legislation being passed during his term as RI Administrator of Fish and Game (See Folder # 29).

As a self-taught scientist, political activist and accomplished artist, Harold N. Gibbs' interests were many. Hours spent on the sea were filled with hard work and study, but Gibbs also found time to teach himself woodcarving. Seeking to represent what he saw, Gibbs intricately carved and painted beautiful renditions of waterfowl. These birds adorn many private collections. A sports fisherman, Gibbs was one of the first individuals to use hand-tied flies for striped bass and, fishermen today still use the Gibbs Striper Fly.

Harold N. Gibbs died in August of 1970. URI Special Collections celebrates the spirit of Captain Gibbs, outdoorsman, environmental advocate, and artist.