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Phelps Family History in America

Descendants of William Phelps and
George Phelps of Crewkerne, England

Origins of the Phelps Name   

From The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (Available at a 25% discount.) Two volumes. By Judge Oliver Seymour Phelps and Andrew T. Servin. (Eagle Publishing Company of Pittsfield, Mass., 1899).

As a result of the book The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, (Volume III) by Robert Charles Anderson, it is accepted by a consensus of recognized genealogical scholars that William Phelps of Massachusetts and Connecticut is NOT the William Phelps of Tewkesbury records. The book linked above is about $125 from the New England Genealogical Society. has also an CDROM version available for around $60.

Several versions exist as to the origin of the surname Phelps. One historian asserts that Phelps is a contraction and simplification of Phyllyppes, the name of an ancient English family of Staffordshire, the superfluous letters having been dropped during the reign of Edward VI (1546-1553), Phelips, Phillips, etc. meaning Son of Phillip. It is also stated that the name Philips, or Phillips, was derived from a combination of two Greek words, Philos and Hippos, meaning a lover of horses.

A high and reliable authority claims that Phelps is English for Guelph, the name of a historical family of Germany to which Queen Victoria belonged, Guelph being German for Welf, which was the name of a family of princely rank, importance and power in Italy, originally from the northern part and dating back to the 11th century, or thereabouts, becoming Phelps, in England, in the 16th. Century.

Another source supplies the information that the name is derived from the Danish word Hvalp, or Swedish Valp, meaning whelp.

From the time of Edward 1 (1272-1307), when Phelyp, Phelip, Phelips, Philip, Phelipee and Phelipston were recorded, to Queen Elizabeth's reign (1558-1603), when Phelps was first mentioned in records, court files and state papers, there were many ways used in spelling the name. From 1450 to 1550, Felpe, Felpes, Phelp, Phelpes are found in Massachusetts; Felps, in 1635 and Phelpes in 1636, in Connecticut. Burke says, Phyllyppi was the source. The Montacute, England, family, anciently called Phellyppee, later Phellips, is now, Phelips."

However it may be, the Phelps family, with its name definitely established as such since 1560, has many distinguished scions to its credit.

In the burying-ground beside the old Tewkesbury Abbey Church, Gloucestershire, England, founded by the Mercian Princes, Dukes Odo and Dodo, two Noble Saxon brothers who flourished at the commencement of the 8th. Century, lie interred some of the Phelps ancestors; others lie in the cemetery of Dursley, in Gloucestershire; in Porlock, Somersetshire; in Staffordshire, and in almost all of the shires of old England.

John Phelps, in 1649 was joint-clerk of the Court that tried and condemned to death King Charles I, having such zeal as to sign each record with his full name.To escape the terrible penalty imposed on the regicides for their act, John Phelps became an exile in Vevery, Canton de Vaud, Switzerland, where he died. In the ancient church of St. Martin, in Vevery, a black marble monument, inscribed to the memory of John Phelps, exiled in the cause of human freedom, was erected in 1882 by two American descendants of the same English Phelps family of Tewkesbury.

Inscribed on a big bell in St. Paul's Church steeple, London, is the name of Richard Phelps, Whitechapel, London, A.D., 1710.

James Phelps, born about 1520, supposedly at Nether Tyne, Staffordshire, is said to be the brother of Francis Phyllyppe, both probably sons of Richard Phyllyppe of that place--referred to in 1588, after his death, as late of Tewkesbury. James Phelps married Joan, born about 1542, around the year 1559. They resided in Tewksbury, Gloucestershire, where James died about 1588. Joan was given permission to administer his estate, May 10, 1588, by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. They had nine children and their oldest son William is my ancestor. Their sixth child, Edward is the ancestor of William Phelps of Vevery, Switzerland (1877).

William was baptized in Tewksbury on August 4, 1560, and married Dorothy (born about 1563) around the year 1586. William and Dorothy had eight children before William died about 1611. Dorothy and William's brother, Nicholas, administered his estate when he died. When Dorothy died prior to May 31, 1613, Nicholas was commissioned to administer William's estate during the minority of William Jr.

In 1590, according to Church records, William was graunted a Lenten license to eat fleshe because sieke, with the privilege to terminate when he recovered. In 1607, William served as the Bailiff of Tewksbury.

William Jr. was born between 1597 - 1599 and was baptized at Tewkesbury Abbey Church, Gloucestershire, England, on August 19, 1599. In about 1619 he married his first wife, Elizabeth. William and Elizabeth's first child, Richard, was baptized at Tewksbury Abbey around 1619, and soon thereafter, they probably removed to one of the southern counties (probably Soberest or Dorchester) as there is no further record of them or their children in Tewksbury.

William, Elizabeth, their six children, and his brother, George, aboard the ship Mary and John, became the first of the Phelps immigrants to the New World, landing in Massachusetts on May 30, 1630, being with an organized church company, and becoming the first settlers and founders of Dorchester, which claims the distinction of being the first town in Massachusetts Colony to organize a town government. They became original members of Reverend Warham's church, organized March 19, 1630, at Plymouth England, the day before embarkation.

William Phelps took an active and prominent part in town matters. On October 19, 1630, he applied for admission to the Colony as a freeman, and was admitted early in 1631. On September 27 of that year, he was made Constable or Dorchester, an important office in those days.

The following November 9, he was a jury member of the first jury trial in New England. He was also on many committees; to see about raising a public stock; to view the grounds at Mt. Wollaston for the enlargement of Boston; to draw a plan there and report to the next General Court; to arrange the bounds between Boston and Dorchester and explain what each town wants; to arrange bounds between Boston and Roxbury; to set out the bounds between Wessaguscus and Barecove. On the aforementioned Boston-Dorchester bounds committee, William Felps and Ensign Gibbs were appointed.

He was a Select-man in 1634 and 1635, a Deputy in 1634, and the same year one of the three Delegates to the General Court held in Newtown, now Charlestown.

His wife, Elizabeth, died in 1635. On May 2 of that year, the first- born, Richard, referred to as seventeen years old, embarked for Barbados Island. No further record of him is available.

With sixty members of the church, William's brother George went with the Rev. Warham, in the first migration to Windsor, CT, a two-weeks journey, in the fall of 1635.

In the spring of 1636, William, with his children, departed for Windsor, becoming a founder of that town. There, as in Dorchester, he was an active and honored citizen; was one of eight commissioners appointed by the Colony of Massachusetts Bay to govern the Colony of Connecticut; was one of six who formed the first Court, or general meeting, of Windsor in 1636; and was foreman of the first Grand Jury in Connecticut.

In 1636 he married Mary Dover, whom was born in England about 1603. Mary had originally come to Massachusetts on the same ship and William and his family. Together, they had two children.

At a court held May 1, 1637, William Phelps presiding, it was ordered that there shall be an offensive war against the Requota, in which war he served.

He was a Magistrate for 23 years, between the years of 1636 and 1662. He was a member of Council, in 1637. In 1641, he and Mr. Welles, of Hartford, were a committee on lying - considered a grievous fault. That same year, he served as Governor of the Windsor Colony. He was also one of the earliest Governor's Assistants and Representative from 1645 to 1657.

He purchased land from Sehat, an Indian sachem, of Windsor, for four overcoats and he sold some of his land at 12 pence per acre. Not being able to prove title and payment, he paid a second time, the legal tender being wampum.

His dwelling was on a road running northerly, a short distance north of the Mill River Valley; and he was among those who suffered from the Great Flood, in 1639. Soon after, he removed further south and settled on what is known as Phelps' Meadows. His residence was about three-quarters of a mile northwest of Broad Street on the road to Poquonock, the place owned, in 1859, by Deacon Roger Phelps. The cellar of the old house may still be seen. His son, William, lived a short distance east and Nathaniel, for a while, dwelt opposite.

William Phelps was a man of property, as shown by the high pew rent he paid. He subscribed, also, to the fund for the poor; an excellent, upright, prosperous man in public and private life, he was truly a pillar of both church and state.

Forty-two years of his life were spent in the New England of the New World; six in Dorchester, and thirty-six in Windsor.

His last will and testament, in fact, a Settlement Deed for his son Timothy's marriage with Mary, daughter of Edward Griswold, was dated the 22nd day of April, anno dom., 1660. It was entered on the Windsor, Connecticut register, July 26, 1672, and signed by Matthew Grant, Register.

William died in his 73rd year, on July 14, 1672, and was buried the following day.

Deacon Nathaniel Phelps was born in England about 1627. He married Mrs. Elizabeth (Eliza) Copley (born between 1620 and 1623) on September 17, 1650, in Windsor, CT. Mrs. Copley was married first to Thomas Copley, by whom she had at least two children.

Nathaniel came to New England with his parents and their five other children, at the age of three, residing in Dorchester six years and then in Windsor where he grew to manhood and purchased, of his brother, Samuel, the Orton place opposite his father's for his own occupation.

About 1654, he made claim to a division of land in Northampton and shortly removed to the new settlement, with his wife and several children being among the earliest arrivals, although he paid slip rent in Windsor as late as Jan. 4, 1659.

Nathaniel was a pious man, of good intellect and sound discriminating judgment. He was chosen Constable, being the first person in Northampton actually elected to that important office, according to records available, serving after Robert Bartlett had officiated in that capacity.

He signed the petition for a Minister and with his wife, signed the church covenant; served as tithing-man and was one of the first deacons, honored and respected by his fellow-men.

With others, he contributed land for disposal for town needs and made a subscription to Harvard College, in 1673-1673.

Deacon Nathaniel, his sons, Nathaniel, Jr. and William, were admitted as freemen, by the General Court at Boston, May 11, 1681, after having taken the Oath of Allegiance before Major Pynchon, on Feb. 8, 1679.

His wife, with several young women, was fined for indulging in vain and extravagant display.

In 1675 and 1676, King Philip's war was waged; and, from 1688 to 1698, the first French and Indian War was carried on, during the reign of the Monarchs, William and Mary. Nathaniel, with the other pioneers, had to participate in the common defense against their enemies, especially in their desperate defense of Northampton, during the attack by Philip's men, March 14, 1676.

The homestead, granted to him, was where the Parochial School is. His son, Nathaniel, Jr., had a grant west of it and together they owned a strip of land bordering on Park street, from Knightbrook to Prospect Streets.

He occupied his homestead forty-three years, and his descendants dwelt on the farm until 1835. It comprised the land that became the site of Miss Margaret Dwight's School, later the college institute of J. J. Dudley, now Shady Lawn. The old homestead stood a few rods north of the present structure.

Deacon Nathaniel Phelps died in Northampton, MA on May 27, 1702, at 75 years of age. His wife, Eliza, also died in Northampton on Dec. 6, 1712. Their youngest daughter, Abigail lived 101 years, four months and 11 days.

William Phelps was born in Northampton, MA on June 22, 1657. On May 30, 1678, he married Abigail Stebbins, and they parented 11 children, all of whom were born in Northampton. William was admitted as freeman, May 11, 1690, at the same time as his father and his older brother, Nathaniel, Jr. King William's and Queen Anne's wars, in his lifetime, claimed the services of the colonists. He had to assist in the defense of Northampton from Philip's men, in 1677. William resided in Northampton and occupied the old homestead until his death at 88 years of age in 1745. He wife, Abigail was also born in Northampton in 1666, and died there in 1748.

Captain William Phelps, Jr. was born about 1684 and married Thankful Edwards around 1706/7. He resided in Northampton all his lifetime. He participated in the French and Indian Wars; Queen Anne's, wages from 1704 to 1713, and later conflicts. His brother, Lieutenant Nathaniel Jr. was also one of the Northampton men who served. They, among others, received, each, a portion of an additional grant of land in Northampton. Captain William, at an advanced age, served as a member of the important Committee of Safety in the Revolutionary War. Captain William and Thankful had twelve children, two of whom died in infancy.

Reverend Elnathan Phelps was born about 1734 in Northampton, MA. In 1757 he arried his second cousin, Eleanor Bridgman, the granddaughter of Nathaniel Phelps, Jr., the brother of Elnathan's grandfather, William. Elnathan, at the age of 21 years, served in the Fourth French and Indian War, in 1755, from September 15 to December 10, in the company by Captain William Lyman and was wounded in the sanguinary engagement. In the Revolutionary War, he served as a private in Captain John Strong's Company, Colonel John Brown's (Berkshire Co.), regiment; entered service June 30, 1777; discharged July 26, 1777; service 26 days, in northern department; also, list of men who marched from Pittsfield to Port Ann, June 30, 1777, under the command of Captain John Strong, and were dismissed July 26, 1777; service 3 weeks, 5 days; also, Lieutenant James Hubbard's Co., Lieutenant Colonel David Rossiter's detachment of militia; entered service, August 17; discharged August 22, 1777; service 4 days, Company marched on an alarm at Bennington, VT. His name is on the Honor Rolls of the U.S., D.A.R.

Reverend Phelps was a Baptist preacher and organizer of churches in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York.

In 1761, after his brother, William, settled there, and after the births of their first two children, Elnathan and Eleanor moved to Pittsfield, MA where seven more children were born and where Eleanor died, on or shortly after, May 2, 1774, when the ninth child Eleanor Phelps, was born. He, William, and six others, one of whom, also, was a Phelps, were the founders of the First Church of Pittsfield, September 7, 1764, referred to in the Pittsfield records in 1781. He served on a committee of five to examine into the sect of Shakers who were exceeding the bounds of Baptist toleration. Soon thereafter, he began preaching and, at the same time, organizing Baptist churches. In 1776, he married Mrs. Sarah Elenthorp, widow of Jacob, who was born in Boston in 1743. They had three children, all of whom where born in Pittsfield, MA.

In 1788, he removed to Orwell, VT and was the first Baptist preacher in that state. He was also the organizer of several congregations in various parts of Vermont, and at least one in New York state. Elnathan died in 1813, aged 79 years, at Pownal, VT, while on his way to Pittsfield, MA, to visit a son residing there. Grandmother Eleanor Phelps was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in May 1774, and moved to Orwell early in life with her father, Rev. Elnathan Phelps.

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