Since we know that some Phipps, Phips, Fipps, Fips, etc. individuals went by Phelps or Felps, would it make sense to reconsider the Phelps family of Wilkes County, North Carolina. Could they have been Fips, Phips, etc., even though they were also known as Felts?
Today, some think it’s odd that one man might spell his name Isgrig while a close relative – perhaps his own brother – might spell that same name Isgrigg. Or they may be baffled as to why one Hoelzel would place stress on the second syllable of the name, while another would emphasize the first syllable.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, however, (1) spellings appeared to be much more fluid, (2) many people could not read and write, and (3) people didn’t necessarily care how their name was spelled. Could the Phelps AKA Felts family of Wilkes County, North Carolina have been a part of the Fips, Phips, etc. family?
Wilkes County is the same county in which Samuel Phips, Jr., Samuel Phips, Sr., and Mathew Phips were living in the late 18th century. A William Felts is said to have been born in 1767 and to have married Susannah Oliver. He was supposedly the father of Elizabeth, Issom (Isom), Aaron, Nancy, Elijah, George, Daniel, and Susannah.
Aaron, presumably the same one, appears in the 1782 tax list in Wilkes County, according to a published abstract, as “Aron Felts.” Then he appears from 1784 to 1790 as Aaron “Phelps.”
Earlier, “Accquilla Phelps” appears in the 1759 tax list of Rowan County, North Carolina, with “Aventon Felps” listed there in 1761. This “Aventon” has been seen in records with various spellings which suggest that the name was actually Abington or Abingdon. Of course, this immediately brings to mind the southeast Pennsylvania Quaker connection. (See also here.)
One must notice the very Phipps-like names appearing in Wilkes County in the Phelps/Felts family: Aaron, John, William, James – even a Jesse. They interacted with the Cook family.
- Lewellyn Phipps is supposed to have married Clare Cloe Cook, daughter of Clary (Payne) Cook who was born about 1762 and who resided in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
- In 1767, John Phips of Charlotte County, Virginia sold land on the Pigg River in Halifax County, Virginia to William Cook.
- Capt. James Cook sailed with Capt. Constantine John Phipps of England, with apparent Virginia connections, in his 1773 attempt to reach the North Pole.
- In 1786, Matthew Fips of Wilkes County lost land to Thomas Cook. He is likely the Mathew/Matthew who later shows up in Surry County, North Carolina, perhaps because this land was deeded to Cook in 1788.
- An 1822 Surry County, North Carolina case pitted Elizabeth (Fips) Witcher, daughter of John Fips of Lunenburg and Charlotte Counties in Virginia, against David Cook.
The Phelps/Felts family appears to have been in Rowan County before appearing in Wilkes County records. According to B.F. Nuckolls, borrowing from A.B. Cox writing in 1900,
Benjamin Phipps came from Rowan county, N. C.; settled on Bridle Creek; his brother, Isaiah, and the Hash family, came also about the same time. Benjamin Phipps married Miss Jane Hash, an excellent, good woman; she lived to be nearly one hundred years old; lived to see her children and grandchildren to the fourth generation.
Earlier, Cox had written that,
Benjamin Phipps came from Rowan County, N.C., settled on Bridle Creek. His brother Isaiah came about the same time, as did also the Hash family. Benjamin Phipps married Miss Jane Hash, an excellent good woman. She lived to be near 100 years old; lived to see her children and grandchildren to the fourth generation.
The Samuel Phips family of Wilkes and later Ashe County appears to have clearly originated from southeast Virginia. We should not rule out the possibility, however, of some sort of Virginia and Pennsylvania interaction involving different segments of the Fips, Phips, Phipps, etc. family. That seems especially true considering the family’s extremely highly mobile nature, coupled with their adventurous maritime and merchant orientation.
From what we know of this unique family, we could also say that it’s not only possible, but probable, that transatlantic voyages occasionally involved interaction between “Phipps” individuals in America and their relatives in England. In fact, we’ve found clear evidence that this was probably the case.
We should not rule out the possibility of a Phips or Phipps who remained in England having sons in two or more colonies – a factor which could have skewed genealogical claims even back into past centuries. Factors like that are not necessarily accounted for using conventional genealogical methods, not even today.
A deed in Anson County, North Carolina dated 12 February 1753 has Michael Miers selling land in Anson County to “Aventon Phelps.” Of course, Aventon can easily be surmised to be yet another spelling of Abington or Abingdon or whatever was intended.
This Aventon Phelps was a blacksmith, and the land in question was 357 acres on the Yadkin above the mouth of Reedy Creek. This, according to a published abstract, appears in Rowan County Deed Book 1, on pages 75 to 79.
Today, Anson County is in southern North Carolina, but the northern part of Anson became Rowan in 1753. In 1762 the western part of Anson became Mecklenburg. We’ve discussed Isaac Phips, also referred to as Fibbs, of Mecklenburg and Cabarrus Counties, who died in 1791.
Accuilla Phelps, as already noted, appears in Rowan County in 1759, and Aventon Felps in Rowan County in 1761. Understandably, both of these given names (what used to be called Christian names) took a variety of spellings. Additionally, a 1768 Rowan County tax list shows both John and Thomas Felps.
We’ve noted how the Jones name, although obviously common, has cropped up an unusually large number of times when researching the Phips family of southern Virginia and northern North Carolina. The Rowan County will of Samuel Jones, dated 6 April 1775, refers to Elizabeth, wife of William Felps, according to an abstract (Book A, page 202).
Then, in Book C, on page 317, appears the will of Thomas Felps, dated 4 April 1794. One of his sons was named Abbinton.
Regarding the Aaron Phelps mentioned earlier, an earlier Aaron Felts is said to have been born about 1737 and he was supposedly an “English Episcopal.” All that means is that he was a member of the Church of England, as appears to have been various Fips or Phips individuals of southern Virginia prior to the Revolution.
The story (and this is recounted in one of Mrs. W.O. Absher books on Wilkes County) is that this Aaron Felts was kidnapped at age 15 and forced to serve in the British Army. Supposedly he was so cruelly treated by the Army that once he ended up in America, he sided with Washington and served under him during the Revolution.
That story says that he married Mollie Collier about 1760. The marriage of Mollie’s parents, William Collier and Rebecca Rothchild, was supposedly scandalous because he was of the Church of England while she was Jewish. This is said to have resulted in Aaron and Mollie becoming disowned by their own parents, prompting their emigration to America.
The later William Felts who was born in 1767 and who lived in Wilkes County married a woman named Susannah Oliver. Supposedly her parents were Elijah and Susannah (Sharpe) Oliver, but one must pause a moment and wonder whether an old story about the Toliver could possibly fit here.
A very close connection existed between Jesse Toliver of Wilkes County, on the one hand, and Samuel Phips, Jr. of the same county, on the other. A persistent story which appears to have applied to multiple generations claims that a Toliver morphed into an Oliver.
The excellent Cheek Family of Alleghany County, North Carolina website refers to DNA evidence which suggests that descendants of this Jesse Toliver – with his descendants involved in intermarriages with descendants of Samuel Phips – genetically match supposed descendants of a certain Lancelot Oliver from Ulster, Ireland.
Samuel Phips testified on behalf of Jesse Toliver’s Revolutionary War pension claim, and Samuel’s grandson Mathew married one of Jesse’s descendants. As the Cheek site notes,
This evidence strongly suggests that there was an Oliver-Toliver name change, which may explain why so many researchers have hit a brick wall trying to connect Jesse Toliver and his brothers with the known Toliver/Taliaferro families in Virginia.
Why a name change, and why Ireland? We’ve noted earlier the Fibbs AKA Phipps etc. family in Ireland, along with supposed efforts by the British to eradicate the memory of this “warlike clan.” At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, we could say based on family stories and, actually, on a mounting collection of evidence, that it appears highly likely that the Fips, Phibbs, Phipps, Phips, etc. family had something to hide.
Here are some odd facts and claims – some more supported than others. Again, some of these are only claims, and might not be accurate. What, however, do they spell out or suggest?
- Close association with a family which changed its name from Toliver to Oliver (or from Oliver to Toliver?)
- A branch known as Phips but also as “Phrip” (another name change?) which appears likely associated with a family which definitely changed its name from Taylor to Tayloe and a family which apparently changed its name from Walker to Walke
- An apparent growing reclusiveness and a mysterious side to the family, as they retreated from Virginia high society to the mountains of Appalachia
- A story about a fight resulting in the death of someone of prominence in England
- A claim that “The Phibbs clan joined with the English in the 1066 war and gained their nobility. Later when Ireland was fighting for their freedom, the Phibbs Clan sided with Ireland and nearly all records of Phibbs have been destroyed for they hated the Phibbs clan for the betrayal.”
- Various stories and accounts of radical changes in financial and social status: It’s like a broken record, with legends about Sir William Phips and published accounts of the Phipps family which supposedly raised itself into nobility status by their own actions
No prior genealogists, evidently, have ever wanted to take this sort of thing seriously and to tackle this difficult and puzzling area. Prior genealogists haven’t want to face the reality that genealogy isn’t all just a matter of so-and-so marrying so-and-so and living “prominent” and predictable lives. Genealogists have not wanted to accept the reality of variant spellings – and understandably so, because that opens up a huge can of worms involving vast numbers of potential records which may or may not pertain.
But does a secret lie buried in records that acknowledge these aspects of the buried past? Perhaps it’s a bit like something that Brent Kennedy once said. Kennedy is a direct descendant of Samuel Phips of Wilkes and later Ashe County, and is the author of The Melungeons. In the video documentary Melungeon Voices, in a totally different context, he said something like, “It’s like hearing a cry from the grave, and then having to decide whether or not to answer it.”