John Meshack Phipps: Nauvoo Lot Owner, Outlaw, Early Indiana Business Partner

A very recent post discussed ownership of town lots in the Mormon enclave of Nauvoo in the 1840s by John Meshack Phipps and his twin brother Eli Shadrack Phipps. They were not Mormon, but were evidently using Nauvoo as a hideout while they were involved with an outlaw gang with their Long relatives. This is the subject of an entire book, Banditti of the Prairies, by Edward Bonney, published in various editions beginning around 1850.

As noted earlier, the deeds (as abstracted) refer to “M. Phipps” and to “Shadrach Phipps.” The evidence would suggest, as already noted, that this “M.” would be “Meshack” (“Meshach”), or John Meshack Phipps. (The “Shadrack” of course referred to his twin brother Eli Shadrack Phipps.)

The identification of this “M.” as Meshack, as he was usually called in those days, is bolstered by the following document (below), from the Owen County, Indiana court. That record refers to Meshack clearly as “M. Phipps.”

Even around the time that the two men owned the Nauvoo lots in the 1840s in Hancock County, Illinois, they were essentially Owen County, Indiana residents. Bonney’s book discusses the outlaw gang’s extensive travels up and down the Mississippi River as they committed robberies and attempted to evade capture.

The following record refers to John Meshack Phipps, who the record calls “Meshach,” as being in business in the town of Freedom in that county with his brother David. Together, they called themselves “David Phipps & Brother,” according to the record.

All three of these men – John Meshack Phipps, Eli Shadrack Phipps, and David Phipps – were sons of Jesse Phipps and his wife Jane (“Jennie”) Spurlin. Jesse was a son of Samuel Phipps and his wife Elizabeth (“Betty”) Reeves of Ashe County, North Carolina.

Their brother David, with whom “Shack” was in business at Freedom in 1840, was born about 1816 in Virginia. (John Meshack and Eli Shadrack were born in 1812 in Virginia.)

David married Nancy E. Randleman 15 Nov 1834 in Owen County, Indiana, and he appears in the 1843 Owen County tax list in both Franklin and Washington Townships. David also is listed in the 1850 census in Owen County.

Then, however, David Phipps appears in voluminous records in Putnam County, Missouri, regarding debts and other issues, from at least 1854 on. His father Jesse Phipps moved there as well around the same time, about 1853 to 1854. This was likely because of mounting pressure placed on the family because of Bonney’s book.

David remarried to Lucy Oglesmire about 1857, but appears to be the David Phipps living in Jackson County, Oregon in the 1870 census. He appears to have died 4 Jan 1877 in Jacksonville, Jackson County, Oregon.

Time and space are insufficient to even begin discussing David’s business partner and brother John Meshack Phipps. In brief, he and his twin brother were born 14 Feb 1812.

Various locations have been given for their place of birth, but John Meshack himself told a newspaper reporter that he was born 14 Feb 1812 at Abington, Russell County, Virginia. He told the Washington Times (he was the subject of numerous newspaper articles) that he moved to Indiana in 1830, although his father does not appear to have moved there until 1833 or 34.

His family was among the first 25 to settle in Iowa. He died there 10 Dec 1916 at the age of 104. He was a vegetarian who walked around barefoot in the snow and took cold showers every day. His twin brother Eli Shadrack Phipps didn’t live to be as old, reaching the end of his life in Feb 1911 at the age of only 99. Various colorful news articles refer to him in his adventures out west, and a number of interesting stories could be told about his brother as well.

Here, then, is the record that refers to John Meshack Phipps as “M. Phipps,” as in the Nauvoo town lot deed, and that refers to him as being in business with his brother David in Freedom. A number of records connect the family with Freedom on the White River in Owen County.

Owen County, Indiana Civil Court Records Book 3:

“[p. 232:]
James Anderson Jr. &
John W. Anderson,
vs.                              In Debt.
David Phipps, & Meshach Phipps
Be it remembered that heretofore to wit at the September Term of our said circuit court in the year 1840, Come the plaintiffs [i.e. Anderson and Anderson] by George G. D[arm?] their attorney and present and file a warrant of attorney executed by said Defendants [i.e. David and Meshach Phipps] To William D. Farley Esqr. authorizing & empowering said Farley to appear in this court in behalf of said Defendants and to waive the service of process and the filing of a declaration and to confess a Judgement in favor of said plaintiffs against said defendants for the full amount due upon the note to said warrant of attorney attached with costs of suit. And comes also the said William D. Farley and by virtue of said warrant of attorney waives the service of process and the filing of a declaration herein and confesses a judgement in favor of said plaintiffs [i.e. Anderson and Anderson] against said Defendants [i.e. Phipps and Phipps] for the sum of Two hundred and fifty dollars and sixty nine cents Debt and the further sum of Six Dollars and fifty cents in damages with costs of suit, and the said Power of Attorney is in the following words and figures to wit: “State of Indiana, Owen County ss. Owen circuit court September Term 1840, James Anderson, Jr. and John W. Anderson, vs. David Phipps & Meshack [or Meshach?] Phipps, Debt. We David Phipps, and Meshach Phipps, of Owen county, in The State of Indiana, do by these presents desire and authorise William D. Farley, an attorney at law of the Owen circuit court, in said state to appear for us in and before said court at any term thereof hereafter and then and there confess a judgement for us for the full amount then due on the note hereto attached, which is in the following words and figures, to wit: “$250.69 Louisville October 29, 1839, Six Months after date. We David Phipps and Meshach Phipps, Partners trading under the firm of David Phipps, & Brother, in the Town of Freedom, County of Owen & State of Indiana promise to pay to James Anderson Jr. & John W. Anderson partners trading the firm of J. & J. W. Anderson, or [or on?] order, Two hundred and Fifty Dollars 64/100 for value received, without defalcation or discount, David Phipps, and brother, together with costs of suit in favor of the said James Anderson Jr. and John W. Anderson. we [sic] hereby release all errors that may happen in the premises and waive the filing [of] a declaration & issuing process herein, and do by these presents ratify and confirm wherein the said Farley may lawfully do or cause to be done in the premises Given under our hands and seals this 1st day of September A. D. 1840. David Phipps (seal) M. Phipps. (seal)” It is therefore considered by the court that the said plaintiffs recover of said defendants the said sum of Two hundred and [p. 233:] Fifty dollars and sixty nine cents, in Debt and the further sum of six Dollars, and fifty cents, in damages, making together the sum of Two hundred and Fifty seven dollars, and nineteen cents, together with their costs, & charges by them in this behalf laid out and expended, taxed at [blank] Dollars, and [blank] cents. And the Defendant [i.e. Phipps and Phipps] in mercy &c.
And now the said plaintiffs [i.e. Anderson and Anderson], by their said attorney come & suggest to the court that said Judgement is subject to a credit of ninety three dollars and sixty two cents.”

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