Eppes, Reaves, and Samuel Phips of North Carolina

Not only did Francis Eppes move to St. Kitts in the Caribbean, as noted in the last post, the St. Kitts which was so closely associated with the Phipps family, but the Eppes family was very closely related to Thomas Jefferson. No wonder Jefferson owned surveys drawn by one of the several family members named Francis Eppes: Thomas Jefferson’s mother in law was an Eppes. Numerous sources discuss the close relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the Eppes family, and various records are extant which document the relationship between the Eppes family and Thomas Jefferson.

The Eppes family was heavily involved in Goochland County, Virginia. We’ve discussed the direct web of connections involving the Eppes or Epps family, the Burton family, which intermarried with George Reaves or Reeves, father in law of Samuel “Phips” of Wilkes and Ashe Counties in North Carolina, Tandy Walker with whom John “Fips” or “Phips” of Lunenburg and Charlotte Counties in Virginia resided, and the two “Fipps” orphans who surfaced in 1742, bound to a Burton.

This web of connections makes it hard to believe that these orphans weren’t closely related in some way to Samuel Phips. They were Joseph and Benjamin Fipps, named as orphans in St. James’s Parish in 1742. Samuel appears listed much later then 1742 – in 1782 – with a Samuel, Sr. who evidently was his father. Could these orphans have been brothers of Samuel’s father, Samuel Sr.? They would have been of the right age.

Since Samuel of, eventually, Ashe County, North Carolina was born 1760-63, one would assume that his father was born, say, maybe 20-30 years earlier, or very roughly around 1730-1740. The orphans and Samuel Phips, Sr. could have easily been born around, roughly, say, maybe 1730 or so.

If they were left orphans, this might explain why so little has surfaced in terms of records suggesting family relationships. Of course, no one, it seems, was looking up into Virginia either, assuming instead that they must have come from the Orange County, North Carolina which was suggested in 1982 by John Mullins, and with still others assuming that perhaps they somehow ended up there by some unknown means from Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Again, Samuel Phipps or Phips was born about 1760 to 1763, according to his own testimony in Revolutionary War pension applications of others. His appearance in Virginia records beginning in the 1780s can be compared to that of his father in law, George Reaves or Reeves. Circumstances would suggest that the two men could possibly have had related origins or backgrounds.

Samuel Phips married Elizabeth (“Betty”) Reaves or Reeves, daughter of George Reaves or Reeves. Betty was an extremely common period nickname for Elizabeth. No record has been found, but both Samuel and Elizabeth are referred to in records as heirs of George Reeves.

Samuel died in 1854 in Ashe County, North Carolina (now Alleghany County). Samuel is distinguished from Samuel Phips, Sr., apparently his father, in the 1782 Montgomery County, Virginia militia list.

Samuel, Jr., who married Elizabeth (“Betty”) Reeves, shows up in Montgomery County, Virginia militia and tax lists in 1781 and 1782, then in various Wilkes County, North Carolina records from 1787 until the 1800 census. From then on, he consistently shows up in Ashe County, North Carolina records except where he and his wife Elizabeth are involved in adjacent Grayson County, Virginia as heirs of George Reeves.

Most genealogists over the last several decades seem to have listed Samuel’s wife Elizabeth as a daughter of George Reeves or Reaves’s undocumented marriage to one Jane Burton. They also seem, however, to tend to date Reaves’s marriage to Jane Burton as occurring AFTER the birth of Elizabeth.

Further, the 1793 Halifax County, Virginia deed which refers to George “Reaves” of Wilkes County, North Carolina as an Eppes or Epps heir would suggest that he was likely married earlier. A Mary Epps or Eppes has been claimed as a spouse.

George Reaves shows up in the 1782 Montgomery County, Virginia tax list with Samuel Phips. Reaves acquired a land grant for 600 acres on New River in Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1791. Both men, in other words, appear in Montgomery County, Virginia records and subsequently in Wilkes County, North Carolina records.

An article about George Reeves or Reaves which largely focuses on the 1793 Epps/Eppes deed provides some helpful information, but discusses him as though he “returned” to Halifax County, Virginia by 1796 after selling land in Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1794. That article then cites a personal property tax list, not real estate property tax list, for George Reaves in Halifax County.

That must have been a different George Reaves, or else he had both real estate and personal property in both locations. That’s because the close association with Samuel Phips continued beyond 1794, with George Reaves consistently showing up in records of Grayson County, Virginia.

Again, Samuel Phips and George Reaves appeared in Montgomery County, Virginia, then both in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Finally, Samuel shows up in Ashe County, North Carolina records with George Reaves in adjacent Grayson County, Virginia.

And its clear that the George Reaves who was in Grayson County, Virginia was the one who was associated earlier with Samuel Phips, because Samuel and his wife Elizabeth (Reaves) Phipps are then referred to heirs of George Reeves in Grayson County records in 1811 and 1812.

On 15 November 1811 in Grayson County, Samuel and Elizabeth Phipps and other heirs of George Reeves sold their interest in 384 acres on the west side of New River, according to Deed Book 3, p. 59. Then on 8 June 1812, according to page 89 of the same book, Samuel Phipps and wife Elizabeth and other heirs of George Reeves, Sr. conveyed 100 acres on the north side of New River to John Reeves.

As a side note, the reference to George Reeves, Sr. is interesting in that supposedly George Reeves, Sr. and George Reeves, Jr. both died in 1811.

Genealogist Eleanor Tolliver Waters was long-term friend and genealogical mentor who died in 2012. One blog noted her death by saying “The Tolliver family has lost our Matriarch.” The Phipps blog’s emphasis on contextual research – examining related and associated families instead of trying to study the Phipps family in isolation, in a vacuum – came from her. A close friend of Samuel Phipps was Jesse Toliver of Ashe County, North Carolina, and the Phipps or Phips and the Tolliver or Toliver or Taliaferro families intermarried on multiple occasions.

Mrs. Waters always emphasized the need for studying these associated families together. She emphasized the clannish association of several families, including the Phips or Phipps or Fips family, even as they moved from one location to another.

Shortly before she died in 2012, Eleanor Waters explained that, according to her research, George Reeves, Sr. and George Reeves, Jr. both died in 1811, which has led to extreme confusion. The story is that George Reeves, Jr. was killed by a Tolliver – William Tolliver.

The Reaves article cited earlier refers to George Reaves as seemingly migrating into Wilkes County, North Carolina from Halifax County, Virginia. Did Samuel Phips make a similar move?

That article also refers to the Revolutionary War pension application of one Asher Reaves. While not identifying who his father was, Ashe says that he was born in Prince William County, Virginia and enlisted in 1778 in Halifax County, Virginia.

Asher Reaves said that he lived in Halifax County before the war, according to the article, and “then” his father moved to Wilkes County, North Carolina.

Is this referring to a Reaves/Reeves migration from Halifax County, Virginia into Wilkes County, Virginia? Was his father George Reaves? And if George Reaves moved from Halifax County, Virginia to Wilkes County, North Carolina, did Samuel Phips move from Halifax County or someplace near there into Wilkes County?

It’s already been noted that Samuel Phips appears to have been related to the John Fips or Phips family which was in Lunenburg and then Charlotte Counties in Virginia, with descendants in Pittsylvania County. These are contiguous counties, with Lunenburg having been formed from Brunswick.

At the time of the Declaration of Independence, Halifax County, Virginia was situated between Charlotte and Lunenburg to the east, and Pittsylvania to the west. Halifax was close enough to Granville County, North Carolina as to make one wonder whether there could have been a connection to the Esaiah/Isaiah Phipps who was there. Apparently Halifax County, Virginia and Granville County, North Carolina were adjacent, but earlier maps, as opposed to contemporary maps, would need to be consulted.

The Reaves article assumes that because Asher Reaves mentioned in his testimony that he was born in Prince William County, that this denotes a northern Virginia origin for the family. That ignores, however, all the many records, connections, and associations, pointing back to a close Reaves, Reeves, or Rives and Eppes, Epes, and Epps association in southeastern Virginia.

It also ignores the fact that these families appear to have been in  a social circle of planters, lawyers, surveyors, merchants, and traders who had dealings with scattered locations and who sometimes owned land in multiple scattered locations simultaneously.

Looking at all of this, in addition to the many other situations that have been discussed, would suggest what appears to be a high likelihood of something like the following:

A social grouping of planters who were also lawyers, surveyors, traders, and merchants show up early, by 1621, in southeast Virginia, the Phips family among them. The Phips family becomes associated with other similar families, including the families of Burton,  Rives/Reaves/Reeves, Eppes/Epps, Walker, Fontaine, and others.

The Phips or Phipps family assumed various surname spellings and pronunciations, using a wide range of variant forms. Those forms seem to have included Phips, Fips, Fipps, Phipps, Phripp, Phipp, Phypps, and Phillips. This family had various connections with England and the Caribbean, as did their associates.

The family and associates began fanning out into various parts of Virginia, with some family members coming into Surry County, then Albemarle Parish of Sussex County, and into Brunswick County. From there, some family members began moving a bit farther west into Lunenburg, Charlotte, Halifax, and Pittsylvania Counties (situated more or less in that order, moving from east to west), with Lunenburg having been formed from part of Brunswick.

Eventually, and perhaps gradually, earlier associations and positions began to give way. Early on, the family had been clearly connected to those of very high social positions in England, in the Caribbean, and in southeast Virginia. Caribbean trade began to wane in importance. Possibly, Indian trading began to replace much of the earlier emphasis on Caribbean trade involving rum, molasses, and slaves.

Still, social connections continued at least until around the mid-18th century (roughly around 1750 or so) to show some surprising associations with some prominent Virginia attorneys, surveyors, and merchants. By the time that one reaches the family of Samuel Phipps, Jr. of Ashe County, North Carolina, fortunes may have receded tremendously.

He still appears to have been reasonably prosperous, but grandsons appear in records as specifically and directly the objects of scorn by respectful elements. By that time there appears to have been ample intermarriage with those of mixed race, some of whom may have been Melungeons or so-called Melungeons, perhaps the result of Indian trading involving both the Phips and Reaves families. Much of this was likely covered up in later family traditions which probably tried to downplay the extent of mixed race identity.

If Indian trading did occur, it might be difficult to impossible to document, since evasion of government licensing could have been a factor. That could possibly explain Samuel’s presence past the frontier at one point, where it evidently was not strictly legal for him to be living.

Because of the very close associations of family members and those of associated families in several locations, the origins of Samuel Phipps or Phips or Fips might be found in one or more of several interrelated locations:

  • In the Lunenburg, Charlotte, Halifax, Pittsylvania Counties area of Virginia, sometimes involving the Pigg River
  • In Goochland County, the Goochland County which keeps coming up over and over again as highly significant in both the Phips family and these associated families and where the orphans were found who could possibly have been brothers of Samuel’s father Samuel
  • In the area of Brunswick County and Albemarle Parish in Sussex County, from where we know that Jordan Fips/Phipps came into the same Wilkes County, North Carolina which was associated with George Reeves or Reaves and Samuel Phips or Fips

If this was your typical genealogical puzzle and your typical 18th-19th century family, we would have to say no way. There are just too many locations and too many “rabbit trails” for all of this to pertain to the same family. Typical immigrant families simply moved to location A, then lock, stock, and barrel to location B.

This wasn’t your typical family, however, and this certainly isn’t your typical genealogical puzzle. In the case of this enigmatic family, as we’ve seen over and over again, all of this appears to fit with what they were all about.

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