Slaves, Surveyors, Indian Traders, and Polar Bears

A number of Phipps references appear in an article titled “Freemasons and the Royal Society.” This includes an annotated list of Freemasons who were also Fellows of the Royal Society.

Mentioned is Joseph Banks, who sailed to Labrador and Newfoundland with his friend Constantine John Phipps in 1766. Phipps is remembered as the first European to describe the polar bear and the ivory gull. He wrote about both in his book A Voyage Towards the North Pole, which he wrote in 1774 about his attempt to reach the North Pole the year before.

Henrietta Maria Phipps, born 1757 and daughter of Constantine Phipps, is mentioned as the first wife of Charles Dillon. She was the sister of Augustus Phipps.

Augustus Phipps, 1762-1826, is a barrister who is discussed as a son of Constantine Phipps, the first Baron Mulgrave of New Ross.

By the way, Constantine John Phipps (1744-92) of the North Pole voyage has been mentioned here in the past as the godfather of Betty Tayloe Corbin, born in 1764, daughter of Gawin Corbin. Another of her godfathers was Robert Tucker.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, Tucker had a brother in law who was a Corbin – Richard Corbin. Robert Tucker was a godfather of Betty Tayloe Corbin, daughter of Gawin Corbin. Another godfather was Constantine John Phipps.

Betty’s middle name came from the Tayloes – a fabulously wealthy Virginia family which may likely connect to the “Taylors” who were so extremely close to Matthew “Phripp.” The Tayloes may have been THE wealthiest family in Virginia, simultaneously owning plantations in multiple parts of Virginia.

Gawin Corbin was born in 1740 in Laneville, Virginia. This was apparently the Laneville which today is in Tucker County, West Virginia, in the northeast part of the state.

Corbin then sailed from Virginia to England, where he was educated at Cambridge and where he also studied under a certain Mr. Harris at Essex. Note that John Phips, the surveyor who arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1621, came with a HARRIS (also a surveyor) who was FROM ESSEX.

On 6 August 1761, Gawin Corbin left England and returned to Virginia, where he became an established part of Middlesex County, Virginia society. He served in the House of Burgesses, was on the Council, and married Joanna Tucker. She was a daughter of Robert Tucker of Norfolk.

This Tucker appears to be the same one who is discussed in the Black Loyalist site (see below), a website which has been mentioned before. He was a MARINER, a Norfolk County political figure, a major SLAVEHOLDER, and one heavily involved in the CARIBBEAN TRADE.

Col. Robert Tucker married Joanna Corbin, his daughter married a member of the Taylor family which was extremely close to Matthew Phripp of Norfolk, and another daughter married a member of the Bowdoin family. Phripp was in a business partnership with a Bowdoin.

Constantine John Phipps, who was Betty Tayloe Corbin’s godfather along with Robert Tucker, was likely the “Captain Fibbs” who was mentioned in a journal as visiting Philip Vickers Fithian, who was a friend of the Tayloes and the Corbins. Constantine John Phipps had a nephew who became governor of Jamaica.

Matthew “Phripp,” also known as Phipp, Phips, and Fipps, was a Norfolk sea captain, a major merchant, and a slaveholder, and was a close associate of Col. Robert Tucker.

One of the slaves of Phripp took on the Tucker name and was referred to as “James Tucker, 55 years, almost worn out . . . Formerly slave to Capt. [M.] Fipps, Norfolk, Virginia” (see “Rebel Against Rebel,” below). This Capt. Fipps would appear to have been the same Matthew “Phripp” whose slave Emanuel gained his freedom from Phripp/Fipps between 1774 and 1778.

John “Phripp” of Norfolk was one of four ship owners with ships licensed in Williamsburg and who imported black slaves into the Norfolk and Williamsburg area from Barbados, Jamaica, and Anguilla. One of the other owners was a member of the Hutchings family, which was very closely involved with Matthew Phripp.

All of this seems to suggest a likely family relationship among the following:

  • John Phips, the surveyor who arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1621
  • Constantine John Phipps, who tried to reach the North Pole
  • Matthew Phripp/Phipp/Phips/Fipps of Norfolk, Virginia
  • John Phripp, the Williamsburg/Norfolk sea captain who imported blacks from the Caribbean

Some factors that have hindered past research on the family:

  • The assumption that radical surname spelling variations signify different families
  • The assumption that people at the highest strata of European society couldn’t possibly be one’s ancestors
  • The assumption that some of the most noted outlaws of the early half of the 19th century, with some mixed race connections, could not have descended from upper class British society
  • The assumption that one family could not possibly have been in such far-flung locations at once (including England, the Caribbean, and Virginia)

The third factor might possibly stem from close association with a group of Virginia/North Carolina Indian traders who were said to be largely of mixed race and of outlaw tendencies (not that the two are necessarily related, certainly). Although no proof of such involvement has been identified as of yet, circumstantial evidence suggests this as a real possibility. See, for example, the article on James Logan Colbert, below.

A surname which figures prominently in that article is that of Turbeville or Turberfield or Turbavell, etc. This is a surname which has enjoyed a wide range of spelling variations. Other names that appear are Reeves, Long, and Poythress. These are all names we’ve discussed at length in previous posts as associated with the Phipps or Fips etc. family. In particular, we’ve zeroed in on the Poythress and Reeves (also Rives, Ryves, and Reaves, etc.) families in very recent posts.

We also discussed in a recent post the possibility of Phipps/Fips involvement in the Indian trading endeavors which took settlers from the Roanoke River area down into South Carolina and the vicinity of Sandy Bluff on a temporary but recurring basis.

The Turbeville/Turberfield etc. surname is especially of interest in this context. The Betty Tayloe Corbin we discussed above married a “Turberville.” We also have a Phipps who married a “Turbefield” in Brunswick County, Virginia.

The possibility of an Indian trading connection would make sense. It would even seem predictable, especially when connection to lucrative East Coast trade involving the Caribbean began to wane, and when even some Phipps relatives – by the 1830s at least, as with Constantine John Phipps’s nephew – began to push for the eradication of the slave trade.

It might also explain why a wife of George Reeves, father in law of Samuel Phipps of Ashe County, North Carolina, would reportedly refer to herself as a “Portuguese Indian.”

For more, see:


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