Matthew Phripp of Norfolk

Matthew Phripp of Norfolk is the subject of a biography in the second volume of Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. One would expect that biography to suggest that he was absolutely unwavering in his stance on the side of the Revolution, and that he was absolutely innocent of charges against him in that regard. Even here, however, in this brief summary of his life, it’s clear that he was ambivalent in terms of his loyalties.

Some evidence would suggest that he likely had strongly Tory sentiments at least at some point, and this comes through a bit in the biography. From this and other sources, it would seem that, eventually, however, because of the close alliance between American government and business, he was recast as a “patriot.”

This man usually appears in records as Matthew “Phripp,” but sometimes as Phipp, Phips, or Fipps. He was clearly related to a John Phripp, Sr. and Jr., and a Capt. Samuel Phripp, also in the Norfolk area. Some little hints that we’ve discussed previously would suggest that he could possibly have had connections to both Massachusetts and Maryland, as well as possible connections to the Phipps/Harris family group which seems to have descended from John Phips, the early Jamestown surveyor.

From Tyler, ed., Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2 (the “Fathers of the Revolution” volume), New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1915, p. 358. Paragraph breaks have been added for readability.

Phripp, Matthew, of Norfolk, Virginia, was a merchant, and at the outset an active supporter of the revolutionary cause. He was twice elected chairman of the Norfolk committee of safety, and was also colonel of the militia there.

When Lord Dunmore landed armed men and seized the press of the Norfolk newspaper, Phripp took up arms and made an endeavor to organize a force for resistance, but had little support from the people, and afterwards he would not act as colonel. He would not aid Dunmore in any way, but as he was liable to imprisonment and seizure of his considerable property, he took the oath of allegiance to the British king and left Norfolk, and but returned later at the urgent of his aged and inform father.

When the Virginia forces occupied Norfolk, Col. Woodford sent Phripp to Williamsburg for examination before the convention, but there was delay, and on December 19, 1775, Phripp petitioned that body, asking for a speedy hearing, and [the] convention ordered him to be held in confinement in his room in Williamsburg. Later that body adopted a resolution exonerating him from all blame and released him.

He was a prominent Free Mason, past master of St. John’s Lodge, at Norfolk, and acted as president of a Masonic convention held in Williamsburg in 1777.


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