John Phelps: Father of Samuel Phips?

There’s more to add to the last post. For one thing, it should be noted that Albemarle County came out of Goochland County, and that Buckingham County came out of Albemarle County. We’ll come back to that shortly.

For another thing, the last post (and other recent posts) noted the probability of Phips or Fips or Phipps records lying buried under an unexpected spelling variation. It appears that one (and a major one) might possibly have been found. And the two issues – Buckingham County and a spelling variation – appear to overlap.

Various web pages posted by genealogists refer to a Phelps or Felps family with some uncanny similarities to the Phips, Phipps, Fips, etc. family. Great progress has made the last few months by discarding more conventional genealogical techniques and focusing on associated families. This approach has proved useful for three reasons:

(1) This isn’t your typical family. More typical genealogical research assumes a much less mobile family. Wild, sudden connections back and forth between England and Virginia, or between Virginia and the Caribbean, or among various North Carolina and Virginia counties, is not the norm among other families, but it certainly is with this one. (2) Looking at associated families has provided clues as to places and sources where research might prove fruitful. (3) Looking at associated families, and applying rough guesstimates as to probability, may be the only way to ever get past the surname variation brick wall. If a family isn’t “Phipps” per se, but was associated with the same associated families, lived in some of the same places, and shared very similar circumstances, then there just might be high likelihood that the family really is “Phipps” (or Phripp, or Fipps, or Fips, or Phips, or Phibbs, or…)

Captain (and this designation is a factor which should ring a bell by now, if by that we mean sea captain) John Phelps is supposed to have been born in 1772 in Bedford County. This is a county which was formed in 1753 from parts of Lunenburg County, a county we’ve discussed on numerous occasions.

There was evidently another John Phelps who died in Goochland County in 1747. Genealogists have noted that both were associated with the same Baber family. One genealogist notes that they “were neighbors both in Goochland in Bedford . . . . ” It’s been suggested that these two individuals named John Phelps might have been father and son.

Some of the strongest evidence that this Phelps family might have been a Fips/Phips family comes from some of the surnames most noticeably associated with this Phelps family, those being Cocke, Coleman, and Barnes. Those are names we’ve discussed of late regarding the Fips, Phips, etc. family.

In addition – and this seems potentially even more compelling – there was a direct connection to someone named John Pleasants. We’ve discussed this very name in a very recent post (yesterday). It is presumably because of a connection to John Pleasants that the Burton family named one of its own members John Pleasants Burton. This is the individual who came into Ashe County, North Carolina, and then moved to Lawrence County, Indiana, as did some of Samuel Phips’s descendants, plus, evidently, descendants of John Fips of Lunenburg and Charlotte Counties, Virginia.

The Phelps or Felps family also had direct dealings with the Cocke family, a name which has surfaced repeatedly in our recent research. The Cocke family with whom they dealt had direct and close involvement with the Pleasants family. The name has come up in association with Poythress, epps, and Phips/Phripp etc. families.

They also had dealings with the Coleman family, which is another name which has surfaced in our recent research. The Coleman name has surfaced in connection with the 1786 Frederick Ford will in nearby Amelia County.

We discussed Burwell and Solomon Coleman, the Amelia County Minuteman, with direct involvement with Frederick Ford’s estate. Frederick Ford’s will, you will recall, was witnessed by John and Tabitha Phipps.

There was also a 1785 deed from Solomon Coleman to John Phipps. Another record from Amelia County, dated 1786, associates Burwell Coleman and John Neill, both of whom were associated with Frederick Ford, with John “Phillips,” likely a spelling variation (or simply a misspelling) for Phipps or Phips. (We could say much more about this, but you get the gist.)

Of course, any recurrence of names, especially if they’re common surnames, could just be a matter of coincidence. But when a composite of several surnames, especially surnames that are more unusual, are combined with the right places and the right time periods, at some point the scales are tipped in the direction of probability.

You can be the judge as to the likelihood of this Phelps family being the same family as the “Phips” (or similar) family. There’s no point in wasting time on a wild goose chase.

Some DNA data regarding the Phelps family is available, but whether it matches that of the Fips or Phips family or whether it doesn’t, of course one has to trust the (usually) unseen pedigree of the individual claiming to be descended from a particular Phelps. In addition, in any family it’s possible for two men to be raised as brothers in the same household and to think of themselves as blood brothers and, still, to have disparate DNA.

The 1747 will of John Phelps, Sr. in Goochland County (the Fipps orphans were bound there in 1742) refers specifically to John Pleasants, as well as his son John Phelps, Jr. He also mentions his grandchildren John, Mary, and Sarah.

More fully, that 1747 will names Margaret, wife of John Helps, sons John, Samuel and William, and grandchildren John, Mary, and Sarah.

An additional Dorothy Learwood is mentioned, but not identified as to her relationship. The Learwoods were closely associated with the Stovalls, and a Stovall lived next door to a Harris (that name yet again) in Amelis County, but nothing about the Learwoods seems definite. The Stovall name has come up before, and recently, but where?

The will was witnessed by a Barnes, and we’ve discussed the Barnes connection.

Is there any possibility that the Samuel Phelps named in the 1747 will could have been the so-far elusive Samuel Phips, Sr., apparently the father of Samuel Phips who died in 1854 in Ashe County, North Carolina? The two (Samuel Jr. and Samuel Sr.) are listed together in the 1780s in Montgomery County, Virginia, but the older man has never been located in earlier records. Could this be him?

Again, let it be emphasized that we don’t know for sure if this is a variant of the same surname at all.

One Phelps/Felps page refers to some major early trends. John of Goochland (d. 1747), it is noted, appears in what’s now Cumberland Co. Again, Cumberland came out of Goochland. Later it’s noted, “One can follow his sons William and Samuel into Lunenburg records.”

Then reference is made to John Phelps of Bedford County (again, formed from Lunenburg), who first appeared in Henrico County records. This is the county from which Goochland County sprang. He sold land to Thomas Phelps, Sr.

The same page notes that “His area of Bedford was first Brunswick Co. at his arrival and then became Lunenburg from 1746-1754.” This should immediately ring a bell if you’ve been following this blog. We’ve referred to both Lunenburg and Brunswick, especially Brunswick, on countless occasions.

In connection with this family, genealogists also refer to a William Phelps, who died in 1749 in Albemarle County, and a Thomas Phelps of Albemarle County. Albemarle County was created in 1744 from part of Goochland County.

Regarding Buckingham County, which again came out of Albemarle which came out of Goochland, we’ve noted in the past that a Judith Pendleton was supposedly born there in 1751. She married a John Harris.

Of course, we’ve noted a number of Harris connections, beginning with the work of John Phips and William Harris as Virginia surveyors in Jamestown in 1621. Another Pendleton in the same county, James Pendleton, supposedly born the same year, is supposed to have married Mary Ann Phipps, daughter of Robert Phipps, in 1771.

In addition, in Buckingham County in 1804, a Jones Phipps was supposedly mentioned in a surveyor’s plat book. As was noted in an earlier post, a discussion forum post says that this Jones Phipps may have also been known as PHELPS.

We don’t know, at this point, if this Phelps family was the same as the Phips or Fips or Phipps etc. family. Whether researching this family would be worthwhile might be based on probability. Let’s consider the following circumstantial evidence:

  • One of the individuals named John Phelps was “Capt.” John Phelps, which might indicate a maritime connection, as has been the case with various Phips individuals, as well as members of associated families
  • Some of the Phelps family were in Caswell County, North Carolina, Rowan County, North Carolina, Goochland County, Virginia, Buckingham County, Virginia, and Grayson County, Virginia, Halifax County, Virginia, Brunswick County, Virginia, and Lunenburg County, Virginia – all places that we’ve associated with the Phipps or Fips etc. family
  • A John Felps lived in Cumberland County, Virginia (formed from Goochland County) and moved to Lunenburg County in 1755; this is where John Fips or Phips shows up before he did in 1768 in Charlotte County
  • Some of the family were slaveholders, as were the Fips or Phips family
  • They were associated with John Pleasants, and a Burton closely related to the Phips family was John Pleasants Burton
  • They were associated with the Barnes family as was the Phips/Fips family
  • They were associated with the Cocke family, a name which has come up repeatedly in recent Fips or Phipps research, and the Cocke family married into the Pleasants family
  • A John Phelps was an Anglican vestryman in Lunenburg County, as were Fips or Phips associates
  • There’s even yet another indirect Thomas Jefferson connection: John Phelps of Lunenburg County appears to have served as a burgess with Peter Jefferson, who would become the father of Thomas Jefferson with, again, George Washington somewhat distantly but still definitely in the background through association

For more information:


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