Phelps Equals Phips, Especially in Lunenburg Co., VA?

In reference to the last couple posts, it should be noted that there appears to be a vast amount of information on the Phelps or Felps family or families. Of that data, probably the majority appear to consist of simply records involving people named Phelps or Felps, with no recognizable associated surnames and no clear reason to connect them with the Phips or Fips or Phipps family.

Some of those records do, however, contain enough similarities to Phips or Fips or Phipps records in terms of such factors as place designations, time periods, and associated surnames, that further investigation might be warranted. Again, it’s a matter of probability: If enough of such factors coalesce, it might be a worthwhile research pursuit.

One factor that seems immediately apparent is that, like the Phipps, Fips, Phips family, some of the Phelps, Felps family were highly geographically mobile. Another factor is that they lived in many of the same places.

In addition to the places listed in the last post, we could add additional places, such as Jamestown, Virginia, Charlotte County, Virginia, Charles City County, Virginia, Rowan County, North Carolina, and Orange County, North Carolina.

We could also add Barbados, Jamaica, and other points in the Caribbean. There was even one, a Thomas Phelps, who was a sea captain sailing between Bristol, England, where Sir William Phips was supposedly from, to Barbados.

Not only did some of the Phelps, Felps family live in some of the same places, but some of them followed similar or related migration trails. Some of the Phelps, Felps family, for instance, appear to have left Goochland County, Virginia and to have come into the Lunenburg County area.

Another factor is associated surnames, surnames that have appeared in connection with the Phipps, Phips, Fips family either directly or indirectly or both. One might think that indirect associations don’t matter. Certainly they could be coincidence, but if enough of the same ones recur repeatedly enough, it eventually suggests likelihood of a connection, based on the laws of probability.

The Cocke family comes up in association with the Poythress and Eppes families we’ve discussed as having either direct or indirect involvement with the Phips or Fips family. The Cocke family was also involved and intermarried with the Pleasants family, which we’ve also discussed in recent posts, associated through the Burton family. These names come up in Phelps/Felps records discussed below.

Another family that was unnoticed, at first, in connection with the Phips, Fips, etc. family in southeast and south-central Virginia is the Jones family. An American cliche is that Smith and Jones are the most common surnames. It was only after it was realized that the Jones surname had popped up countless times in research, that it was realized that there might be some specific significance to this name in association with the Fips or Phips family. The Jones name shows up in connection with the Phelps, Felps family as well.

The Coleman family has also been noted in connection with some of the Phelps, Felps family as well as the Phipps or Phips family. We’ve noted direct Coleman connections involving the Phipps association with the estate of Frederick Ford in Amelia County, Virginia. We’ve also noted direct Coleman connections involving the Phipps or Phips family which also tie in Warren County, North Carolina. Warren, you’ll remember, was created from the now-extinct county of Bute, where we found records of a Joseph Fipps of Brunswick County, Virginia.

Other associated names as discussed in prior posts include Walker (as in Tandy Walker, directly associated with John Fips or Phips in Lunenburg County, Virginia) and Neal/Neil (involved in the Frederick Ford estate in Amelia County, Virginia in association with the Fips or Phipps family). The Barnes family appears in Charlotte County, Virginia records in connection with the estate of John Fips, who died there in 1768. These are also names that have been associated with the Phelps or Felps family.

Certainly it would have made it easier if all “Phipps” ancestors would have adhered to “Phipps” (or some other) spelling variation, and if they would have had more of a tendency to stay put. That wasn’t the way it was, however. Prior research seems to have been greatly hindered by several factors: (1) adherence to groundless genealogical claims, (2) reluctance to believe that distant families could connect, and (3) refusal to consider such spelling variations as Phelps or Phillips or Phripp.

It may be the last of these factors, in particular, which has absolutely precluded this research mystery to be finally cracked. Certainly taking Phelps and Phillips (or Felps and Philips) records into account adds to the work and, until it’s sorted out, it may also add to the confusion.

But that’s the situation, as it is. To wish it wasn’t that way is to probably cause the mystery to remain a mystery.

Certainly not all Phelps, Felps records pertain to the same family as Phipps, Phips, Fips, etc. Some of them could, however, and it appears likely that some of them do.

The idea that Phipps could be Phelps could be Phripp could be Fips, etc., etc., is probably foreign to most modern people’s thinking, but such surname variations were not at all foreign to people of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Apparently they just didn’t care, and many of them couldn’t spell anyway. It was a time when some adults didn’t even know when, exactly, they were born (or where). We don’t like that, because it makes research more difficult, but it was a fact of life.

Even in more modern times, such factors still come up. A “Bernhard” family which came from Switzerland to Illinois in the mid-19th century, for example, quickly took on the spelling “Bernhart,” before settling on “Bernhardt.”

A son who moved to Ohio, however, was always known in Ohio records as “Benhardt.” No one knows why. From 1900 until his death in 1930, he was consistently known in Ohio records as “Benhardt.” He maintained close relatives with his parents and siblings in Missouri and Illinois who called themselves “Bernhardt.”

Here are a few records to consider. This information, for the most part, is unconfirmed and comes from abstracts and secondary sources. These are just a few examples. Again, these MIGHT have been of the same family as Fips/Phips:

  • 5 Feb 1732, Goochland Co., VA | Deed from John Felps of St. James Parish to James Cocke of Henrico County. (Note the Cocke surname as well as the Goochland location.)
  • 17 June 1735, Goochland Co., VA | Deed (apparently Goochland) involving James Nevill of Goochland, witnessed by George Carrington, Joseph Hooper and John Phelps. (Note the Carrington surname. Paul Carrington’s name appears multiple times in records of the estate of the John Fips who died in 1768 in Charlotte County. Note the Hooper surname. The 1749 Amelia County tax list shows John Phips living with Nathaniel “Harolson,” presumably the Nathaniel Harrelson who had a Hooper as a bondsman or witness when he married in 1821. A Hooper was also involved with a Cocke in a 1746 Goochland County record.)
  • 2 Nov 174[1?], Goochland Co., VA | Deed from John Phelps and wife Mary to Robert Baber of Caroline County; witnesses included William Cockerham. (Note the Cockerham surname and something of a connection from Goochland to Caroline. The Cockerhams were directly and prominently involved earlier with the orphan John Phips, son of Elizabeth Harris, in Surry County, Virginia.)
  • 27 July 1744, Brunswick Co., VA | Deed from James Johnston of Brunswick County to John Mead of the same, witnessed by (among others) John Phelps and Robert Baber. The Baber connection shows that this Phelps was likely related to the Phelps family of Goochland County. (Note the Brunswick location, with apparent connection to Goochland.)
  • 5 May 1745, Lunenburg Co., VA | The county was formed, and those who took the oath of justice of the peace included Cornelius Cargill and John “Phelps.” John Fips appears with Tandy Walker in Lunenburg County tax lists in 1748 and 1750; when Tandy Walker Sr. died in 1750 or 1751, his widow remarried in 1751 to Cornelius Cargill.
  • Before 1747, Goochland Co., VA | William Phelps was married to Nancy Nail, said to be a variant spelling of Neal or Neil. (Note the Neil, Neal surname, as well as the Goochland location.)
  • Feb 1747, Goochland Co., VA | Will of John Phelps mentions land next to John Pleasants, witnessed by James Barnes. (Note the Pleasants and Barnes surnames, as well as the Goochland location.)
  • 6 June 1748, Lunenburg Co., VA | Road ordered from John Phelps’s Mill, with “the said” John Phelps appointed surveyor “from his Mill” to “the fforks” of Seneca. (Note yet another mill and yet another surveyor appointment; a similar order but in Amelia County, dated 1751, had John Phips work on a road near “his mill.”)
  • 5 June 1749, Lunenburg Co., VA | Several men were sworn as justices of the peace. These included names associated with the Fips, Phips family in Lunenburg: David Stokes, Cornelius Cargill, Thomas Bolling, Liddal Bacon, Peter Fontaine (John Fips or Phips was listed with the latter in a Lunenburg tax list). Also listed is “John Phelps.”
  • Oct 1749, Lunenburg Co., VA | Several men were elected as vestrymen for Cumberland Parish. These included names associated with the Fips family in Lunenburg: Peter Fontaine, Jr., Clement Read. Also listed is “John Phelps.”
  • 1 July 1760, Lunenburg Co., VA | Deed from William Phelps of Cumberland Parish, Lunenburg County to John Jeffries of the same, witnessed by William Jones and Samuel Phelps and Christopher Coleman. (Note the Jones and Coleman surnames as well as the Lunenburg location.)
  • 17 Jan 1763, Cumberland Co., VA | Deed from Patrick Corner of Buckingham County to Samuel Phelps of Cumberland County, a plantation on the Appomattox River, with William Walker as one of the witnesses. (Note the Walker surname; Cumberland was formed from Goochland.)
  • 1800, Caswell Co., NC | An Ambrose Phelps appears in the census, said to be a son of James Phelps and to have moved to Pulaski County, Kentucky by 1810. Caswell County was formed from Orange County, and a later Ambrose Phipps, apparently son of Dudley Phipps, was in Orange and later Granville Counties, North Carolina, beginning in 1850, with Dudley earlier in Wake County. Note the Pulaski County, Kentucky reference: Littleberry Phipps, father of John Witcher Phipps, was in Surry County, North Carolina, then Pulaski County, Kentucky, then in Lawrence County, Indiana. (See the Lawrence County references in the last post.) James Fips of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, who married Sarah, is said to have died in Pulaski County, Kentucky.

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