Sometimes genealogy becomes a matter of probability. We always hope that eventually records will emerge to prove a hypothesis, but in the meantime it might at times be a matter of following hunches – sometimes not even hunches, but just possibilities – and weighing the likelihood of a set of data as being relevant.
That seems to be the case in the situation of a Phelps family which shows up in Goochland County, Virginia and surrounding areas. This family might have no relationship whatsoever to the Phipps or Fipps etc. family.
If there is a relationship and if there ever was an earlier surname form that would be more recognizable as a form of “Phipps,” then that might have been far back in time in England. The surname spelling doesn’t appear to have been as much of a factor, however, as genealogists today might wish it to be.
One way to guesstimate probability of relevance of a spelling variation is to look at associated families. If there’s just one – or even two or three – it could be coincidence, especially if the surnames of those other families are common surnames.
With each additional surname added to the mix, however, the probability of relevance increases. Likewise, with added scarcity of that surname, the probability increases even further. Unfortunately, this is impossible to determine with precision.
We don’t have records which tell us exactly how many individuals of a certain surname were in America at any particular time in a particular year in the 17th or 18th century. We don’t even know today, due to spelling variations which exist even in our era.
Some of the family surnames associated with this Phelps family were more common than others. Harris is one which comes to mind. Some of those which would seem today to be surely rare or scarce, such as Poythress or Eppes, may have been much less scarce in their day. And then sometimes associations may have simply been the result of necessary business or legal dealings with the only shopkeepers or lawyers in the area.
When a number of such factors coalesce around a particular potential ancestor, however, it just might possibly suggest that here is something requiring further research. At this point, some suggestions have been emerging from research, and it’s not completely clear what is being suggested.
What’s with the frequent land purchases in one county while living in another, or even while while living in another colony or state, for instance? Why do the Eppes and Burton families seem to keep entering into the picture, plus names associated with the family with the Jamestown immigrant surveyor, such as Harris?
Was this a family which was larger and more extensively scattered than had been previously believed, with records hitherto hidden due to name variations such as Phelps and Fitts and Phripp? Or do these families not connect, but only seem to?
The 1747 Goochland County will of John Phelps suggests the following relationships:
- Father: John Phelps
- Son: John Phelps, land adjacent to John Pleasants
- Son: Samuel Phelps, land adjacent to John Pleasants
- Son: William Phelps, land near Fleamon’s Creek
- Witnesses: William Stone, Joseph Wood, James Barnes
John “Felps” of Goochland County sold land in 1732 to James Cocke of Henrico County. (Goochland was formed from Henrico shire in 1728.) This deed was witnessed by William Cocke.
John Phelps of Goochland County and his wife Mary sold land in 1741 to Robert Baber, Jr. of Caroline County. Caroline County is where the estate of John Fips emerges in 1768. That deed was witnessed by William Cockerham; this is the same surname as was directly involved with the John Phips orphan who was a son of Elizabeth Harris whom we’ve discussed in connection with Surry County, Virginia.
Regarding Robert Baber, a 1744/5 deed has John and Mary Phelps of St. Andrews Parish (Brunswick County) selling land in Brunswick County to Robert Baber of Brunswick County. Again, John’s wife is noted as Mary. Of course, the names John and Mary Phelps could be a coincidence, but the presence of Robert Baber suggests that it is not. This would appear to indicate that the John and Mary Phelps of Goochland County also had Brunswick County connections.
The Babers were closely associated with the Woodsons, who had direct involvement with the Burtons. Through Baber, there seems to be indication of both Brunswick and Charlotte County ties, and an apparent relative, Thomas Phelps, was granted land in Brunswick County and then appears to have moved into Lunenburg County, next to Charlotte County.
A debate centers around whether the wife of Robert Baber III, who died in 1786, was a Pendleton or a Phelps. A Mary Ann Phipps, daughter of Robert Phipps, is said to have married James Pendleton in Buckingham County in 1771. James Pendleton‘s sister Judith is said to have been born in 1751 in Buckingham County and to have married John Harris. We’ve run into Harris connections over and over, and there are Phelps/Harris connections.
A Brunswick County deed from 1744 from James Johnston to John Mead was witnessed by John Phelps and Robert Baber, Jr.
Another relative may have been James Phelps and his wife Elizabeth in Campbell County. They sold land there (1782) which had earlier (1772) been granted to William Phelps. That land adjoined John Pleasants, deceased, (see below) and John Bolling. The Bolling surname (see below) has cropped up repeatedly.
It would appear that some of this Phelps family moved into Goochland, Halifax, and Pittsylvania Counties, where we’ve noted a Fips, Phips, Phipps, etc. presence. We’ve found an awful lot of “Phipps” surname variations. Whether the Phelps surname as discussed above is relevant or not is, at this point, anyone’s guess. One thought, however, is that we should at least be on the lookout for “Phelps,” “Fibbs,” “Fitts,” etc. records which look as though they could dovetail with “Fips,” “Phips,” “Phipps,” etc. research.
In some cases, though, it really doesn’t appear at this point that we have much to go on to determine relevance. A Thomas Phelps AKA Felps, for instance, who was born in Rowan County, North Carolina in 1758 or 1759, served in the Revolutionary War. This resulted in a pension application filed from Georgia.
Rowan County, North Carolina, for many “Phipps” researchers, is awfully close to home. Was this a “Phipps” with simply a variant surname for whatever reason, or was this an individual with no relationship whatsoever?
In other cases, of course, individuals of what are definitely other surnames appear in records where it appears that they likely connect somewhere – but where? With the various Epps/Eppes connections we’ve noted, for instance, it’s interesting to see that a certain John Epps was born in 1763 in Lunenburg County, Virginia (where John Phips/Fips had been living.
Epps entered Revolutionary War service from that county, then lived in Halifax County (where George Reeves, father in law of Samuel Phips of Wilkes and later Ashe County, North Carolina, becomes an Eppes heir). Later Epps moved to Guilford County, North Carolina, which of course was home to various “Phipps” individuals. Likely related, but how?
One prominent thread running through the following is the presence of the Pleasants and Burton families. This is a surprising find. George Reeves, who seems to keep coming into the discussion for some reason, lived in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where Samuel Phips, Jr. and Samuel Phips, Sr. both lived prior to the 1800 census.
George Reeves later appears in Grayson County, Virginia records, with Samuel Phips or Fips or Phipps in adjacent Ashe County, North Carolina. They maintained a relationship, as is attested by Samuel eventually becoming an heir of this George Reeves. This George is extremely frequently said to have married a Burton – Jane Burton – although no one seems to have ever actually found a record.
He also appears as an Eppes/Epps heir in Halifax County, Virginia while he was living in Wilkes County, North Carolina, which appears to place him squarely in the same familial/social structure we’ve been discussing in numerous posts. The Burtons were extremely closely related to the Pleasants family.
The recurrence of the Burton and Pleasants surnames in connection with the Phelps family leads one to wonder whether the Phelps family of the Goochland/Henrico area, who moved into the Lunenburg area, could have been “Phipps” as simply a surname variation.
For those ever-looking (for some reason) to establish some sort of direct link to Pennsylvania, the Pleasants connection is interesting in that the family was strongly Quaker. One Pleasants family member even moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania. The “Fips” or “Phips” family of the Lunenburg area, appears to have been Anglican. Presumably the family of John Phips, the emigrant surveyor to Jamestown, was the same.
An obvious token of the close Burton and Pleasants relationship can be seen in the name John Pleasants Burton (also sometimes called John Pleasant Burton). This individual was born in Virginia, but married Susannah Stamper, supposedly in Ashe County, North Carolina in 1799.
This places him squarely within the family group associated with Samuel Phips or Phipps, Jr. of Ashe County, North Carolina, who was George Reeves‘s son in law. John Pleasants Burton moved to Lawrence County, Indiana, as did some of the Phips or Fips or Phipps family who were Samuel’s close relatives. John Witcher Phipps also moved there, who surely must have had some direct connection with the Ephraim Witcher who married Elizabeth Fips, daughter of John Fips who died in 1768 in Charlotte County, Virginia.
Goodspeed’s 19th century history of Lawrence County, Indiana says that Miss Susannah Stamper married John P. Burton. This would be John Pleasants Burton. Jonathan Stamper, Sr. of Wilkes County, North Carolina fathered Jonathan, Jr., who appears to have fathered Levisa Stamper.
She married Jesse Long and is the “Widow Long” who figures prominently in Edward Bonney’s book Banditti of the Prairie. That 1840s account details the Long/Phips outlaw gang which was centered in Owen County, Indiana and which involved a son and grandsons of Samuel Phips, Jr. of Ashe County, North Carolina. She was called “Widow” Long because she was a “grass widow,” in other words a divorced woman.
Jonathan Stamper, Sr. also fathered Frances (“Frankey”) Stamper, born 1767. She married Jesse Toliver 8 October 1782 in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Samuel Phips, Jr. of Ashe County testified on behalf of Jesse Toliver‘s Revolutionary War pension application. Jesse’s son John H. Toliver married Anna Long. Their daughter Mathursa Toliver married Mathew Phips (Matthew Phipps), who moved from Ashe County, North Carolina to Clay and Owen Counties, Indiana, where he appears to have faked his own death in 1841.
So, is it clear that “Phelps” was simply yet another spelling variation of Phipps, Fips, Phips, etc.? Or was it just that the Burton and Pleasants family were close to a Phips family and a Phelps family? There are, however, relationships between this Phelps family and other surnames which we’ve discussed before in connection with the Phipps, Fips, Phips, etc. family, so that would seem to increase the chance that it was simply a spelling variation and that is relevant.
That’s something, however, that can only be determined for sure with further research. One would like to think that further “Phipps” or “Fips” research will proceed in the direction of looking into actual records, without preconceived notions, to see where those records will take us.
The following has nothing to do with linear thinking, which is what traditional genealogy is all about. Instead, it’s an interconnecting web, which is how family relationships actually work, so get set for your head to spin. What it all means, and its ramifications, if any, could be a matter of debate.
James Barnes was one of the witnesses of the 1747 Goochland County, Virginia will of John Phelps. The Barnes name, for what it’s worth – perhaps only coincidentally, also appears in connection with the estate of John Fips in and around 1770 in Charlotte County.
A Benjamin Bolling is said to have married Pattie Phelps, called Patsy, as his first wife. A genealogist claims that this Patsy’s name “could also be spelled Felts, or Phipps.” This Benjamin Bolling was supposedly born in 1734 in Henrico County (Goochland was formed from Henrico) and died in 1832 in Russell County, near what is now Wise County, Virginia.
Another claim, however, asserts that this Benjamin Bolling or Bollin, Sr. was actually born in Wilkes County, North Carolina rather than Henrico County, Virginia. The person putting forth this claim still notes the 1832 Russell County death and says that Patsy was actually Martha (Patsy was a common nickname for Martha). Wilkes County, North Carolina, of course, would place him in the same county as Phips or Phipps individuals.
Patsy is referred to as having been a “Felts,” born 1737 in Albemarle County, Virginia and having died 1787 in Rowan County, North Carolina. Her father is said to have been John Phelps, born about 1785 in Albemarle County, died 1772 Bedford County, Virginia, a son of John Isaac Phelps born 1683 in Goochland County.
John Bolling and John Pleasants, deceased, were adjacent property owners in a 1782 deed from James Phelps and his wife Elizabeth to James Ratliff in Campbell County. That land was originally patented in 1772 to William Phelps.
The name Paul Carrington appears in the 1777 Charlotte County, Virginia estate records of John Fips. In 1735, a deed for James Nevill of Goochland County, Virginia was witnessed by George Carrington, Joseph Hooper, and John Phelps.
In a 1732 Goochland County deed, John “Felps” of Goochland sold land to James Cocke of Henrico County. We’ve noted the Cocke family before, as a name which repeatedly pops up in connection with the Eppes and Poythress families, which which the Phips/Fips family has had dealings. The Cocke family was involved and intermarried with the Pleasants family, which seems to have been associated with the Burton family.
John Burton, who is said to have been born in 1699 and to have died in 1776 in Amelia County, Virginia, is supposed to have married a Catherine Cocke. This John appears to have been the brother of Hutchins Burton. Hutchins married fathered Richard Burton of Wilkes County, North Carolina who married Mary Pleasants. Richard fathered John Pleasants Burton who moved to Lawrence County, Indiana, as we’ve discussed, and he is supposed to have fathered Jane Burton who married George Reeves, father in law of Samuel Phips, Jr. of Wilkes and Ashe Counties, North Carolina. Another brother of John Burton appears to have been Nowell Hunt Burton, who appears to have fathered Josiah Burton to whom the Fipps orphans were bound in 1742 in Goochland County.
The Cocke name also appears as “Cock” when in 1735 James Cock of Henrico County obtained land on the James River adjacent to Thomas Wood. The 1732 Goochland County deed from Felps to Cocke refers to land John Felps bought from Thomas Wood, Jr.
Further, James Cocke married Mary Pleasants, daughter of John Pleasants, in 1700 in Henrico County, and Joseph Pleasants married Martha Cocke in 1699 in the same county.
This name first emerges in direct connection with the orphan John Phips, son of Elizabeth Harris, in Surry County, Virginia, as discussed extensively in past posts. The Cockerham name again emerges in the form of one of the witnesses to a 1741 Goochland County deed from John and Mary Phelps of Goochland County to Robert Baber Jr. of Caroline County. This Baber appears to have had ties to the same Brunswick County which we’ve mentioned repeatedly.
The Coleman family was directly involved with the Phipps family in connection with the Frederick Ford estate in Amelia County, Virginia, as discussed in recent posts. We’ve also discussed the direct Coleman and Phipps/Phips family involvement in Warren County, North Carolina, with Warren coming out of Bute.
A 1760 Lunenburg County, Virginia deed has William Phelps of that county selling land as witnessed by a William Jones (of course a common name, yet surfacing unusually frequently) and Christopher Coleman.
In 1735, a deed for James Nevill of Goochland County, Virginia was witnessed by George Carrington, Joseph Hooper, and John Phelps. Joseph Hooper had land adjacent to Capt. James Nevill when that Nevill (as Nevil) received a land patent in Goochland County in 1743. In the 1746 Goochland County estate inventory of David Pryor, cash was received from Richard Cocke by Joseph Hooper. This might be nothing, but James Nevill had land adjacent to Richard Taliaferro in a Goochland County patent in 1747. The same name is sometimes rendered Toliver or Tolliver, and was directly involved with Samuel Phips of Wilkes and Ashe Counties, North Carolina.
Two of the sons of John Phelps, John Phelps Jr. and Samuel Phelps, had land adjacent to John Pleasants. The name is immediately recognizable as presumably the source for the name of John Pleasant Burton. The Burtons were clearly related somehow to Samuel Phips of Wilkes and then Ashe County, North Carolina, and went from Ashe to the same Lawrence County, Indiana as did some Samuel’s family, as also did some of the family of John Fips of Charlotte County, Virginia.
The name John Pleasants Burton is sometimes represented John Pleasant Burton (with no “s” at the end of the middle name). One vintage bio spells the name both ways – Pleasant and Pleasants – in the same paragraph. He appears to have been a son of Richard Burton, born about 1739, who married Mary Pleasants and who died about 1779 in Wilkes County, North Carolina.
That Richard appears to have been a son of Hutchins Burton, born about 1694 in Henrico County, Virginia, whose brother Nowell was the father, apparently, of Josiah Burton, born about 1718 in Henrico County, to whom the Fipps orphans were bound in 1742 in Goochland County. Nowell and Hutchins had another brother, John, who is supposed to have died in Amelia County, Virginia in 1776 and who is supposed to have married Catherine Cocke.
Further, John Pleasants Burton appears to have been the brother of Jane Burton who married George Reeves, father in law of Samuel Phips, Jr. of Wilkes and Ashe Counties, North Carolina. She appears to have been George’s 2nd wife.
John Pleasants Burton‘s apparent John Pleasants, presumably the same one who had land adjacent to John and Samuel Phelps, was a descendant of a notable character, the immigrant John Pleasants. In fact, he appears to have been the area’s most prominent Quaker, and was fined outrageously huge amounts for being such.
John Pleasants appears to have been born in England in 1644/5, but later emerged in Henrico County (note the Henrico County references above). He had sons who moved into Goochland County. One descendant was John Cocke Pleasants, born about 1710. Note the Cocke surname again, this time appearing as a middle name but clearly identifying the family’s closeness to the Cocke family.
The 3rd generation of individuals named John Pleasants in America was John Pleasants III, who was born in 1697 and who died in 1771. He also was a Quaker, who owned a huge amount of land and a number of slaves. He married a Jordan (any connection to the use of Jordan as a given name by the Phipps family in Sussex County?) and then a Woodson.
John Pleasants III had a brother, Samuel. Samuel married Mary Pemberton, was a merchant (another merchant), and was arrested as a Tory (the Tory appellation yet again). In this case, this John Pleasants III was accused of being a Tory because he was a Quaker. (Quakers did not bear arms.)
George Washington, who seems to have stood in the background in various earlier posts, intervened and had him released. Samuel moved from Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Another brother, James, was governor of Virginia from 1822 to 1825.
John Pleasants (above) married a Woodson. The will of John Phelps in 1747 in Goochland County mentions land he bought lfrom James Woodson, adjacent to John Woodson and John Pleasants.
In 1812, supposedly, Judith Payne Woodson married Robert Pleasants. She was a daughter of Elizabeth Payne and Samuel Woodson, who married in 1777 in Goochland County. Elizabeth was supposed to have been a daughter of George Payne who married a Burton – Judith Burton. A relative, Robert Payne, married another Burton – Ann Burton – in 1762 in Goochland County. Robert’s father was Josias Payne, who was a brother of the George who married Judith Burton. Robert Payne who married Ann Burton had a daughter Agnes who married Robert Harris in 1795 – the Harris surname again, as in the coworker of the surveyor immigrant John Phips in Jamestown.
A 1763 Cumberland County deed from Patrick Corner of Buckingham County to Samuel Phelps of Cumberland County involves a Randolph property line (a name that has come up multiple times). The deed was witnessed by a Walker (William Walker) and a Woodson (John Woodson). We’ve discussed the Walker name at length in various earlier posts, perhaps especially Tandy Walker, so will not belabor this by again recounting the Walker connections.
Much of this has been discussed in various earlier posts, and is based on numerous articles and records. A few additional selected sources appear below:
- Baber, Phelps, Woodson
- A Guide to the Pleasants Family Papers, 1745-1898 (Library of Virginia)
- The Jordan and Pleasants Families (Black Loyalist site)
- Phelps Family Research Team
- Robert Baber’s Wife: Jane Phelps Not Pendleton
- Was John Phelps d. 1747 Goochland the Father of John Phelps d. 1772 Bedford?