The Unpopular Phipps Brothers & Their Unpopular Grandfather

Regarding the last post, another probable reason for the Phips or Phipps family in Virginia to not want to draw attention to their British gentry connections concerned the slave trade. We know that some of the family in Virginia were slave holders, and some – at least the “Phripp” family, assuming they were actually “Phipps” – were even involved in the slave trade.

By shortly before the Revolutionary War, however, the slave trade was becoming increasingly unpopular in Virginia. Efforts were already being made to abolish it, although slavery itself would persist for a number of decades. Much of the opposite to the trade was economic-based: The slave trade was siphoning money out of Virginia.

What began to develop was a division of opinion, with Virginia trying to hinder slave trading through prohibitive taxes, while the British government was actively supporting the trade.

By the latter part of the 18th century (1700s), even the common masses in England were rallying against slavery. The Constantine John Phipps discussed in the last post, who tried to impose the Stamp Act on North Carolina, had a brother named Henry.

A major scandal developed in 1791 when Henry Phipps (1755-1831) spoke out publicly against William Wilberforce’s call for abolition. Phipps said he had spent 10 or 12 months (sources differ) in Jamaica, and while there had never seen a slave mistreated.

That wasn’t the only thing he said. When voters of Scarborough voted against the slave trade, Phipps claimed voter fraud.

He called the petitions against slavery “contemptible,” being derived from, in his estimation, “school boys, farmers, mechanics, and others no way interested in the commerce of the kingdom.” As a result, locals went into a rage and burned Henry Phipps in effigy.

According to London’s Evening Mail, as reported 16 May 1792, the effigy of Henry Phipps was carried through the streets on a chair for half an hour, accompanied by flaming torches, before the dummy was burned at the public cross.

As discussed earlier, both Henry and his brother Constantine appear to have had relatives and close associates in Virginia. These brothers had a grandfather, Constantine Henry Phipps, who had been Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

If any single word could characterize his political career, it was unpopularity – unpopularity to an extreme. It was Constantine Henry whose twin sister married a George Reeves who died in Virginia.

All of this, it would seem, would be yet another reason why the Phipps family in Virginia did not appear eager to trumpet their genealogy and family connections.

See also:


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