Benjamin Phipps of South Carolina: Slave Trading Sea Captain

Speaking of the slave trade, a somewhat enigmatic pair of record abstracts appears more or less verbatim in several web pages, including this one. The abstract refers to two records found on pages 58 and 60 of something identified only as “Book Bb,” both dated 21 November 1720.

These would appear to be some sort of bonds, presumably found in Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina. Two of the men referred to in the bonds, Joseph Wragg and Job Rothmahler, appear together in a 1724 record in the register of St. Philip’s Parish in Charles Town. The register of the same parish also refers in 1720 and 1722 to Thomas Dymes, a merchant whose name also appears in both bonds.

A portrait of Judith DuBose, the wife of Joseph Wragg, perhaps the same one, appears here. The same page also includes a portrait of Anne DuBose, the wife of Job Rothmahler. Also, a record of a meeting of “the principal Freeholders” of Charleston, South Carolina in 1737 mentions both Joseph Wragg and Job Rothmahler. Both men also appear in various South Carolina deed abstracts here.

Assuming that the bonds are from Charleston would seem to make sense. Both Wragg and Rothmahler are referred to as merchants. They, along with another merchant named Thomas Dymes, along with William Rhett, esquire, and John Hutchinson, gentleman were described in the bonds as being “all of Charleston.”

Their agreements were with one Benjamin Phipps. He was described as the mariner and commander of a galley known as the Raymond. Benjamin Phipps was said to be living in Charles Town or Charleston. The 2nd of the two bonds adds that he was “now” residing there.

The 1st of the two bonds seems to be the most nebulously defined, and was to become payable on 1 August 1722. The bond refers to the “penal sum” of £3000; a note says that Samuel Wragg (apparently of London; see below) then paid £1500 “in full of bond” in June.

The 2nd of the two bonds is a bit more explanatory. There, Benjamin Phipps is said to have been assigning his interest in something which was read as “Lord (?),” followed by “(“being the remainder and in full for a cargo of slaves”).” What was read as “Lord” with a question mark could conceivably have been a misreading of the “Load” of the ship. That would certainly make sense, with his interest in the ship’s load having consisted, evidently, of “the remainder,” in other words the rest, and “in full for a cargo of slaves.”

In this 2nd of the two bonds, Samuel Wragg (presumably the same individual mentioned in the 1st bond) is identified as a London merchant. His signature on the 2nd bond was witnessed in London. The 1st bond was witnessed by Robert Hume, James Leydell, and John Merewether. The 2nd was witnessed by Hume and Leydell. In the 2nd, Benjamin Phipps assigned his interest over to someone whose name was read as “Noblest Ruddock,” who in turn assigned his interest to George Arnold.

These records, when coupled with other records, seem to associate this Benjamin as (a) a ship captain, (b) involved in the Caribbean trade, and (c) involved in the slave trade. A ship reference refers to Benjamin Phipps’s galley the Raymond as traveling around 1717 to 1719 between Bristol, England and the Caribbean, specifically Barbados, in addition to Cape Verde in Africa. Bristol was, of course, the city associated with William Phips, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Another owner of the ship at one time is referred to in the same source as Andrew Ruddock, presumably related to the “Noblest Ruddock” referred to in the bond abstract. Actually, the name was Noblet or Noblett Ruddock, and the ship reference names Noblet Ruddock & Co. in connection with the Raymond. Reference is also made to slaves being sold in Barbados when Benjamin Phipps was captain.

Is this the same Benjamin Phipps who is also referred to as captain of the Triton, later in the 1720s and into the 1730s? He sailed from Africa at one time, it is said (p. 127), with 4 tons of ivory among other cargo.

Another record refers to Benjamin Phipps as captain of the galley Parnel. We can assume that, in at least this case, it was the same Benjamin, since again Roblet Ruddock & Co. was involved. He and his ship brought 117 slaves to Barbados, then sailed to South Carolina in 1717. The note is made (p. 57) that the slaves were not brought to South Carolina, as far as is known, but 106 were delivered to Virginia.

Benjamin Phipps may have been the captain of that name on the galley Hector in the 1720s (p. 135). He presumably was the captain of that name onboard the Rich, also known as the Richard, in the 1720s, again with Noblet Ruddock & Co. involved. Items were imported to Bristol, and cowries were returned from Africa when they didn’t sell there.

Other sources refer to Noblet or Noblett Ruddock of Bristol. The Discovering Bristol site shows a bill of lading involving tobacco exported from Bristol to Ireland by Noblet Ruddock in 1720. That site refers to Noblet Ruddock as a merchant involved in the slave trade.

Ruddock also traded in what are there referred to as “slave-produced goods” including sugar and tobacco. A book titled The Slave Trade refers to Noblet Ruddock of Bristol as “managing” 30 voyages involving the slave trade between 1698 and 1729.

Maritime activities figure prominently in the Phips or Phipps family. We’re supposed to believe that the extremely extensive seafaring activities of William Phips, the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, with heavy Caribbean involvement, had nothing whatsoever to do with the same involving Francis Phipps of Reading, Berkshire, England, and his descendants. We’re supposed to believe that any direct, close, similarities were just the result of coincidence – or so genealogical dogma would have us believe, dogma going at least as far back as the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s biography.

Regarding Benjamin, however, there’s more. The bond abstracts refer, again, to Charleston merchant Joseph Wragg, as well as to Samuel Wragg of London. In the 1746 will of John Phipps of Charleston District, South Carolina, John names his “good friends” Joseph Wragg, Jr. and Samuel Wragg, Jr. of Charles Town, who he refers to as merchants. He gave £50 to each of them. Joseph Wragg, presumably the same one, was also made one of his executors.

The will refers to John Phipps as being a planter living in “the Province” of South Carolina. The will was transcribed by the WPA. The transcription refers to various family members, perhaps most interestingly to this John’s father. The transcription refers to him as “my Father John Phipps of Brails in Warwickshire in the Kingdom of Great Brittain stone Cutter.”

What the transcription calls “Brails” is evidently actually Brailes. This is a civil parish in which are located Upper Brailes and Lower Brailes, but since they are adjacent, they’re often simply referred to as Brailes. This is about 10 miles from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, where various Phipps listings have appeared much later, as we’ve already noted.

Unless there was a very striking coincidence, then, it would appear that the John Phipps who wrote the 1746 Charles Town (Charleston) District will must have been related to Capt. Benjamin Phipps of the seafaring slave trade. If so, then it could be presumed that Benjamin must have been in some way related to John Phipps, Sr. of Brailes in Warwickshire.

The will of John Phipps names the following individuals, as transcribed:

  • his father John Phipps of “Brails” in Warwickshire in Great Britain, stone cutter
  • his brother William Phipps
  • his brother James Phipps
  • his sister Martha Phipps
  • his sister Mary Phipps
  • his sister Helena Phipps
  • his “good friends” Robert Austin, Esq., Joseph Wragg, Jr., and Samuel Wragg,, Jr., Charles Town merchants
  • as executors Joseph Wragg, Esq. and Robert Austin, Esq.
  • witnesses Joseph Murray, Samuel Newman, and Joseph Mark Rodos

Then, to thicken the plot, the will of Joseph Phipps appeared about 4 years after that of John, again in Charlestown District. Joseph is, however, referred to as being in Colleton County, but this is not that far away from the city of Charleston. His 1750 will refers to the following individuals:

  • his wife Ann Phipps
  • his son William Phipps
  • his daughter in law Susannah Stanyarne
  • his father in law Ann Stanyarne
  • his brother in law William Steads, Sr.
  • as his executors, his wife Ann and brother in law William Steads
  • witnesses  Joseph Steads and William Steads, Jr.
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