Benedict Arnold and the Phipps Family

Not all Phipps genealogists realize that part of the family has connections to Benedict Arnold (his Wikipedia biography). In the United States, the name Benedict Arnold has become synonymous with the word traitor. Another view, of course, is that he simply maintained faithfulness to what had been the government of America up until around the time of the Revolution.

Today, things seem remarkably black and white. In the 1760s to 1780s, however, the issue of loyalist vs. patriot was a major issue which caused some real schisms involving various members of the Phipps, Phips, “Phripp,” etc. family or families. Various past posts have documented the extreme effects of the Revolution on these people.

In those days, for many, things did not seem black and white at all. Some recent scholarship has examined the extent to which those on the fence were pushed into compliance with Revolutionary philosophy, sometimes by means of extreme violence. (See Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution, 2011, for instance.)

An 1879 book on the Arnold family contains a couple Phipps references. That book is Genealogy of the Family of Arnold in Europe and America by Dean, Drowne, and Hubbard.

Page 16 mentions Sophia Matilda Arnold, who married Col. Pownall Phipps. Her father was Gen. Benedict Arnold, the one who eventually became the object of infamy in America. Benedict Arnold’s 2nd marriage was with Margaret (“Peggy”) Shippen (her Wikipedia biography). Her family was known for its loyalist tendencies. Their daughter Sophia Matilda Arnold married Pownoll Phipps in India. She died in 1828 in London.

We’ve dealt with Pownoll Phipps in various earlier posts. He is the subject of the book The Life of Colonel Pownoll Phipps by a later relative, Pownoll W. Phipps, published in 1894. A complete online digital copy can be accessed in Internet Archive, and can either be read online or downloaded in various formats.

The son of Pownoll Phipps, Ramsay Weston Phipps, has been the subject of past posts. His Wikipedia biography appears here. His son Henry Ramsey Phipps authored a vitally significant and groundbreaking article which we’ve referred to before, titled “Phipps Families of Berkshire.” This begins on page 14 in an 1889 issue of The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Archaeological Journal which, again, can be read online or downloaded from Internet Archive.

To return to the Arnold book, page 16 refers to the fact that “SOPHIA MATILDA, married Col. Pownall Phipps, Knight of the Crescent, in the East India Company’s service (related to the Earl of Mulgrave’s family), and died in 1828.” Located a bit below that reference is one which refers to Georgiana Phipps Arnold (birth name), a daughter of General Arnold’s brother William Fitch Arnold. Georgiana married Rev. John Stephenson. Col. Pownoll Phipps is also mentioned in a note on page 13.

The reference to the Earl of Mulgrave is, of course, something that a number of past posts have mentioned. (See the Earl of Mulgrave article in Wikipedia.) This associates the family with that which descends from the marriage of Lady Catharine Annesley to William Phipps, with Catharine Annesley being the daughter of Catharine Darnley, the “natural” (illegitimate) daughter of King James II who was discussed about 3 posts back.

Going further back, this connects this family with Francis Phipps of Reading, Berkshire, England, a figure we’ve referred to again and again as patriarch of major genealogical importance. Francis married Anne Sharpe, and later the widow of Col. John Jeaffreson of St. Kitts in the Caribbean.

The idea that the “Phips” family of Ashe County, North Carolina descended from this family seems far-fetched, and yet countless bits of circumstantial evidence, as discussed in the 2000-plus posts of this blog, seem to point in that direction. One thing about the family is that some members frequently underwent social redefinition as they took bold stands on controversial issues, butted heads with the public or with those above them, or found their lucrative trade diminished. Changes in fortune seemed part and parcel of the “Phipps,” “Fips,” etc. saga.

Various family members have risen to the social or political heights, only to then become relegated to a comparative scrap heap, for a variety of reasons. That was certainly the case with William Phips, royal governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, who died after being recalled to London amidst all sorts of accusations. That was the case to some extent with Constantine Henry Phipps, who was made Lord Chancellor of Ireland but later dismissed after stirring up a hornet’s nest of controversy.

Sometimes they have seemingly risen out of relative or complete obscurity, as supposedly happened with Sir William Phips of Massachusetts, as supposedly happened to some extent with that same Constantine Henry Phipps, the son of Francis Phipps whose sister married a George Reeves of Virginia. (See “The Rise of the Phippses” in the British Isles Genealogy site.)

Members of the Phips, Phipps, Fips, Phyppe, etc. family or families have suddenly found themselves thrust out of positions of power and prestige due to a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons have been documented time and time again in various sources, and have been discussed in numerous posts here. Those reasons include the following:

  • a frequent tendency toward an extremely irascible temper and stubbornness
  • a marked tendency for those in power to incite the ire of either higher-ups or the public at large or both
  • a stance on one side or the other with regard to the monarchy vs. Parliament debate in England
  • a stance on one side or the other with regard to the loyalist vs. revolution debate in America
  • a stance on one side or the other with regard to the state church vs. nonconformist religious groups, including Lollards and later Quakers
  • involvement in a Caribbean trade which could not last, due to the Revolution
  • involvement in the slave trade, which could not last, due to shifting public consciousness
  • involvement in trade between England and America, which could not last because of the eventual severance of ties with England

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