Fipps or Fips or Phelps or Phips?

Plenty of circumstantial evidence exists which would suggest a possibility that some of the individuals called “Phelps” or “Felps” in early Virginia records could have been of the same family as those called “Phips” or “Fips” or “Phipps.” In at least some cases, however, any link from them to John Phips, the surveyor who arrived in Jamestown in 1621, might appear to be precluded by Phelps-related Y-DNA evidence which suggests African genes.

Using Y-DNA to make inferences about specific ancestors, however, is based on who the individual being tested believes he descends from. Records and family stories from the 17th through the 19th centuries are replete in references to situations which could have completely skewed those relationships.

In one recently discovered set of records, a woman married, had children, divorced, resumed her maiden name, and then applied her maiden name to her children. Illegitimate children sometimes took on the maiden name of the mother. Other children were adopted. In an era of hard frontier living, children were sometimes born into one family but raised by another, and frequently took on the surname of the family which raised them.

Even as late as the 19th century, a son of John Andrew Phipps of Owen County, Indiana and later Madison County, Missouri, by his 1st of 4 marriages, was John Toliver Phipps. In the area of Reed’s Bend of the St. Francis River in Madison County, he was called John Toliver Everhart, because his mother’s maiden name was Everhart.

In that case, locals seemed to be aware that his surname was really Phipps. The 4th wife of his father John Andrew Phipps, however, appears to have been called Betty Firebaugh. Only after years of research did it finally become evident that she wasn’t a Firebaugh at all, but had simply been raised by Firebaughs and had lived in a Firebaugh household. She was born a Conder or Condor.

Does the presence of African Y-DNA preclude the possibility that some individuals named Phelps in early Virginia could have been of the same family? Much of the circumstantial evidence that this could very likely have been the case has to do with direct involvement with the same few associated families.

A bit of that evidence has been discussed in past posts, but there is far more – too much to refer to here. One possibility could have been that in at least one case there was a mulatto “Phelps” branch which could have been in some way related to the “white” (generally) Phips or Phipps family. There appears to be some evidence of that.

An odd factor is the relationship between the “Phips” or “Phipps” or “Fips” and “Witcher” (with variant spellings) families, and the fact that people named Phipps, Phelps, and Witcher all seem to have made their way from Virginia to Elbert County, Georgia roughly around the same period of time.

Another factor which makes life more interesting for researchers is the presence of surname spelling variations even in the same manuscript when discussing the same family. We’ve noted in various past posts the association between the Fipps etc. family, on the one hand, and the Burton family in Virginia and North Carolina, either directly or indirectly.

A 1770 Bedford County, Virginia chancery case discusses a James Phelps, son of William Phelps (called “Old Phelps” at one point) who, in turn, was a son of Thomas Phelps and a brother of Thomas Phelps, Jr. They appear to have been associated with the Colemans and Burtons, families discussed earlier.

One record in the case is a 1767 summons. In that summons, the name James Phelps suddenly shifts from Phelps to Phips:

GEORGE the Second, by the Grace of GOD, of Great-Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. To the Sheriff of Bedford County Greeting. We command you that you Summon Thomas Oglesby to appear before our Justices, of our Court, of our said County, in Chancery, at the Court-house, on the fourth Tuseday [sic] in Next month to answer a Bill in Chancery, exhibited against by James phlps [sic]

Notis is hereby geven to you that on the 15 of July I Propose to have depositions taken in the suit depending btween [sic] you and I in Bedford Court at the house of Mr. David Rosses in the County of bedford whare I hope your [sic] will met at the time afoursaid [Sir?] I am your
Sincerly To mr
Thomas Phelps
June the 22:1767
Thomas Oglesby
James Phelps

Bedford County Ss

Alexander Hunter Junr. made Oath that he (more than ten days ago) waited upon Thomas Phelps and James Phelps with the above Notis, and accordingly gave them Notice of time and Place

July 15th 1767.
[signed:] Richard Stith

Note that this suit involved someone named Oglesby. Later, in the 1850 census in Elbert County, Georgia, a “Phelphs” family appears living next to an “Ougalsbuy” family from Virginia.

Then there are records like the following, which was found by the web editor of the Witcher Genealogy site. This appeared in Plea Book 6, Halifax County, Virginia, p. 469:

[In margin: “Fipps Admrs. v. Wilson”]

Tabitha Fips Administratrix and Francis Barnes
Adm[s?] For [Ye? or &c?] of John Fips deceased Plaintifs
Harris Wilson Defendant
On a Petition

This day came the Plaintifs by Paul Carrington their Attorney and the said Defendant being duly Summoned and not appearing altho Solemnly called and the Plaintifs Account for [Four?] pounds Eight shillings being duly proved to be just Therefore it is ordered by the Court that the Plaintifs recover against this Defendant their debt[s?] foresaid together with their Costs by them [? (tape repair)] [th]eir Suit in this [or their?] behalf expended –

Paul [Car]rington Assignee of Moses Terry Plt
John Phelps Defendant
In Debt

On the Motion of John Phips a Wtness for Champness Terry at the Suit of Powell . . . .

So, which is it? Fipps or Fips or Phelps or Phips? All 4 spellings appear in this single page. Past posts have noted that some evidence seems to suggest a high likelihood that the “Philips” or “Phillips” spelling might also come into play at least a time or two. (“Philoups” appears in the 1850 census in Elbert County, Georgia as well, by the way.)

To what extent have such spellings as Phillips, Phelps, Fitts, and Fibbs been taken into account by generations of “Phipps” genealogical researchers? Perhaps not at all, it would seem. Yet it appears that there could possibly be a whole world of evidence lurking in documents and manuscripts using such spellings.

By the way, on a related note, an error was spotted in a recent blog post, titled “A Phipps Duel in 1825, and Heraldic Connections.” There it was said that the arms associated with the “Phibbs” family in county Sligo in Ireland (which used various other spellings at times, including Phipps) were similar to those associated with Francis Phips or Phipps of Reading, Berkshire, England.

The comment was made that the only real difference was that the “Phibbs” arms lacked the trefoil which appears in the middle of the Phips mullets. Actually, a closer examination reveals that both actually are the same, and that the trefoil does indeed appear in that of the “Phibbs” family. It’s just that in the copies examined, the “Phibbs” trefoil appears so small that it seemed at first glance to be just another mullet.


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