John Phips and the Early Jamestown Surveyor Team

William Claiborne (also Clayborne or Clayburne) was a British surveyor who came to the early Virginia settlement of Jamestown in 1621. There he became surveyor general of the Virginia colony.

In that capacity, he led a small team of early surveyors. These surveyors, who were imported to Jamestown around the same time as Claiborne’s arrival in 1621, were John Phips, William Harris, and William Morris.

Portraits of William Claiborne appears here and here. Another portrait of Claiborne appears as the frontispiece in a genealogical account of Claiborne and his family, published in 1917.

Claiborne is believed to have been born in Crayford Parish in Kent. This is where he is said to have been baptized in 1600. It’s also believed that Sir Roger James, who was a shareholder in the Virginia Company, which backed the Jamestown settlement, may have been his half brother.

The Virginia Company of London (sometimes referred to as the Virginia Company and sometimes as the London Company) wanted to see a quick return on its investment in the new colony which had been planted in Virginia. Part of that process was to bring surveyors into Jamestown in order to facilitate the settlement of Virginia.

The 4 young men who made up the first team of surveyors all arrived in Jamestown at about the same time. The ship which John Phips was on, however, known as the Tyger or Tiger, was delayed due to issues. The ship was blown off course, they were attacked by a Turkish ship, and they lost most of their rigging. These adventures were discussed in a past post.

As a result, two of the men, William Claiborne and William Harris, arrived in October. The other two, John Phips and William Morris, did not arrive until November. (Some sources give slightly different times of arrival.)

William Claiborne is called in his 1917 genealogical account “the foremost genius of early Virginia.” At age 19, John Phips was a major part of Claiborne’s fledgling surveying team. He also appears to have became a prominent landowner and resident of the “New Towne” community at Jamestown, although the interpretation of some records is obfuscated by an eventual presence of two men, apparently, named John Phips.

Prior posts have speculated that circumstances suggest that some members of the Phips or Phipps family may have engaged in Indian trading. William Claiborne was clearly “trading with the Indians, on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers” by 1627, according to the 1917 account.

This was just about 6 years after Claiborne and the other surveyors arrived. If Claiborne was involved in such trading, can we say that John Phips did not?

The Jamestown surveying team who arrived there ini 1621 consisted of the following men:

  • William Claiborne, age 21, who arrived with Governor Francis Wyatt and William Harris on the George in October of 1621
  • William Harris, age 25, who arrived on the George in October of 1621
  • John Phips or Phipps, age 19, who arrived on the Tyger in 1621
  • William Morris or Morryce or Morrys, age 18, who arrived with John Phips on the Tyger in 1621

In 1624, William “Clayborne” received 150 acres for transporting the surveyors William Harris, John Phips, and William Morris.

Wikipedia and other sources claim that members of the Harris family are among the descendants of William Claiborne. In addition, we’ve discussed the enigmatic and somewhat later Elizabeth Harris of Surry County, near Jamestown, with her orphan son named John Phips, who was bound out in 1657.

The surveyor team arrived in Jamestown in 1621 under the auspices of the London-based Virginia Company. Around that time, a member of the Virginia Company was Col. John Jeaffreson.

Jeaffreson was a London merchant with heavy involvement in the Caribbean trade. His widow later married Francis Phipps or Phips of Reading, Berkshire, England. In addition, a daughter of Francis Phipps married a George Reeves who died in Virginia.

We’ve mentioned various Reeves connections on various occasions, including another later George Reeves of Grayson County, Virginia, who was the father in law of Samuel Phips of adjacent Ashe County, North Carolina.

John Phips or Phipps is said to have apparently been from Hornechurch (Hornchurch) in Essex, which is now a suburb of London. His parents are believed to have been Alexander and Agnes (Bright) Phipps.

The marriage of Alexander Phipps to Agnes Bright is alluded to in the Family Search collection known as “English Marriages.” This is, unfortunately, however, one of those collections which is “not necessarily intended to index any specific set of records.” This means that some of the information it contains is  unproven and can even be conjectural.

There, the marriage of Alexander Fipps or Phipps to Agnes Bright is referred to as taking place in Hornchurch in January 1599.

On the other hand, however, another Family Search collection, titled “England, Essex Parish Registers,” actually indexes actual parish registers. That collection refers to the marriage of “Alexandr Fipps” to Agnes Bright in Hornchurch on 4 February 1599, but with the notation “No image available.”

Were these really the parents of John Phips, the Jamestown surveyor? Evidently no research has been done to confirm or deny this. The christening of John Phipps on 16 January 1602 as a son of Alexander Phipps in Hornchurch appears in yet another data collection, “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975.”

Unfortunately, however, this is another one of those data collections which is “not necessarily intended to index any specific set of records.” As a result it will take examination of actual records to determine the validity of this. It will also take additional research to determine whether this really does refer to the same John Phips or Phipps.

The William Harris who came to Jamestown as a surveyor may have been related to an earlier William Harris. The earlier one died in 1616 and played a major role in the Virginia Company. He was from Essex, as was apparently John Phips. A photo of the earlier Harris’s sword appears in Wikipedia here.

Circumstances as noted above would suggest a likelihood of some sort of connection to Francis Phipps or Phips of Reading, Berkshire. What that relationship might have been is unclear.

Over the last several years, this blog has reported findings of connections involving John Phips, the Jamestown surveyor, Francis Phipps of Reading, Berkshire and various members of his family, the Caribbean trade, and the Reeves and Epps families and related families. The Reeves family, by the way, has also been suspected of having engaged in early Indian trading.

Up to this point, such connections do not appear to have been considered by genealogists anxious to discover the origins of the Phips or Phipps family of the Ashe County, North Carolina area. Instead, efforts appear to have traditionally focused on attempting to find some sort of mythical leap to Joseph Phipps, the Quaker of Pennsylvania.  He did not arrive there until 1682, some 61 years after John Phips or Phipps came to Virginia.

Still, it would seem as though some sort of relationship, however distant, between the later Quaker immigrant and the earlier surveyor immigrant is likely. The Quaker came from Reading, the same Reading as Francis Phipps. We know (as reported in various earlier blog posts) that various segments of the family in England became splintered, stigmatized, and ostracized for probably political and certainly religious reasons.

Various posts have hinted that such factors as political and religious stances may have accounted for at least some of the divergent locations for the family in the both England and Ireland, and may also account for the extremely enigmatic and evidently largely invented origins of Sir William Phips of Massachusetts. They could also account for multiple persons named Phipps or Phips residing in Reading and yet evidently not associating with each other.

Concerted efforts by genealogists over the decades have focused on desperately trying to connect Samuel Phips of Ashe County, North Carolina, who died there in 1854, and his assumed brothers, with the Quaker Joseph Phipps who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682.

This has resulted in the creative invention of lineages and even of individuals to populate those lineages. In addition, the assumption that others living in the general vicinity and of around the same age were brothers was probably unfounded.

Perhaps such research focus was because, in past decades, the Quaker of Pennsylvania and the governor of Massachusetts (Sir William Phips) seemed to be the only early Phips or Phipps individuals appearing prominently in readily accessible general survey-type genealogy reference books. Joseph seemed like a good genealogical catch: He was somewhat prominent and was associated with William Penn.

Arguably, however, John Phips of Jamestown is an even better genealogical “catch:” As an immigrant, he predated Joseph of Pennsylvania by 6 decades, he was a prominent part of the early settlement of Jamestown (“New Towne,” anyway), he was one of the first surveyors of Virginia, and his family appears to have integrated itself with some of the most prominent families of early Virginia.

John Phips or Phipps appears to have owned a large area of the “New Towne” settlement at Jamestown, and at one time owned the glass factory known as “the glass house.” (A replica stands today.) He figures prominently in archaeological literature pertaining to Jamestown, and in historical references to Jamestown.

Many, many, circumstantial factors and criss-crossing interrelationships point from Samuel Phips of Ashe County, North Carolina back to the immigrant surveyor John Phips of Jamestown. If he was Samuel’s direct-line ancestor, which seems highly likely, the specific lineage remains to be found, however. In addition, there were other early Phips or Phipps Virginia immigrants who may have been related to John and from whom Samuel could have descended.

While maintaining an open mind and just looking to see where the evidence would seem to lead, countless factors have pointed in this direction. In addition, indirect links seem to possibly point in the direction of Pocahontas and Thomas Jefferson. If what genealogists want is connection to the prominent, that sure seems to beat the Joseph Phipps/Mary Romal myth.

For more, see the following:

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