Sir William Phips and Horatio Alger

Past posts have pointed out how the “official” biographies of William Phips, first royal government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (but not the first governor of Massachusetts) seem highly suspect at best. Generally he’s represented as a poor shepherd boy who pulled himself out of poverty and obscurity to become knighted, in a classic Horatio Alger-type myth.

Various genealogies have been published over the years – and even centuries – regarding this man. Some of them are very strange and confused. He has even been commonly represented as having 25 siblings.

Some have suspected a connection to the family of Francis Phipps of Reading, Berkshire, England, and some evidence for that exists. If there is such a connection, however, no one seems to know what it is, exactly. Most others, however, seem to dismiss the idea of any connection whatsoever.

William is said to have invented the diving bell, but probably not. His father is generally represented as a James, who supposedly had no more claim to fame than that he was a gunsmith. James supposedly lived in Bristol, England before coming to Maine.

The family of Constantine Phipps, who came from Reading in Berkshire, had multiple connections to Caribbean trade. Bristol was of central importance in that Caribbean trade, yet we are led to believe that no connection could have existed between that trade and “Sir William,” until he just happened to stumble into such activity through the family of his father in law.

In 19th century Horatio Alger novels, a poor boy would become rich through luck and pluck. Because he was virtuous, doors of opportunity would open to him, and he would eventually find himself in the higher strata of society. That sort of plot appeals to novel readers, and the same sort of plot was applied to Sir William Phips.

In his case, however, close study quickly makes it sound like a coverup of some kind. The archaeology of the Phips homestead in Maine has been studied in great detail, and yet the exact identity of this enigmatic individual remains not entirely clear.

Connections from Sir William to the famous “money pit” treasure in Nova Scotia have been noted. That appears to have involved scandal and coverup. More, but related, coverup and scandal surrounding his retrieval of sunken treasure in the Caribbean. Other scandal and coverup had to do with his handling of the infamous witchcraft trials. It’s been suggested that his biography by Cotton Mather was designed to justify his role as governor.

He also had clearly documented social ties, at least, to Constantine Phipps, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who was the twin brother of Ann Phipps who married George Reeves who emigrated to Virginia. But were they only social ties?

Constantine and Ann’s father Francis evidently married as his 3rd wife, the widow of Col. John Jeaffreson of St. Kitts, whose family appears to have been the same as the “Jefferson” family of Virginia with direct ties to the Epps (Epes, Eppes, etc.) family, with more multiple ties to the Reeves family in Virginia and between the Reeves family and the Phips or Phipps family in Virginia. Constantine Phipps and Christopher Jeaffreson have been called “brothers by affinity.”

Jeaffreson was closely involved with Ralph Merrifield, a London merchant who supposedly was engaged in “undercover” Caribbean trade. We’ve referred in past posts to a Maryland sea captain who was accused of being a pirate, with obvious coverup involving high levels of colonial government. Late in life he gave power of attorney to a woman named Phipps.

The British TV program known as Time Team, which was a sort of archaeological reality show,  ran a two-part episode, at one point, involving colonial plantation culture on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. In that program, they pointed out the central importance of Bristol, England in the Caribbean trade.

They also pointed out the importance of the sugar industry. At one time, more money was being made from sugar, and from rum as a by-product of the sugar manufacturing process, than from the rest of British colonial ventures combined. The Phips or Phipps family was very much involved and was in extremely high profile in the Caribbean, as we’ve noted in a number of previous posts.

Isn’t it an interesting “coincidence” that “Sir William” had family connections to Bristol, then just happened to marry a woman whose father led the naive former shepherd boy into maritime commerce involving the Caribbean, which just happened to lead him into such close familiarity with the Caribbean that he was able to seize a fortune in sunken treasure there, and which just happened to bring him into prominence in England, and which just happened to bring him into association with Constantine Phipps, whose family just happened to have connections to Caribbean trade, and whose sister just happened to marry a Reeves who just happened to die in Virginia and who appears to have just happened to have been connected to the Jeaffresons who just happened to be connected to Francis Phipps of Reading and to the Epps family of Virginia, apparently, who just happened to, in turn, be connected to other persons named named Reeves in Virginia who just happened to have other connections to the Phips or Phipps family in Virginia and North Carolina?

And isn’t it an interesting “coincidence” that when Sir William, the formerly poor little shepherd boy, came before Charles II and later James II, he was able to glide with ease through the highest levels of British government? And isn’t it interesting “coincidence” that James II had an illegitimate daughter, Catharine Dedley, whose daughter Catharine Annesley married William Phipps in 1718? And isn’t it interesting “coincidence” that the William she married was a son of Constantine Phipps who was a son of Francis Phipps who married the widow of Col. Jeaffreson, and a nephew of the Ann Phipps who married a George Reeves who died in Virginia? And isn’t it interesting “coincidence” that the widow of the other William, Sir William, presented Constantine with a “great silver tankard” at one point, even though they were supposedly unrelated?

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