More About Washington Hamilton Phipps

George Washington Hamilton Phipps, as he was called in his father’s probate papers in Owen County, Indiana, was more commonly known as Washington Hamilton Phipps. He was a son of Mathew or Matthew Phips or Phipps and Mathursa (“Mathursy”) (Toliver) Phipps.

Mathew had a store in Bowling Green, Clay County, Indiana at the same time that he owned a farm in adjacent Owen County. Washington, Mathew’s son, was discussed in a very recent post.

Additional Information about Washington Hamilton Phipps comes from the notes of the late Lucille (Phipps) Chalfant, his granddaughter. She said that Washington was born near Bowling Green 15 November 1835 and lived there until the age of 3.

Then, she says, the family moved to what she terms “another farm” located a mile “above” Freedom, Indiana. Freedom is a small village on the White River in Owen County. Lucille listed the following children of Washington H. Phipps and his wife Louisa Morris who, Lucille pointed out, was previously married to Silas Leak. Leak was killed in the Civil War.

  • Fayette May, married George Oliver Mitten
  • Minetta Belle, married James Denver Phipps (her first cousin)
  • Herschel Matthew, married Ollie Jane Herrington and Laura
  • Homer (died early)
  • Cary, married Florence Maybelle Biddle
  • Frances, married Mark Rawley

Mrs. Chalfant also noted that Louisa had a daughter, Mary Adelle, called Dollie, by her previous marriage to Silas Leak.

In past posts, we’ve noted how Washington’s father Mathew was presumed dead in 1841. We’ve also noted how this conclusion was made under extremely suspicious circumstances, to say the least. One logical conclusion was that he probably simply moved somewhere else and changed his name.

Mrs. Chalfant believed, however, that Mathew died of plague in New Orleans. His mother Mathursa then remarried to Alexander McBride, which we know from other sources. Lucille Chalfant said that after Mathursa’s remarriage, Alexander McBride “set grandpa to work,” referring to McBride’s stepson Washington Hamilton Phipps. She added that he “worked him long and hard.”

She said that even when Washington was 20 years old, he still could neither read nor write. Once he reached the age of 21, he left McBride’s household and set out on his own. Washington wanted to be a teacher, according to Lucille Chalfant, and so he enrolled at the state university in Bloomington. She said that he was “one of their earliest students.”

This, as noted in an earlier post, appears to have been the case. An 1890 book on the history of Indiana University refers to Washington H. Phipps as a student there from Freedom, Indiana. He was a freshman in 1864. His obituary confirms that he was an early student at Indiana University.

According to Lucille Chalfant, Washington H. Phipps taught for “several” years. His obituary says he taught in the public schools for 6 years. He then turned to farming, according to Mrs. Chalfant.

She said that he continued to study, however, including books in the fields of law and veterinary medicine. According to her notes, people came “from far and near” to ask him about law or to ask for advice.

She claims that one person came to Washington Phipps asking for help in drawing up the legal papers to create a partnership. Washington advised the man against pursuing this business.

The man ignored Washington’s advice, however, went into partnership, and the business failed. The man who came for Washington’s help had owned a mill, but now he had to pay not only his own share of the venture, but the partner’s as well, and was financially ruined.

Mrs. Chalfant also claimed that photography was an “early” hobby of Washington Phipps, and that he produced “tintypes, etc.” Photography first became a craze in the US in the 1840s, with the commercial introduction of the daguerreotype. Tintypes became a significant factor in the 1860 and 1870s.

She said that people also came to Washington Hamilton Phipps in order to borrow money from him, which he loaned with interest. She noted that she had heard that another of his brothers did the same. She wasn’t sure which brother, but thought it was John A. Phipps. This would be John Andrew Phipps (1836-1900), who died in Madison County, Missouri near Brunot, Wayne County.

Mrs. Chalfant said that one family in Freedom kept borrowing money from John, then paying it back, then borrowing money again, then paying it back, etc. She claimed that he grew so tired of it that he moved to Missouri as a result.

According to another family story told through Jesse Phipps, John A. Phipps’s grandson, however, John A. Phipps moved to Missouri because he got in a fight with someone in Indiana and killed him. He came to Missouri to escape the law, or so the story goes.

Washington Hamilton Phipps enjoyed sitting on the porch on the west side of his house, according to Mrs. Chalfant, with a straw hat on his head and a homemade cane between his knees. When younger relatives became too loud, he would thump the cane on the porch, while saying “Boys, boys!”

Mrs. Chalfant also noted that Washington had a beard “on both sides of his face,” although what she meant by that isn’t clear. He would hardly have had a beard on only one side of his face. She described his house, barn, and farm. She said that he had rheumatism and a crippled knee, that he was frugal, and that he lived by himself after his wife Louisa died.

He is then said to have frequently made baking powder biscuits, which he ate with hot sweetened water. Because his eyesight was weak, he sometimes didn’t realize that his biscuits were moldy unless his son Cary, while visiting, would tell him.

Lucille said that Washington died after becoming ill one August, when it was very hot. His obituary notes that he died 21 August 1920 at his home near Arney, Indiana. Arney is in Owen County.

He is said by Mrs. Chalfant to have been mentally alert right up to the time of death. In fact, shortly before he died, he asked for a box containing money and important papers. He called his offspring into the room and divided his property among them. The funeral was then held at his house.

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