Samuel Phips of Ashe County, North Carolina: His Gift of a Slave Girl

Past posts have dealt with the will of Samuel Phips (as his name was usually spelled), who died in 1854 in Ashe County, North Carolina. He wrote multiple wills, with multiple copies extant. One of those wills is dated 1837, and exists in a loose (unbound) copy and in a bound copy, with significant differences between the two. The bound version would have been copied by a clerk from an original loose document.

In that will, Samuel refers to various slaves. Part of the loose will reads as follows:

. . . and to Joseph Phips my youngest Son I have given and bequeathed a Negro girl named Vilet and do also give and bequeath to him the said Joseph my son at my death a Negro boy by the Name of Charles . . .

Notice that it is not indicated that “Vilet” (presumably Violet) would be given only at Samuel’s death, although this is stated regarding Charles.

Samuel lived a long life. He was born about 1760-1763 according to his own wavering testimony when he spoke on behalf of the Revolutionary War pension applications of his friends Martin Gambill and Thomas Baker. The 1850 census claims that he was born about 1762.

Samuel lived until 1854. This means that he was, roughly speaking, somewhere around 92 or so when he died. Shortly before this, on 7 August 1850, he was shown in the federal census in Ashe County, North Carolina as Saml Phips, age 88. He was living in the household of “Patcy” Phips, whose age looks like perhaps 50.

Her relationship isn’t stated, but she was Samuel’s daughter in law, the widow of Samuel’s son Joseph. This Joseph is the son to whom Samuel said he had “given and bequeathed a Negro girl named Vilet.”

Ashe County, North Carolina sits along the Virginia state line, adjacent to Grayson County, Virginia, which was home to Samuel Phips’s father in law George Reeves. About 5 years after Samuel died, the part of Ashe County where Samuel had been living became Alleghany County.

Nearby is Wise County, Virginia. A Wise County chancery case arose in 1855 involving the estate of Joseph Phips, son of Samuel. (Individuals are actually referred to as “Phipps” rather than “Phips” in the chancery records.)

The chancery file has been digitized, and is accessible in the Library of Virginia website. Parts of the file, unfortunately, are difficult to impossible to read. Some of the ink in the handwritten text appears to have dropped out almost entirely, leaving only the faintest ghost image. In some parts of the text, there appears to be not even the faintest appearance of the original text.

In addition, reference is made in the document to a bill of sale which was originally attached as item “A.” That bill does not appear, however, in the file.

Although not all of the file can be read, it is clear that ownership of the slave girl named “Vilet,” the one mentioned by Samuel Phips in his 1837 will, was being contested. As was extremely common in such records, a couple dates appear to have been left blank and were apparently never filled in. One of those dates was to indicate when Joseph Phips of Ashe County, North Carolina, son of Samuel Phips, married Patsy.

Her surname presumably appeared in the original document, but if it’s there it isn’t readable. It appears that he married Patsy White. This would be the woman with whom Samuel Phips was living in the 1850 census, after Joseph had died. The chancery record specifically refers to the death of Joseph Phips, who died intestate “about” 1840.

The chancery record also refers to the later death of Joseph’s widow Patsy Phips. She died, according to the chancery record, in December 1855, with a space being left blank for the exact date.

She died intestate (without a will). Those who were bringing the chancery suit were two of Patsy’s sons in law, Healey and Haynes, referred to as the court’s “orators.”

The descendants of Joseph and Patsy Phips are listed in the record. (Again, the “Phipps” spelling, rather than “Phips,” is used in the record.)

  • Preston M. Phipps
  • Wilburn or Wilburne Phipps
  • Ann Phipps, wife of Robert Killen
  • Polly [common nickname for Mary] Phipps, wife of Wesley Swindle [Swindall]
  • Lydia Phipps, wife of Lilburn Fulton
  • Nancy Phipps, wife of William H. Healy or Henly [appears to read Healy at one point, likely Henly at another point; other sources have Henley]
  • “Susen” Phipps, wife of Robert Haynes
  • Jane Phipps [later married Wilburn Fulton]
  • Joseph Phipps

Jane and Joseph are referred to as “infant heirs.” This doesn’t mean that they were literally infants, but that they were not of adult age.

After the death of Samuel Phips’s son Joseph in “about” 1840 (as the chancery document puts it), the heirs sold their interest in Joseph’s estate to Enoch “Reeve” of Ashe County, North Carolina. This would apparently be the Enoch Reeves who was a grandson of George Reeves, Samuel Phips’s father in law.

There was another Enoch Reeves in the area, but he wasn’t born until 1827, so he would have been around 13 years old when Joseph Phips died. The earlier Enoch Reeves, apparently a son of George Reeves, Jr., was born about 1801 according to the 1850 census which shows him in Ashe County.

According to the chancery record, sometime after the heirs sold their interest in Joseph’s estate to Enoch Reeves, Enoch Reeves then sold “the said interest” back to Preston M. and Wilburne or Wilburn Phipps. Preston and Wilburn were sons of Joseph Phips.

Then in December 1855, as the court noted, Patsy, widow of Joseph Phips, died without having disposed “by will or otherwise” of the slave girl Vilet. After Patsy died, according to the allegations, Joseph and Patsy’s sons Preston and Wilburn then “seized” Vilet and “her increase.”

Henley or Healey, along with Haynes, as sons in law of Joseph Phips, were now alleging in their chancery suit that other heirs were fraudulently claiming that Vilet was a part of Joseph’s estate. This could not be the case, they said,  because Patsy didn’t acquire Vilet until about two years after Joseph died. Vilet and “her increase” should be sold, they suggested, and the money properly distributed.

As was typical of early Virginia chancery case files, the outcome is not stated.


[file folder, image 1 of 5:]

Wise County

Chancery Causes – William H Healey [error for Henley?] etc vs Preston M Phipps, etc

[This is followed by a supposed list of surnames in the file, which is incomplete. In addition, “Vileta” is, apparently, a misreading of the slave name Vilet, which was presumably a form of “Violet.”]


[image 2 of 5: (blank paper)]

[image 3 of 5:]

To the Honorable George W. H[o?]pkins Judge of the Circuit Court of Wise County Virginia; The Bill of Complaint of Wm. H. Henly [or Healy?] and [Robert? (looks perhaps like “Roberty”)] [Y?] Haynes of Said County respectfully represents that Joseph Phipps of Ashe Co. No. Ca. [Son?] to o[? (perhaps “old”?] Samuel Phipps about the year 18[? (appears to have been left blank)] married [?] [Patsy?] [? (either left blank or completely unreadable)] by whom he had issue Viz Preston M Phipps Wilburn Phipps [and?] Ann Phipps the wife of Robert Killen Polly Phipps the wife of Wesley Swindle Lydia Phipps the wife of Lilburn Fulton Nancy Phipps the wife of W[illiam?] H Healy [sic; but error for Henley?] [?]s[?] Phipps the wife of Rob[ert? (looks like “Roberty”)] [F?] Haynes Jane Phipps and Joseph Phipps infant heirs of the Said Joseph Phipps. That during the lifetime of the Said Joseph and Patsy Phipps the said Samuel Phipps loaned to them a certain negro Girl Named Vilet [sic; Violet] for the purpose of assisting the said Patsy [? (looks a bit like “Sis tters”)] [? (looks a bit like “perforq[?]ired”)] of her Domestic [?] The said Joseph and Patsy by permission of Sd. [i.e. said] Samuel Cont[ract?]ed to [? (begins with “re”?)] the said negro girl Vilet under the [loan?] of [? (looks like “resaid”)] until the death of the said Joseph which [?]ee[? (perhaps “deed”)] [?] [?] the year 1840 Two years [after?] the [deed?] date (1840) the said Samuel Phipps [parted?] with [?] Right title and interest in the said negro Girl by a deed of release (a copy of which is herewith [?] [?] “A”) [?]ts the said Patsy Phipps your orators would also state further that the Said William H Healy Married Nancy Phipps [?] the Said Robe[rty?] [Y.?] Haynes Married Susa[en?] Phipps both daughters of the said Joseph and Patsy Phipps and that by virtue of said marriages they each of your orators became heirs at law of the Said Joseph and Patsy Phipps

The [? (looks like “sequel”)] [? (perhaps “avers”?)] th[at?] the said Joseph Phipps died [decd.?] intestate about the year 1840 and about the year [blank (or not readable)] your orators sold and disposed

[image 4 of 5:]

of all their interest as heirs in the estate of the said Joseph Phipps decd unto Enoch Reeve [(variant form of Reeves)] of Ashe County North Carolina and the said Reeve afterward disposed the said interest to the said Preston M. and Wilburne Phipps. About the [blank] day of December 1855 the said Patsy Phipps wife to the said Joseph Phipps decd. departed this life without disposing by will or otherwise of the said negro girl Vilet or her increase which had been [granted?] to her in the manner aforesaid by the said Samuel Phipps by reason of which intestacy your orators became heirs at law of the [?] upon the decease of the said Patsy Phipps the said Preston M & Wilburn Phipps seized upon the said negro girl Vilet and her increase and clai[m?] the[?] [?] and in order to [give?] [?] to their o[?] [wrong?] they pretend that the said negro girl Vilet and [?]er increase properly belong to the estate of the said Joseph Phipps decd. although it appears that the said negro Vilet had been acquired by the said Patsy Phipps some two years after the death of the said Joseph Phipps as may be seen by the foregoing bill and they by their pretended claim endeavor to defraud your orators of their just rights

Matters being in this condition your orators [“are” written twice?] therefore forced to seek redress at the hands of your Honor The prayer therefore of your orators is that the said Preston M Phipps Wilburn Phipps Robert Killen and Ann his wife Wesley Swindle and Polly his wife Lilburn Fulton and Lydia his [sic; presumably “his wife” was intended] and Jane & Joseph Phipps Infant heirs of the said Patsy Phipps [?] [?] parties Defendants to this bill [to?] answer the [same?] On oath and [?] upon a [full?] hearing & this cause that a Decree be rendered directing a sale of the said negro girl Vilet and her increase

[image 5 of 5:]

and their proper share of the proceeds of Said sale of the said negro girl Vilet and her increase be paid to your orators and that such other and further relief be [?]tended (looks clearly like “eatended,” but presumably “extended” was intended)] to your orators as may suit their case and as to Equity belongs May it pleas [sic; please] your Honor to grant the Commonwealth’s C[?]. of S[?] [as directed?] &c

Smith & Hagen
Attorneys for the Plfs. [i.e. plaintiffs]

See also:


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