Samuel Miles and the Death of Mathew Phips

Mathew Phips (as his name seems to have usually been spelled) ran a store in Bowling Green, Clay County, Indiana while owning a farm in adjacent Owen County. He was a son of Jesse and Jane (“Jennie”) Spurlin Phips, and Jesse was a son of Samuel Phips of Ashe County, North Carolina.

Samuel was born about 1760-1763, according to his own conflicting testimonies, and died in 1854 in Ashe County. Some family members – in addition to various closely associated families of other surnames – made the trek from Ashe County, North Carolina to Indiana during the first half of the 19th century. Some of them settled in Clay, Owen, and Lawrence Counties. In the case of Mathew Phips and his father Jesse, they appear to have arrived in the Clay and Owen Counties area by the 1830s.

In 1841, close relatives of Mathew Phips robbed the store of a competitor in the little town of Bowling Green. This is discussed at length in Edward Bonney’s period account of the outlaw gang.

A few days later a claim surfaced that Mathew had taken a flatboat to New Orleans with goods to sell. This was a common practice at the time. A lucrative trade had sprung up between this area of Indiana and New Orleans, involving mostly one-way commercial boat traffic which originated on the White River.

Shortly after Mathew’s competitor’s store was robbed, Mathew himself was declared dead. Supposedly he was killed during his supposed trip, but no one seemed to have any actual evidence. It also appears, however, that various members of what detective Edward Bonney called the “banditti” had infiltrated local politics.

Somehow Mathew was declared dead, but without the body and without any clear evidenc that he was actually dead. A family story asserts that someone accompanied Mathew on this supposed trip to New Orleans, but wouldn’t talk about what happened once he returned.

The infiltration of local politics by outlaw gang members has been discussed in past posts. This becomes evident in a close reading of Owen County, Indiana (adjacent to Clay County) court records of the period. The matter actually became the cause of riots in Owen County around the 1847-1850 period, riots which required state intervention.

An example of the extent of this infiltration of the political system is evident in a brief record of an Indiana political convention of the Whig party in Indianapolis in 1838. Among the delegates attending from Clay County were Matthew Phipps (as his name is spelled this time) and Samuel Miles.

It’s not known whether Samuel Miles had any connection to the outlaw gang. There may have been no connection at all. When Mathew “died” in 1841, however, his widow Mathursa (“Mathursy”) (Toliver) Phips or Phipps and her brother Levi were made administrators. Another administrator was Samuel Miles.

From the Logansport Telegraph, Logansport, Cass County, Indiana, 3 February 1838, p. 1:

Proceedings of the Indiana Whig Convention.
Indianapolis, Jan. 22, 1838.

This being the day appointed for the meeting of the Delegates chosen by the Whigs of the several counties, for the purpose of consulting on the propriety of making a nomination of a candidate for the Presidency, of appointing Delagates [sic; delegates] to attend a National Convention, and of deliberating on other measures connected with the Whig cause, the Delegates assembled at the State House, and were called to order by the Hon. Thomas J. Evans, Delegate from the county of Fountain. . . . .

. . . Upon calling the roll of the counties, the following gentlemen came forward and took their seats as Delegates, viz: . . .

. . . Clay – . . . Samuel Howe Smydth, N. G. Cromwell, Matthew Phipps, Nelson M’Manimee [i.e. McManimee], Samuel Miles. [entire list for that county, followed by delegates for other counties]. . . .

Who was this Samuel Miles? He was likely the individual pictured here, although that photo appears without any identifying information except to say that he was in Clay County. He married Hannah Ghormley according to Blanchard’s 1884 county history, and secondary sources say that they married in Parke County, Indiana. A son, Enos, was himself a merchant according to the 1850 census, as Mathew Phips had been earlier.

A “biographical sketch” of Samuel Miles from an unknown source refers to him as a War of 1812 veteran who lived at Terre Haute before moving into Clay County, Indiana.


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