Where Did the Two Samuels Come From?

A couple recent posts (see here and here) concerned Samuel Phips, who was born about 1760-1763 according to his own testimony. He died in 1854 in Ashe County, North Carolina, on his farm which today is in Alleghany County. (Ashe County did not exist until 1799, and Alleghany County did not exist until 1859.)

The earliest known record pertaining to this Samuel is an undated (about 1782) militia list from Montgomery County, Virginia. There he is listed with an older Samuel, listed as Sr. His eventual father in law George Reeves also shows up in Montgomery County, Virginia around the same time.

Later in the same decade, beginning with 1787 in the case of Samuel Phips, both Samuel Phips and George Reeves show up in Wilkes County, North Carolina records. Then beginning with the 1800 federal census, Samuel appears in Ashe County, North Carolina records and George Reeves in adjacent Grayson County, Virginia. These two latter locations sort of criss-cross in 1811 when Samuel becomes involved in Grayson County as an heir of his father in law George Reeves.

Due to changes in boundary definitions, it appears possible that Samuel could have lived in the same place throughout this period. So where were this Samuel and the older Samuel, identified as Samuel Sr., before the approximately 1782 militia list in Montgomery County, Virginia?

A problem which immediately enters into the picture is that various maps appear to show the location of the Samuel Phips farm, where he died in 1854, as located just past the limits of organized government in the early period. Readily accessible genealogical sources are often vague about this area, and sometimes appear to contradict each other.

Samuel, at least by the time he died in 1854, was living on a hilly farm located beside a loop of the New River as it meanders back and forth across what is now recognized as the Virginia and North Carolina state line. His gravesite, which is on what had been his farm, is within walking distance of the New River.

Various past posts have detailed outlaw involvement of some members of the family. Whether that sort of activity pertained to Samuel or not is not immediately clear. Records do suggest that it applied to at least a couple of his sons and certainly to some of his grandchildren.

Was Samuel deliberately residing out past the easy reach of the law? We’ve discussed records in Virginia, perhaps most prominently in issues of the Virginia Gazette, which suggest that the large-scale Virginia stealing and counterfeiting network utilized the Watauga settlement as a location for holding stolen “merchandise.” In those day, that could include people (slaves) as well as horses. This sort of activity, appears to have been why some individuals settled in this area. Did this apply to Samuel?

Various maps on the Internet and in print show the progression of county jurisdictions in this area of, more or less, northwest North Carolina over the years during the colonial period. By 1782, around the time of the Montgomery County, Virginia militia list, some maps show northwest North Carolina as dominated by Wilkes County with, to the west of Wilkes, Sullivan County (eventually Tennessee) around the present Virginia-North Carolina line, with Washington District mostly to the south of Sullivan.

We have to say “mostly” to the south, because the northern boundary of Washington made a strange sweep to the north in such a way that a sizable chunk of Washington actually hugged the Virginia line between Wilkes County, to the east, and Sullivan County, to the west.

Do these considerations even apply to Samuel, however? Samuel was in Montgomery County, Virginia about 1782. Various genealogical and historical sources say that Montgomery County, Virginia was earlier Fincastle County, Virginia. Some confusion seemed to exist, however, over the exact nature of the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina in this area. This seems to have resulted in the odd phenomenon of a number of Phips or Phipps individuals showing up as born in North Carolina in one record, born in Virginia in another.

Some modern-day sources seem to suggest that at least part of the area where Samuel Phips was living was, for a time, not clearly a part of any county. If Sullivan County does enter into the picture, that jurisdiction appears to have created in 1779 as a part of North Carolina. Then from 1784 to 1788, it was a part of the State of Franklin, an area which has been described as extra-legal. In other words, it had no official or legal status. Although some pushed for a new state to be admitted in this area, this never occurred.

The fact that a cluster of associated surnames appear in Montgomery County, North Carolina early in the 1780s and then in Wilkes County, North Carolina later that decade suggests that the same area may have shifted its jurisdictional definition during that period. But Wilkes County didn’t exist until 1777, just maybe 5 years or so prior to the Montgomery County militia list.

When Wilkes County was formed, it was created from parts of Surry County and Washington District. Various family and circumstantial ties appear to connect Samuel Phips of (eventually) Ashe County, North Carolina with John Fips or Phips who died about 1769 in Charlotte County, Virginia. John had been earlier living in Lunenburg County, Virginia, but this probably did not indicate an actual move, since part of Lunenburg became Charlotte in 1764.

Various records connect that family with the Phipps family of Brunswick and Sussex Counties, Virginia. We know that members of this family made multiple inroads into multiple North Carolina counties. They moved into the now-extinct county of Bute (later Warren) County, North Carolina, into Wake County, into Surry County, and into Wilkes County. In addition, this family appears to connect to the Phips or Phipps family of Amelia County, Virginia, with direct ties from there into Warren and Orange Counties in North Carolina.

It may seem unlikely that a single family could have connection to all of these locations. We’ve found, however, a clearly documented tendency for various Phips or Phipps or Fips individuals, who appear to have been connected, to demonstrate a remarkable mobility.

We’ve uncovered a number of records which refer to one of these individuals in one county, but described as being “of” some other county. A surprisingly large number of records even criss-cross the Virginia-North Carolina, referring to both colonies or states in a single record as involving a single individual.

Members of the family of John Fips or Phips of Lunenburg/Charlotte Counties, Virginia came into Surry County, North Carolina and, if we can count in-laws, even into Ashe County, North Carolina. Members of the Phips or Phipps family of Brunswick and Sussex Counties in Virginia seem, again, connected to family members in Amelia County, Virginia. Family members associated with Amelia County, Virginia migrated into Bute (Warren) and Orange Counties in North Carolina.

Then we have the approximately 1768 (although 1765 has been claimed) Orange County, North Carolina Regulator petition naming James, John, and Joseph Phipps. Shortly afterward (1771) part of Orange County became Guilford County. Then in 1774, just about 3 years later, James, John, and Joseph Phipps show up in a 1774 estate record in Guilford County.

Guilford County was formed, in part, from Orange County, but also from Rowan County. Benjamin Nuckolls, writing in 1914 in Pioneer Settlers of Grayson County, said that the family of Benjamin Phipps came from Rowan County.

So, to return to the original question, where would one look for earlier records pertaining to the two men named Samuel Phips? Again, the younger died in 1854 in Ashe County, North Carolina, and the older Samuel, Samuel Sr., appears with the younger Samuel in the approximately 1782 record in Montgomery County, Virginia. Were they a part of one of the migration paths just described, or did they make their own trek into no-man’s land from some other part of Virginia or North Carolina? If so, from what part?

If they moved early into a sort of unofficial no-man’s land, the matter of where to search for records may be a moot point. They may have been living where there simply were no records. Surely if one goes back far enough, however, there must some sort of a record, somewhere, pertaining to at least Samuel Sr. in a location officially recognized. Where might that be?

According to Wikipedia, Ashe County, North Carolina, where the younger Samuel died in 1854, was considered a part of the State of Franklin in the 1780s. To ask where the records of the State of Franklin would be, appears to be a “trick question,” since it was not officially recognized. According to that same Wikipedia article, the State of Franklin consisted of three “counties,” as Wikipedia puts it. Presumably these were not officially recognized as counties per se at the time. These were Washington, Greene, and Sullivan, with Ashe considered as a part of Washington.

The Ashe area wasn’t considered to be a part of North Carolina at all until 1785, according to that same source. Even then, Ashe County didn’t yet exist as Ashe County. Presumably that would explain why Samuel Jr. appears beginning in the latter 1780s in Wilkes County. Another Wikipedia article explains that it was the northern and western regions of Wilkes County which eventually became Ashe County. That would have been in 1799, when Ashe was formed.

Following standard genealogical practice and standard genealogical references, the procedure would be to (1) look at the earliest known record pertaining to the two Samuels, which is from Montgomery County, Virginia. On that basis, one would see that Montgomery County was formed in 1777 from Fincastle County. One would then (2) look at earlier records from Fincastle County.

In the case of the two Samuels, however, that might be a waste of time. A more productive stance might be to consider earlier migrations into Surry and Wilkes County, or even earlier migrations into Bute (later Warren), Wake, and Orange Counties. (That’s not actually a bunch of different counties, because of the tremendous amount of overlap in records in addition to changing county boundary designations.)

It seems remarkably odd that only one record seems to have surfaced that clearly pertains to Samuel Sr. Could he be discussed earlier, somewhere else, as a Phelps, or as a Fibbs? Did he suddenly show up from the Caribbean, through the West Indies trade link?

Could he even have more or less sneaked into Virginia or North Carolina via a late immigration? There’s always the (so far) unsupported family legend that the immigrant killed someone of prominence in England and so fled to America. There are also persistent legends of Newport News, Virginia as the immigration point. If there was any truth to these stories, could he have already had relatives living in Virginia or North Carolina at the time of this purported immigration?

The Newport News legend could actually pertain to a known immigration.  which appears to clearly relate, through tons of circumstantial data, especially relationships with members of associated families of other surnames. That immigration was that of John Phips, the surveyor who arrived in Jamestown in 1621.

Through lots of circumstantial data, especially relationships with members of associated families of other surnames, it appears likely that the Phips or Phipps family in Brunswick, Sussex, Amelia, Lunenburg, etc. counties of Virginia likely ties back to this John Phips.

Once he reached Virginia in 1621, he would have first reached what is now referred to as the Hampton Roads area. This is the area currently dominated by Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Newport News. John Phips would have then made his way up the James River to Jamestown.

John’s entry point into Virginia would have been right around the area of Newport News. Could this be what the family legend pertains to? Was Newport News even known as such back then?

Again, John Phips arrived in 1621. Wikipedia refers to the area of Newport News as located near the mouth of the James River. The article also says that this point was “first referred to as Newportes Newes as early as 1621.”

That was the same year in which John Phips arrived. Did he stop at “Newportes Newes” before making his way up the James River to his new home of Jamestown? Is this the basis for the family legend? And, if so, did he come to America for reasons other than to simply enter the eventually lucrative world of Virginia surveying? Was there any evidence that he could have been pushed by circumstances into making a trip across the Atlantic that he never otherwise would have made?

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