In the past, we’ve honed in on an enigmatic will from 1732 which was crafted in Jamaica, yet recorded in North Carolina. The reason for the multiple locations? The will mentions multiple estates, including a wealthy plantation in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina. The document was written by Rebecca Shute. She knew she was dying, yet she was young enough to refer to her mother, Mary Earle, as an heir.
The will was first recorded in Port Royal, Jamaica, a city once termed the “wickedest city on earth.” At one time, a quarter of the town’s buildings were devoted to alcohol or prostitution, or both. Jamaica and other nearby locations in the Caribbean were home to a lucrative trade in rum, molasses, sugar, and slaves.
Much of that trade saw the thriving British colony of Virginia as one of its primary targets. Phipps or Phips family members were heavily engaged in that trade, probably from the beginning. They wove a spidery mercantile web which connected England, the Caribbean, and Virginia. Family members were involved as merchants, as ship captains, and as politicians.
The Rebecca Shute will refers to her mother Mary Earle and to a certain John Earle, who Rebecca calls her “friend.” A likely scenario, although it will require more research to tell for sure, would be that Mary had remarried, and that John was Rebecca’s stepfather. Rebecca’s maiden name was not Shute. She calls herself a “widdow,” and indicates that she had a daughter, also named Rebecca Shute.
The copy of the will which Rebecca Shute wrote and which is preserved in North Carolina might just be part of a longer will also referring to her property in Jamaica. That is suggested by the fact that the North Carolina document refers to largely formulaic preliminaries before beginning a section with “Item.” Customarily, wills of this era which were characterized by any degree of complexity listed various pieces of property or specific stipulations in separate sections, with each section beginning with the word “Item.”
In this will only one “item” appears, making one wonder whether other items appeared in the Jamaican original. This is further suggested by a couple references to Rebecca Shute’s “estates,” in the plural, in addition to her various “Effects and Chatelles.”
Abstract of the 1732 Rebecca Shute will copy, as extant in North Carolina
- Date: 20 June 1732
- Devisor: Rebecca Shute of the parish of Port Royall (Port Royal) on the island of Jamaica
- Her status: A widow, “weak in body”
- Heir: Rebecca Shute’s daughter, also named Rebecca Shute, to receive all her “estates,” including all real and personal property and in particular a plantation in Cape Fear in North Carolina along with its negroes, when Rebecca would reach 21
- Heir: Rebecca Shute’s mother Mary Earle and Rebecca’s “friend” John Earle (perhaps a stepfather?) to receive the North Carolina plantation if daughter Rebecca would die before reaching 21; Mary Earle or John Earle (or a survivor of them) to receive half of the profits from the North Carolina plantation’s operation while daughter Rebecca was still under age 21 as long as they would agree to care for Rebecca and for the plantation, with the other half of the profits to go to daughter Rebecca’s education while under 21
- Executors: Mother Mary Earle, “friend” John Earle
- Witnesses: George Cabaniss, Jacob Phipps, John Phipps
- Proven in the Court of Common Pleas for the Precinct of Port Royall (Port Royal) in the island of Jamaica by Josias Eason, Jacob Phipps, and John Phipps
Cape Fear is a region of North Carolina found in the southernmost section of the state around the present-day city of Wilmington. This includes the present-day North Carolina counties of Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender. The presence of a Brunswick County here, bearing the same name of Brunswick County in Virginia, a location with a strong early Phipps presence, appears to have created some genealogical confusion. Sometimes the North Carolina counties of Bladen, Columbus, Duplin, Onslow, and Sampson are also included in defining the Cape Fear region. The southernmost county involved is Brunswick, which is adjacent to Horry County, South Carolina.
Horry County, South Carolina is where Elijah Phipps was living in the 1850 and 1860 censuses. He supposedly was a son of Thomas Fipps, who some think was born about 1765-1775, who supposedly died about 1820, and who married Sarah Guy. A grandson of Thomas was supposedly Thomas P. Fipps who is buried in Columbus County, North Carolina. He supposedly was born in 1838 in Horry County. Sarah Guy who supposedly married Thomas Fipps was a daughter of Samuel Guy of Duplin County, North Carolina. His 1794 will refers to his daughter as Sarah Phips. Duplin is at the northern edge of the Cape Fear region.
It should be stressed that at least part of the Phips or Phipps family was not your average family. Members of this Phipps or Phips or Fipps or Phypps or Fips etc. family in America did not tend to simply procure 150 acres and a cow, living in the same eastern county for a century or so, until some adventurous descendants decided to move to the Midwest in search of 300 acres and two cows.
Instead, some family members maintained numerous web-like ties connecting the Caribbean, the East Coast, and England, with involvement in shipping, real estate investment, surveying, and merchandising. It would only make sense, in that context, to find family members on the North Carolina coast in close proximity to the lucrative West Indies trade and the early South Carolina trading hub. It would only make sense to find that Rebecca Shute owned estates in North Carolina and, presumably, in Jamaica.
John and Jacob Phipps
The identity of John and Jacob Phipps, who are named in Rebecca Shute’s will, is not clear. We’ve discussed a certain John Phipps who was in Kingston, Jamaica in 1743. Kingston and Port Royal are so close to each other that, arguably, they could be viewed as essentially the same location, especially for 1730s-1740s genealogical purposes. Port Royal is located at the western end of the extremely narrow Palisadoes Peninsula, and is only separated from the Kingston waterfront by a tiny arm of the Caribbean. Much of Port Royal, which had been considered a major pirate haven, sank in an earthquake in 1692. More sank in another earthquake in 1907.
By 1746, John Phipps of Kingston had moved to South Carolina, where he then wrote a will. At that time, his father John was living in Brailes, Warwickshire, where he was a stonecutter. Whether the John Jr. of this family could have been the John Phipps of the 1732 Rebecca Shute will is not clear. If he was, then the identity of Jacob Phipps is still left unsettled. The John whose father was a stonecutter had brothers William and James, but he was not known at this point to have had a brother named Jacob.
Searches have, so far, not turned up a Jacob Phipps associated with the Caribbean. A lengthy section on the Phipps family appears in one volume of Caribbeana, but is focused on St. Kitts. The period of Rebecca Shute’s will, 1732, is so early that little to nothing in terms of primary documents appears to be available via the Internet in digitized form.
Baptismal records are digitized and online for the Kingston parish from around 1722, but that would be too late for John and Jacob Phipps (except as parents), and Rebecca Shute specifically stated that she was of the parish of Port Royal. According to confusingly worded text in the Family Search Catalog, it appears that the parish of Port Royal may have been absorbed into the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew at some undisclosed point in time. The Family Search reference makes it sound as though this occurred in 1723, but evidently not, if Rebecca Shute referred to Port Royal as a functioning parish in 1732.
If John and Jacob were christened on the island, that would probably be too early for readily available records. Christening (baptismal) records are readily available from around 1722 on, but presumably John and Jacob were older than that, and no Jacob appears early anyway.
The Shute family
One must wonder whether Rebecca Shute and her late husband’s family had some connection with Gyles Shute of Bath County, North Carolina, who left a will just about two or three years before Rebecca. Bath County no longer exists. This was a very early county, having been formed in 1696 and having been already done away with by 1739. Again, Rebecca Shute’s will is dated 1732. Bath County was home to the town of Bath. Today, that town is located in Beaufort County, North Carolina. Beaufort County is further up the coast from Cape Fear, in the east central coastal region, northeast of Cape Fear.
Beaufort County is the location where William Fips AKA Phipps appears in records dated from 1726/7 to 1753. This William keeps showing up as associated with a certain William Carruthers. At one point he was a road commissioner. A 1769 record refers to the estate of William “Pheps,” deceased. Supposedly his widow then became Mary Tingle. Mary left a will in Craven County, North Carolina, adjacent to Beaufort County, in 1767 in which she refers to her sons William Phipps, Nathaniel Phipps, and Josias Phipps. A bit earlier than the William Phips or Phipps or Fips records in Beaufort County, a John “Fippe,” as abstracted but with a question mark, proved the 1725 will of Thomas Boyd in Beaufort and Hyde Precincts in North Carolina. Could he have been the John Phipps who witnessed the Rebecca Shute will in Jamaica in 1732?
Getting back to Gyles Shute of Bath County, he left a will which could be abstracted as follows:
Abstract of the North Carolina provincial will of Gyles Shute of Bath County, North Carolina
- Date: 11 February 1729/30
- Devisor: Gyles Shute of Bath County, “Sick & weak of Body”
- Heirs: Wife Charity Shute, sons Philip Shute, Samuel Shute, Joseph Shute, and unnamed daughter (probably the same person also referred to as Penelope Shute)
- Property: His “wareing Apparill both Wollon & Linning” (woolen and linen), “My plaintation whereon I now Live Lying on the Mouth of Towne Creek,” a negro man named Stepney, “Stock” (presumably livestock) and “househould goods”
- Witnesses: Isaac Attiwell, Esq., John Mattock, John Lawson (who signed with a mark)
Another provincial North Carolina will, the 1717 will of John Drinkwater of Bath County, names Gyles and Charity Shute as executors. They, in addition to their son Phillip, were also heirs. One of the witnesses was abstracted as Patrick Cavan, which leads one to wonder whether this name could have actually been Cavaniss. Some sources suggest that the Shutes moved to Bath County, North Carolina from Cecil County, Maryland. A 1719 record refers to a Boston mariner giving power of attorney to Giles Shute, who was described as a merchant in the town of Bath.
John and Mary Earle
John Earle is referred to in Rebecca Shute’s will as her friend, and is mentioned alongside her mother Mary Earle. The fact that Rebecca names her mother as heir suggests that Rebecca was in poor health, expecting to die at an early age. Rebecca’s maiden name was not given. We can assume it was not Shute, since she names a daughter with the same name as herself, Rebecca Shute. The fact that John Earle is referred to as “friend” rather than father suggests that perhaps her mother, Mary Earle, was earlier married to some unnamed husband but had later remarried to John Earle.
Rebecca Shute said that she “earnestly request[ed]” that her mother Mary Earle and her “friend” John Earle would take care of Rebecca’s daughter Rebecca, as well as the North Carolina plantation. This would seem to suggest that the daughter and the Earles were probably residing in North Carolina.
In fact, a John Earle signed a 1754 Cape Fear area petition for better roads. New Hanover County, North Carolina is in the Cape Fear area. That petition complained that the government of New Hanover County, North Carolina had authorized a couple ferries, one from Wilmington to “the Point of Marshe at the Mouth of the Thoroughfaire,” and the other “at a Place called Mount Misery on the North West branch of Cape Fear River.” The New Hanover County government had “neglected and Refused,” however, to build roads to these ferries.
A 1759 New Hanover County deed transferred 640 acres from a John Earle, described as a planter of New Hanover County, to Samuel Swann, Esquire. This land was located on Topsail Sound. In those days, “esquire” actually meant something. The term referred to someone of an elevated social rank, above a gentleman (which also had a specific meaning) but below a knight. A 1762 New Hanover County will was proven by a John Earle.
George Cabaniss was one of the witnesses to the will of Rebecca Shute. According to unconfirmed secondary sources, he was born about 1714 in Prince George County, Virginia and died in 1744 in Amelia County, Virginia. He and his brother Matthew received land patents in Amelia County, Virginia in 1737 adjacent to Francis Epps. We’ve noted various Epps connections and surveyor connections, and this may have been the Francis Epps who was a prominent surveyor. In his 1720 will, George Cabaniss’ father Henry Cabanis (as spelled) of Prince George County, Virginia appointed Francis Epes (Epps) as administrator.
The Epps family has kept reappearing at unexpected junctures, as have surveyor connections and Amelia County, Virginia connections. One of the most significant of the multiple Amelia County connections is that involving Revolutionary War veteran John Phipps, who lived in Amelia County, Virginia before entering Orange County, North Carolina.
We’ve also noted the 1786 Amelia County, Virginia will of Frederick Ford, which was witnessed by John and Tabitha Phipps. We’ve also noted the John Phips listed just above Tandy Walker in a 1748 Lunenburg County, Virginia tax list, with a John Phips listed the following year just under a James Walker in Amelia County. The latter Walker was evidently a surveyor. A John Phips appeared the same year in Lunenburg County.
Returning to George Cabaniss, he appears to have been the mate on a ship sailing from Jamaica to Williamsburg, which would seem to probably connect him with the Caribbean sea trade associated with the Phipps or Phips family in the Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown area. William Phips resided in Williamsburg in 1767, and James Phipps, a Yorktown merchant, was regularly engaged in trade between Virginia and the West Indies, importing rum and sugar, around 1767-1768.
George Cabaniss, according to unverified reports, owned land in both Amelia County, Virginia and Brunswick County, Virginia simultaneously. Brunswick County is, of course, the county we’ve returned to over and over as a sort of place of origin for Phips or Phipps or Fips individuals in various far-flung locations in Virginia and North Carolina. William C. “Caviniss” or Cavaness, with the surname probably simply a variation of Cabaniss, appears in an 1845 Brunswick County summons involving various members of the Phipps family.
According to one secondary source, George Cabaniss had a son George who, in 1757, chose James Hall as guardian, evidently in Amelia County, Virginia. Perhaps there’s no connection, but Sarah Hall, daughter of William Hall, married Joshua Roy in 1823 in Pulaski County, Kentucky, with surety provided by George Woolsey. The same Brunswick County, Virginia summons which was just mentioned also names Woolsey family members in connection with the Phipps family, as do other Brunswick County records, and the Roys in Pulaski County, Kentucky intermarried with members of the Phips family who appear descended from Brunswick County roots.
In addition, the 1773 Halifax County, Virginia will of John “Phillips,” with various reasons to suspect that he may have been a “Phipps,” mentions a “Cabbiness.”
Transcription of the Rebecca Shute will
In the Name of God Amen I Rebecca Shute of the Parish of Port Royall in the Island of Jamaica Widdow [sic; widow] Being weak in Body but of Sound and Disposing Mind and Memory do make and Declare this my last Will and Testament in Manner and form following, First and above all I recommend my Soul to Almighty God, hopeing [sic; hoping] for a full and free pardon of all my Sins through the Merits and Satisfaction of my Saviour Jesus Christ. My Body I commit to Corruption till the General Day of Resurrection. My Worldly Goods I give devise and Bequeath as followeth (Viz) after my Just debts and funeral Expences are paid and Defray’d, I give Devise and Bequeath unto my Daughter Rebecca Shute and her Heirs for Ever all my Estates either real or personal Effects and Chatelles [sic; chattels] whatsoever and wheresoever particularly a Plantation in Cape Fear in North Carolina with the Negroes and all o[th]er Appurtenances thereto belonging when she shall arrive to the age of Twenty one Yeares, or Day of Marriage [which?] shall firest [sic; first] happen. But in Case my Said Daughter Rebecca Shoud [sic; should] Dye [sic; die] before she arrives to the Age aforesaid, [then? (for “then”)] I give devise and do Bequeath the Said Plantation in Cape Fear in North Carolina with the Negroes and all Appurtenances thereto belonging and all my Estates Effects and Chatelles [sic; chattels] whatsoever and wheresoever unto my Loveing [sic; loving] Mother Mary Earle and my friend John Earle dureing [sic; during] their Natural Lives and to the Survivor of the [(unclear, looks perhaps something like “mand to”)] the Heirs of the Survivor of them for Ever –
Item my Will is that the said Mary Earle and John Earle or the Survivor of them have one half of the profits which have been or hereafter shall be made from the Said Plantation dureing [sic; during] the time of my Said Daughters Minority for their own Use and Benefit if they think fit to take on them the care of my Said Daughter and the Plantation which I Earnestly request them to doe [sic; do] and that the other half of the profits be Expended for the Maintenance and Education of my said Daughter till she Arrives to the Age aforesaid. And lastly I hereby Nominate Constitute and appoint my Loveing [sic; loving] Mother Mary Earle and my friend John Earle, Executors of this my last Will and Testament; giveing [sic; giving] to my Executor John Earle and (in Case of his Death) to my Mother Mary Earle full power to Rent Sell or otherwise dispose of the Said Plantation, Negroes and all or any Appurtenances thereto Belonging as they shall see proper for the Benefit of my Said Daughter dureing [sic; during] the time of her Minority to be Accountable to her at the Age aforesaid, hereby Revokeing [sic; revoking] all other and former Willes [sic; wills] by me made In Witness [sic; witness] is hereof I the Testatrix to this my last will and testament have Set my hand and Affix’d my Seal this Eighth Twentieth [sic] Day of May in the Year of our Lord God – (According to the Kallender [sic; calendar] of the Church of England) one thousand Seven hundred and Thirty two –
[signed:] Rebecca Shute (seal)
S[?]ied [sic; presumably odd spelling of “Signed”)] Seal’d and Declar’d by the Testatrix to be her last will and Testament in presence of us who have hereunto Set our hands as Wittnesses [sic; witnesses]
the word /them/ between [ye?] 12th & 18th lines being first Interlin’d
Jacob [with no surname]
Memorandum This 20th Day of June 1732 [unreadable, smudge] Josias Eason Jacob and John Phipps, [“both” crossed out] Tow [sic; two (although actually three)] of the Subscribing Witnesses to the within Will Personally appear’d before me one of his [? (looks like “Maities;” for Majesty’s] [“assesting”? (for “assisting”)] Judges for the Court of Common Pleas for the Precinct of Port-Royall in the Island of Jamaica and made Oath on the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God that they did See Rebecca Shute Sign Seal publish Voluntary Declare the within Will to be her last Will and Testam’t. at which time she was in her right Sences [sic; senses]
[signed:] Louis Galdy
Jurat [Cort?] [?]
North Carolina ss
On this twelfth day of August 1832 personally appear’d before me Jeremiah Clark who made Oath on the Holy Evangelists that he Saw Josiah Eason Jacob & John Phipps make Oath before the above nam’d Louis Galdy as Witnesses to the Within Will as above is Certifyed at the Island of Jamaica at the time above mention’d Given under my [“hand” missing] the day & year afores’d.
[signed:] [W. Zadham?] Just. Pa[part cut off]
- Abstracts – Deed Book A, Perquimans County, North Carolina (Earle reference)
- Bath County map
- Beaufort County, NC – Land & Deed Records (Shute reference)
- Beaufort County, North Carolina Phipps Records
- Brooks, Baylus C., Quest for Blackbeard: The True Story of Edward Thache and His World, 2017
- Clarendon Courier, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Earle reference)
- From Amelia County, Virginia to Orange County, North Carolina
- George Cabaniss, LaVere Peters Genealogy Database
- Henri Cabaniss, Sr., LaVere Peters Genealogy Database
- Jamaica’s “Wickedest City” Port Royal Banks on Heritage
- Joel Martin, in Our Family Tree (Shute reference)
- John Hance, in Early Colonial Settlers of Southern Maryland and Virginia’s Northern Neck Counties (Shute reference)
- John Phipps: England to Jamaica to South Carolina
- Merchants (Pre-1800), in North Carolina Business History (Shute reference),
- More Connections to the Caribbean
- More on Kenyon Phipps of South Carolina
- New Hanover County Will Abstracts (Earle reference)
- Petition from Inhabitants of the Cape Fear Area Concerning Roads (Earle reference), Documenting the American South
- The Phillips Family of Halifax Co., Virginia: Fips/Phipps?
- Phripp, Phipp, Phipps: Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts, Virginia
- Port Royal
- Re: Giles Shute
- Richard Price, in Indentured Servants Basic Search Results
- Sarah Phips, Daughter of Samuel Guy
- Who Were the Children of John Fips of Charlotte County, Virginia?
- The Will of Frederick Ford of Amelia County, Virginia
- William Phipps of Beaufort County, North Carolina