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Phelps Emigrants' Arrival in Colonial America

First Generation In New England

Excerpted in part from The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (Save $200 by ordering through us.) By Oliver S. Phelps and Andrew T. Servin. (Get a free, updated index here.)

Puritans Who Disrespected All Other Faiths

The original Phelps immigrants to the British colonies in America were Puritans. They were not seeking religious freedom to follow their conscience as is commonly believed. They believed their faith to be the only true religion. They disrespected all other faiths, especially Quakers. Puritans believed it was the government's responsibility to enforce moral standards and ensure true religious worship was established and maintained.

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King Charles I of England had succeeded his father King James I of England in 1625, and continued his father's strong opposition to the Puritan movement, who opposed many of the Anglican Church's doctrines as retaining too much of its Roman Catholic roots. After the Puritans assumed control of Parliament, they began to pose a serious threat to the King's authority. In January 1629, in a move to neutralize his opponents, Charles dissolved Parliament entirely. The religious and political climate became so difficult for Puritans that many began to make arrangements to leave the country.

Puritans Prepare to Emigrate

William Phelps was among them. Phelps had been a member of Reverend John Warham's church. Warham had been a minister since 1614, but was relieved of his ministerial duties in 1627 because of his "strong Puritan leanings." The group Phelps joined was organized by the Reverend John White, Vicar of Dorchester, England. White is generally regarded as the sponsor of the earliest Massachusetts settlement after Plymouth. At his urging, nearly 150 individuals gathered from the English West Country counties of Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. While many assumed that they were motivated by religious persecution like others in the Winthrop Fleet, the West Country was free from it.

Unlike many who fled England for Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean during this time, the Puritans who migrated to the New World were on the whole better educated and tended to leave relatively prosperous lives to establish a new society of pious family values. Unlike the Pilgrims who were non-conformists or separatists, the Puritans were reformers. They were not leaving England for religious freedom, per se, for they believed their faith to be the only true religion. They disrespected all other faiths, especially Quakers.

The emigrants were organized on March 19, 1630 as the West Country Company at New Hospital, Plymouth, England, the day before leaving England. Although very few knew one another, they agreed to emigrate as a body to Massachusetts, where White had sent other groups over the prior six years. White has been called "the father of the Massachusetts Colony," despite remaining in England his entire life, because of his influence in establishing this settlement. From their first arrival aboard the Mayflower in 1620, until 1629, only about 300 Puritans had survived in New England, scattered in small and isolated settlements.

The book The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors by Phelps & Servin erroneously concluded based on nothing more than an approximate birth date for William that both he and George Phelps were from Tewkesbury, England. William and George Phelps are not brothers and are from Crewkene. For details, see Origins of William and George Phelps of Dorchester.

William Phelps of Crewkerne, England, was married twice: 1) Mary ____, buried 1626, and 2) Anne Dover who probably accompanied him and their six children by both wives to Dorchester in the Colony of Massaschusetts. They "emigrated to New England in the ship Mary and John, of four hundred totes burden, commanded by Captain Squeb, with one hundred and forty' passengers. This company had been organized into a church and selected their ministers the day before sailing.(1)"

Arrival in the colonies

"They sailed from Plymouth, England, March 20th, 1630, arriving and landing at Nantasket, now Hull, Mass., May 30th, 1630. The Mary and John made a good passage and arrived at Nantasket without casualty. This company chose to settle at a place which the Native Americans called "Mattaponnock", today known as Columbia Point. The settlement was located at what is now the intersection of Columbia Road and Massachusetts Avenue in South Boston. They named their new town Dorchester, in honor of the Rev. John White, of Dorchester, the capital of Dorset County, England.

The arrival of 140 passengers in New England significantly increased the local population, which numbered about 300 at the time. Along with William Phelps was Roger Ludlowe, John Mason, Samuel Maverick, Nicholas Upsall, Henry Wolcott and other men who would become prominent in the founding of a new nation. The passengers are generally known as the Dorchester Company, referring to the place they selected for their settlement. They remained together as a distinct body and contemporary records identify most of them.

First Parish Church Founded

The immigrants founded the First Parish Church of Dorchester in 1631, which exists today as the Unitarian-Universalist church on Meetinghouse Hill, being the oldest religious organization in present-day Boston. The first church building was a simple log cabin with a thatched roof. The settlers held their first town meeting at the church, and they set their laws in open and frequent discussion. In all of this they were inspired by the ideal of the Kingdom of God on earth and the attempt to realize this in England in the time of the Rev. John White. The church is referred to as a 'Foundation Stone of the Nation".

Education and Religion

Puritan leaders in colonial New England believed children should be educated for both religious and civil reasons, and they worked to achieve universal literacy. The Puritans in the Colonies were great believers in education. They wanted their children to be able to read the Bible themselves, and interpret it themselves, rather than have to have a clergyman tell them what it says and means. The new settlers founded in 1639 the Mather School, the first elementary school in the colonies supported by public money. The school is the oldest elementary school in America. Dorchester was annexed by the City of Boston in 1970.

Windsor, Connecticut, c 1640-1645. A detail of a map of ancient Windsor highlighting the homes of William Phelps Sr., William Phelps Jr., and George Phelps. From Phelps Family in America. High-resolution image.

First town government

"Dorchester claims the Honor of being the first town in the Massachusetts Colony to organize a town government. Mr. Phelps took an active position in town matters and during the first six months was made a freeman.

"The following reference is made to him in the Massachusetts Colonial Records, where his name is spelled Felps, Phelips and Phelps.

  • Oct. 19th, 1630, William Phelps applied to be made freeman. Nov. 9th, 1630, he was one of a jury of twelve, empanneled for the trial of Walter Palmer, concerning the death of Austin Brotcher, found not guilty of manslaughter. (This was the first jury trial in the New England Colony.) Sept. 27th, 1631, he was chosen constable of Dorchester. May 9th, 1632, He was one of a committee of sixteen, chosen by the colony to see about the raising of a public stock.
  • March 4th, 1634, one of a committee of three to lay out the bounds between Boston and Roxbury.
  • 1634, William Phelps, Charles Stoughton and George Gull, delegates to the General Court from Dorchester this year.
  • May 14th, 1634, he was one of a committee of four to view the ground at Mount Wollaston for the enlargement of Boston, and draw a plan then and report to the next General Court.
  • March 4th, 1634, Ensign Gibbs and William Felpes were appointed by the General Court to go with a committee of three to arrange the bounds between Boston and Dorchester, and explain what each town wants.
  • May 5th, 1635, he was a member of the General Court from Dorchester, held in Newtown, now Charlestown.
  • July 8th, 1635. Mr. Newbury and William Phelps appointed a Committee to set out the bounds between Wessaguscus and Barecove.

"The report of this Committee is interesting, being the style and language of Mr. Phelps. The following is a true copy from the Massachusetts Colonial Records:

"Sept. 3rd, 1635, "The bounds laid out between Hingham and Weymouth, by order of the General Court by Mr Newbury deceased, and William Phelps."

"The ryver between Hingham and Waymothe, ruling on the East syde of the ryver, that creeke being their bounds to the head of it, to an oake marked, and soe their lyne to run into the countrie, upon the same poynt that boundeth Boston and Waymothe. Also wee appoyncted Waymothe to make vse of all the timber on Hingham syde, from a cove called Lovells Cove vpwards in the ryver halfe a myle in bredth and three quarters of a myle in length, for the space of fforty yeares; also wee prhibited Waymothe for making any improuemt of the ground.

By mee,


"The following references are made to Mr. Phelps in the Dorchester Records:-

April 3rd, 1633. "It is agreed that a double rayle fence with mortises in the posts of 10 foot distance one from the other, shall be set up in the Marsh, from the corner of Richard Phelps his pale eastward to the creeks, by the owners of the cows under named--proportionably twenty feet to every cow."

With others "William Phelps two cows-40 foote."

"Feb. 10th, 1634, Among the persons appoynted 'to view the poles' for the east field, Will Phelps and Mr. Thomas Stoughton. "

July 5th, 1635, "It is granted to William Phelps, to fence in two acres and half of dry ground adjoyning to his meadowe ground, in the little neck, in satisfaction for what he wants in his home lot."

"In this year, 1635, Mr. Phelps's wife died. In the fall of 1635, the Rev. Mr. Warham with sixty of his Church in Dorchester, removed to the settling of Windsor, Ct. Mr. William Phelps and his family, and brother George [Phelps], accompanied this expedition, though it is probable that Mr. William Phelps did not go down to Windsor, Ct. till the following spring.

"This journey is thus briefly described by the Historian: "Never before had the forests of America witnessed such a scene as this, driving their cattle before them,--the compass their only guide-through the bewildering mazes of the unbroken forest, commencing and ending each days march, with songs of praise and heartfelt utterances of prayer, which sounded strangely amidst these solitudes. They journeyed on through the chilly November days." That which is now a journey of but a few hours behind the iron horse, was then with them (the women, children and cattle) a journey of two weeks.

"How applicable are the wise words of Daniel Webster: 'We hear the whisperings of youthful impatience, and we see chilled and shivering children, homeless but for a mother's arms, couchless but for a mother's breast, until one's blood almost freezes.' "

He moved his family to Windsor, Connecticut in 1635. At the time of the emigration of the Dorchester colony, and other Massachusetts settlers to Windsor, it was supposed to be under the control of the Massachusetts Company, and a commission of seven persons was appointed to govern the new colony, in Connecticut; for one year Mr. William Phelps was one of this commission.

The William Phelps and the First Local Government is a textual copy of this commission, from the Massachusetts Colonial Records.

(In Windsor he was again ranked as an honored citizen and became a member of the first court held in Connectticut (1636). He was magistrate (1638-1642), foreman of the first grand jury (1643) and six times deputy to the court (1645-1657). He lived in Windsor, three-quarters of a mile northwest of Broad St. on the road to Poquonock. In 1859, this site was owned by deacon Roger Phelps.)

"Says Trumbull(3): "The first Court held under this Commission was April 26th, 1636. Mr. Roger Ludlow presiding, present in all, six, of these, Mr. William Phelps was one."

"Says Stiles(2), Hist. Windsor: "The town records of Windsor or Dorchester, as it was first called prior to 1650, are not in existence."

"From Stiles(2) History and others, we gather the following:

At a Court Feb. 21st, 1637, "It is ordered yt the plantacon called Dorchester shall bee called Windsor."

At a Court held May 1st, 1637, Mr. William Phelps presiding, "It is ordered that there shall be an offensive war against the Pequots."

"The Court held its sessions from time to time, and was legislative, judicial and executive in character.

"In 1638 it being admitted that this Connecticut colony was out of the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts colony, the people of Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford, met in Hartford, Jan. 2nd, 1639, and adopted a constitution for the Connecticut colony. This document recognized no authority save God, superior to that delegated by the people.

"This document was drawn up by Mr. Roger Ludlow presiding magistrate, with the assistance of the magistrates, of whom Mr. William Phelps was one.

"From this date to the present time there has been no radical change in the forms or principles of the government of Connecticut.

"This government consisted of five magistrates, of a legislative, judicial and executive character, chosen by the freemen of the colony, and the house of assistants chosen by the towns. This continued up to 1665.

"Mr. Phelps held the office of magistrate, from. 1639-1643, and 1656-1662; from 1645-1649 inclusive. He was a deputy also in 1651.

"At a Court held Sept. 9th, 1641, "It was ordered that the governor, Mr. William Phelps, and Capt. Mason, are directed to meet with Phenicke, concerning liberty to make salt in Rhode Island, and to take first act."

"At a Court held 1642, the first of government on record relating to Simsbury, whose Indian name was Massaco, was an order passed by the Court of which Mr. William Phelps was a member, and in these words, 'It is ordered that the governor, and Mr. Haynes shall have liberty to dispose of that part of land on the river called Massacoe, to such inhabitants of Windsor, as they shall see cause.' "

"The following letter of Hon. Charles J. Hoadley, librarian, explains the photographed document, signed by four of the magistrates of the Connecticut colony, and written about 1661, and which gives with others the autograph of Mr. William Phelps.

Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Nov. 19, 1895.


The body of the document you caused to be photographed is in the handwriting of Daniel Clarke, Secretary of the Colony. The document has no date but was written in 1661, probably in the summer.

The filing on the back is in a modern hand and is:

Magistrates attest yt
Mr. Talcott is Treasurer
of Connecticut Collony & order'd
to pay 1st Govr Winthrop £500
sterling in provisions &c.

Yours respectfully, Charles J. Hoadley.

"From Stiles(2) History of Windsor and other records we get:

  • Jan. 4th 1638. Mr. Phelps with Messrs. Haynes, and Ludlow and Hopkins, a Committee to settle Plymouth Colony claims, with the Connecticut Colony, as regards to the Plymouth Colonies' claims to land on the Connecticut River."
  • Jan. 13th. 1652, Mr. William Phelps, with five others from the town of Windsor, grant to Thomas Parsons, a ferry, on the Connecticut River for one year.
  • Dec. 13th, 1653, Mr. William Phelps one of a Committee of five, "to advise with the Constable in preparing twelve men for the Indian War."
  • July 16th. 1660, Old Roll Book of Church, Mr. William Phelps paid 7 shillings slip rent, one of the highest rates paid that year.
  • April 7th. 1663, To subscription for poor and wanting, in other towns or colonies, Mr. William Phelps 9 shillings.
  • April 7th. 1673, A deed recorded in the land office, dated May 15th. 1637, from the Plymouth Company to the Windsor Co. for lands claimed by the Plymouth Co. in Windsor. Witnessed-Mr. William Phelps and five others.
  • "The office of lister or assessor, was one of the earliest created at this time; instead of appraising the land, or property assessed--the land was classed in several grades--in 1675 the 1st. grade was, persons owning a horse, and four oxen; 2nd. grade-owning a horse and two oxen. Mr. William Phelps was of this grade of which at that time there were 42.

...After a residence of forty‑two years in New England, thirty‑six of which were spent in Windsor, he died there July 14th, and was buried July 15th, 1672, in his 73rd year,

The following is the last Will and Testament of Mr. William Phelps, or properly speaking, his Settlement Deed.

^(1) From The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (Save $200 by ordering through us.) By Oliver S. Phelps and Andrew T. Servin. (Get a free, updated index here.)Original spelling and punctuation preserved. pp 77-79

^(2) Henry R. Stiles, A.M., M.D., History of Ancient Windsor, 2 Vols. (Picton Press, Camden, Maine). 1891, 1892.

^(3)Trumbull, B. Complete History of Connecticut, Civil and Ecclesiastical. 2 vols. New London,1898.