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Descendants of William and George Phelps

Col. Aaron Noble Phelps, A Pioneer in Illinois

Ronald Aaron Noble Phelps, circa 1870-80. He married Sarah Jerusha Adams of Painesville, Ohio on 29 Mar 1847 in Painesville. Noble came to Illinois via a riverboat that came to be known as the ill-fated boart party.

My third great-grandfather Aaron Noble Phelps was a Captain in Footes Regiment, Massachusetts Militia, during the War of 1812, and served in William McMurty's company of Rangers in Knox Country, Illinois, during the Blackhawk Indian Wars.

Col. Aaron Noble Phelps was descended from George Phelps and Phillura Randall Phelps, pioneer settlers of Windsor, Connecticut.

Aaron died in Massachusetts after the war. His son Ronald Aaron Noble Phelps was born on 9 Sep 1819 in Westfield, Massachusetts. Noble, as he was called in contemporary accounts, left Massachusetts among a party of 37 people, with his wife Sarah Jerusha Adams Phelps, his mother Clarissa Root Phelps, and other settlers for Galesburg, Illinois, among a group that came to be known as the ill-fated boat party.

The Second Great Awakening Sends
Noble Phelps West to Illinois

In the early 1800s, a religious fever swept much of the upper Ohio Valley and into New York State. This was part of a nationwide series of religious revivals called the Second Great Awakening, which lasted from the 1790s to the 1830s. This awakening established revivalism as a fixture of American religion and became intertwined with the westward expansion of the new nation.

Among those affected by this spate of religious ferver and social activism was the family of Ronald Aaron Noble Phelps of Massachusetts. In 1836, Ronald set out with his mother (his father having died in 1830), his wife Clarissa, their two daughters and one son. They also brought along two nieces and one nephew, the children of Clarissa's brother, Riley Root, who had preceded them to Galesburg earlier in 1836, his wife Lavinia Butler having died in 1834.

Committee Purchases Land in the West

The Erie Canal, opened in 1825, had become a pathway for many to migrate west. "In 1834 Rev. George W. Gale of Oneida county, New York, matured a plan for planting a colony in the West which should be a center of moral and intellectual influence. Later he issued a circular setting forth his plan and soliciting subscribers. A subscribers' committee led by George Washington Gale purchased 17 acres in Knox County in 1835.

"The subscribers sold their farms in New York, packed their household goods, hitched their work horses to the farm wagons, and got ready for the toilsome journey to Illinois. Some made a round of farewell visits to relatives they never expected to see again, going miles out of their way to spend a night with parents who shook their heads at so wild an adventure, as age ever does at youth.

The first settlers, including Riley Root, arrived in 1836. His sister and brother-in-law, Clarissa and Noble Phelps, were among the second group of settlers.

The "Ill-fated" Canal Boat Trip West

According to the History of Knox College, "The historic canal boat trip of the spring and summer of 1836 was made up of a series of vicissitudes and disasters seldom paralleled in the history of pioneer emigration. John C. Smith, of Oneida County, New York, one of the subscribers to Mr. Gale's enterprise, was the owner of a number of boats on the Erie canal. It occurred to him that such a boat could be utilized in making the trip by water to their far distant future home in Illinois.

"Accordingly he consulted with others of the subscribers, with the result that a company was formed to buy a canal boat on shares, fit it up for passenger service and embark in it for a trip of a thousand miles or more over an untried water-way, untried, at least, in so far as that kind of a venture was concerned. A strong team was bought which could be used on the tow-path, and all preparations being completed they loaded their goods, stowed them away in the men's cabin and embarked".


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