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Phelps Entries in 'The Great Migration Begins'

The long-awaited Volume III of "The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633", by Robert Charles Anderson (Boston NEHGS: 1995) has finally been released. Of particular interest to many PC [Phelps Connections] members are the Phelps items.

First published in Phelps Connections newsletter, Volume 6, No. 1, Winter 1997, Page 409. By Margaret P. Swanson(1).

For a thorough list of research sources related to Windsor, see Windsor Genealogy.

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.

The first of these items of interest is an entry for Richard Phelps, origin and date of immigration unknown, who is mentioned in only two records. The earliest is in Dorchester, MA, 1633, and mentions his fence as a boundary. The second entry is a fine for drunkenness in 1635-36. Anderson states that no evidence exists for the hypothesis that Richard had a relationship to William PHELPS or George PHELPS who also lived in Dorchester. Indeed he states the possibility that each incident refers to a different individual.

The second item, William PHELPS, has a far more extensive entry and is of special interest to many PC members. Of special significance is the recognition of his origin as Crewkerne, Somersetshire, and his birth date, about 1593. Twenty five years was the approximate age of the first marriage of a man so his estimated birth was calculated from his marriage date. This marriage date is unknown but is presumed to have occurred by 1618, since he had a child baptized at Crewkerne, 9 September 1618. Mary ( ) PHELPS, the first wife, was buried at Crewkerne, 13 August 1626. She was the mother of four children, all baptized at Crewkerne: William [W19] bapt. 9 Sep 1618; Samuel [W21] bapt. 5 Aug 1621; infant, bur. Crewkerne, Jan 1623-24; and Nathaniel [W22] bapt. 6 Mar 1624-25.

William married 2) at Crewkerne, 14 Nov 1626, Ann DOVER. Ann was the mother of seven children: Cornelius, bapt. 13 Oct 1627; Joseph (a twin) [W23] and Mary (a twin), bapt. 13 Nov 1628; another Mary, bapt. 6 Dec 1629, all baptized at Crewkerne. The first Mary died soon after birth and there is no further record of Cornelius and the second Mary, both of whom are presumed to have died young. Ann had three additional children born in America: Sarah [W20], b. about 1632; Timothy [W24]; and Mary [W25]. The latter of the two were born in Windsor, CT.

In the The American Genealogist 65:161-166 (1990) Myrtle Stevens Hyde wrote ans article which resolves the problem of the identity of the wives of William Phelps and contains all the Crewkerne records cited by Anderson. Hyde found additional Phelps entries in the Crewkerne records including the burial of a Mary, 'wife of William Phelps' on 13 Aug. 1626. She concluded this was his first wife. He married Ann Dover three months and one day later. Finally, Hyde could not find a death for Ann (Dover) Phelps, nor a marriage record for William Phelps and Mary Dover. She concluded that the latter never existed. She surmised that the names of the first two wives, Mary and Ann somehow became Mary Dover.

Of special note is the omission of George PHELPS as an immigrant on the Mary and John. Two George PHILLIPS are identified as immigrating before 1633. The first was George PHILLIPS, minister, from Boxted, Essex, who migrated in 1630 to Watertown. The second is George PHILLIPS, origins unknown, who migrated to Dorchester in 1632 and subsequently went to Windsor in 1635. This George was born by 1592 (estimated birth date based on the age of his wife) and died at Windsor, 9 Jul 1678. He had no children. Anderson comments that the earliest record that can be assigned to George PHELPS with confidence is dated 6 May 1635 when he was admitted a freeman in Dorchester. He also states that the town clerks in both Dorchester and Windsor seem to have been quite precise in distinguishing between George PHILLIPS and George PHELPS, and in no instance in those two towns has a record been noted PHELPS was called PHILLIPS or vice versa. Anderson also mentions that there may have been a relationship between William PHELPS and George PHELPS, but that it remains unestablished.

Perhaps the most important conclusion to come from this Great Migration Study is recognition by a consensus of recognized genealogical scholars that William PHELPS of Massachusetts and Connecticut is NOT the William PHELPS of Tewkesbury records. Their conclusions reinforce those reached through the research done by Burt Spear and The Mary and John Clearing House which some have refused to accept.

Several family genealogies were listed in the key to titles used in more than one biographical sketch. Where a title is used in only one sketch, the full bibliographic entry was contained in the sketch. The Phelps Family in America by Oliver Seymore Phelps and Andrew T. Servin was not identified as a source. This is only one more indication that any statement it contains needs careful verification from records which were not available to the authors one hundred years ago. Certainly errors it contains should not be perpetuated when those errors are identified and supported with evidence from primary sources.

—Margaret P. Swanson, Genealogist

^ By Margaret P. Swanson "Phelps Entries in The Great Migration Begins," Phelps Connections newsletter. Volume 6, No. 1, Winter 1997, Page 409. Margaret Phelps Swanson is co-founder with Nancy Pennington of the Phelps Connections, the former family genealogy association, no longer in operation. Permission is granted to copy or reproduce information in "Phelps Connection" by any means with the following restriction:

  • All sources must be fully acknowledged.
  • Reproductions from this issue not to be sold for profit.
  • If any article is reprinted or edited, please send a copy before publication to either PC Newsletter Editor or PC Genealogist for proofreading. Also send a copy of article after it is published to the same PC officer.
  • A copy of these restrictions accompany each article copied.