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William Phelps in the Great Migration Begins

English Emigrant and Founder, Westfield, Massachusetts

Why William Phelps of Windsor is not from Tewkesbury

By Margaret Swanson. Reproduced by permission(1).

Ever since the book, The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (available at a 25% discount) was published by Andrew T. Servin & Oliver Seymour Phelps, many have gone along with their conclusion that the Phelps family originated in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, England. William Phelps of Windsor, Conn., died on 14 July 1672 at age 72, according to the authors, which would place his birth at about 1600. When they found a William Phelps baptised on 19 Aug. 1599, in Tewkesbury, with a son, Richard, baptised there, 26 Dec. 1619, they believed they had found William Phelps of Windsor. They could not find the baptism of George Phelps there, supposedly his brother, nor could they find any other children after 1619. They speculated the family moved south about 1620, possibly to Porlock, Somerset.

In The American Genealogist, Vol. 58 (Oct. 1982), genealogist Myrtle Steven Hyde questions the Phelps genealogy authors' claim that the emigrants William and George Phelps came from Tewkesbury. William's son, William Jr. was mentioned in a disposition taken, 29 May 1677, as being about three score years of age. (Ancient History of Windsor, Vol. 2 p. 564). This would place his birth at about 1617, which would push back his father's birth to 1590-1595. Hyde acknowledges the 1599 baptism of the William Phelps of Tewkesbury could be the emigrant, if his son, William Jr.'s age was incorrect in the 1677 document, but there were undoubtedly other William Phelpses born in other parishes that could fit as well or better.

The Phelps genealogy authors called the emigrant George Phelps a brother of William, but there is no record of George in Tewkesbury. Hyde says they were probably brothers, but she could find no supporting evidence. Hyde also found Phelps entries in the Crewkerne records including the burial of a Mary, "wife of William Phelps" on 13 August 1626. William married Ann Dover three months and one day later. Finally, when 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. (Spear Vol. 19 p. 123-124)

The parents of the alleged Teweksbury emigrants William and George Phelps were William and Dorothy Phelps of Tewkesbury. The father died in 1611 without a will. His widow Dorothy wrote her will on 16 June 1612 and it was held from probate until 5 May 1617 (PCC [Phelps Connections Newsletter] 51 Weldon). In her will she named her daughters, Dorothy, Frances and Mary and son, William, but no sons Thomas or George. She also listed brothers-in-law, Nicholas and Edward Phelps. This Edward Phelps prepared his will in 1636, then of Tewkesbury, and the will was proved 1 July 1637, (PCC 104 Goare). Edward appointed as an overseer William Phelps, undoubtedly his nephew, and certainly not the William Phelps living far away in New England. The only child of William's found in Tewkesbury was Richard, baptised 26 Dec. 1519.

Since the 1982 The American Genealogist article, new discoveries in the parish records of Somerset indicate that the emigrant William Phelps was in the area as early as 1618. There are Phelps baptismal records in Phillimore's printed indexes of Crewkerne, in the Somerset Record Office in Taunton, and in the Somerset Interntational Genealogocial Research records that appear to list the children of William Phelps of Windsor, Conn.

In addition, family researcher Robin Bush established that William Phelps was a clothier at Crewkerne (vol. 25, p. 50-51) and he found some Phelps entries in the parish of Merriott which immediately adjoins Crewkerne to the north-east. There was a small-scale cloth industry recorded at Merriott between about 1575 and 1697 (Victoria History of Somerset, vol. iv, p. 57), which would make the place ideal for the origin of William. No one seems to have considered the town of Marriot before because the parish registers did not survive before 1646. There are, however, a few earlier Bishop's Transcripts and a series of manor court books of the late 16th and early 17th century (sadly incomplete). Although these abstracts do not provide proof positive of the origins of the Phelps emigrants, the forenames of William and Richard both occur in the records. (Speer, Search for the Passengers on the Mary & John 1630, Vol. 26, p. 54)

Robin Bush also found that Willliam Phelps in Engand had a business deal with Benjamin Bale, Sr. of Crewkerne. The Crewkerne Grammar School accounts (DD/CSG 3/1) included a useful reference to William Phelps. In the accounts for the year ending 9 April 1627 an item was included that William Phelps, 'clothier', was to hold Chubbes tenement for nine years from All Saints last (1 Nov. 1626) for the rent of 8 pounds, paid quarterly, reserving all trees to the feoffees. Under the year ending 5 April 1630 was entered an agreement by which Thomas & Benjamin, sons of Mr. James Bale, were to take over the unexpired term which William Phelps held in Chubs tenement, confirming that it was around that time that he presumably left for New England. (Spear, Vol. 25, p. 50-51)

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.

DNA Testing Yields Significant Findings

More recently, as a result of DNA testing, several interesting conclusions have been arrived at:

  • William Phelps born about 1593, who arrived in Dorchester, Massachusetts, aboard the Mary and John in 1630, and George Phelps who apparently arrived in 1635 aboard the Recovery of London, are not related.
  • Three Phelps lines from the Southern United States, previously thought to be unrelated, have been shown to be biologically related with a common ancestor:
    • James Phelps d 1786 Caswell Co, NC
    • Thomas Phelps d 1751 Albemarle, VA
    • Thomas Felps d 1759 Baltimore Co., Md.
  • It is now evident that this James Phelps of Gates Co., NC is not related to Nicholas Phelps of Perquimans Co., NC.

William Phelps in The Great Migration Begins

, Vol 3, P-W.

ORIGIN: Crewkerne, Somersetshire

MIGRATION; 1630 on Mary & John

FIRST RESIDENCE: Dorchester, Massachusetts

REMOVES: Windsor

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP: Second on the list of men who came from Dorchester church to Windsor with Mr. Warham (Grant 10].

FREEMAN: Requested 19 October 1630 and admitted 18 May 1631 (as Will[ia]m Felpes) [MBCR 1 :79, 366]. In list of Windsor freemen, 1 October 1669 (as Mr. Will[iaml Phelps Sen.') [CCCR 2:519].

OFFICES. Deputy for Dorchester to Massachusetts Bay General Court, 9 May 1632, 6 May 1635 [MBCR 1:95, 145]. Committee on boundary between Boston and Roxbury, 4 March 1633/4 [MBCR 1:113]. Committee to survey Mount Wollaston, 14 May 1634 [MBCR I:19, 139]. Committee on boundary between Wessaguscus and Barecove, 8 July 1635 [MBCR 1:14g, 161]. Jury on death of Austin Bratcher, 9 November 1630 [MBCR 1:81]

Dorchester constable, 27 September 1631 [MBCR 1:91]. Dorchester selectman, 8 October 1633, 28 October 1634, November 1635 (six months) [DTR 3, 7, 13]. Committee to ser the rate, 3 November 1633 [DTR 4]. Lot layer, 3 November 1633 (DTR 41] Fenceviewer in East Field, 10 February 1634/5 [DTR 10].

Appointed by Massachusetts Bay one of the commissioners for the new towns on the Connecticut River, 3 March 1635/6 [MBCR 1:170-71].

Assistant, April 1636, September 1636, March 1637, May 1637, November 1637, March 1638, April 1638 - April 1642, May 1658 - May 1662 [CT Civil List 43]. Deputy for Windsor to Connecticut General Court, April 1645, September 1645, April 1646, October 1645. May 1647, September 1647, May 1648, September 1648, May 1649, September 1649, September 1650, May 1651, September 1651, May 1652, September E 652, May 1653, October 1653, May 1654, September 1654, May 1655, February 1657, May 1657, October 1657 [CT Civil List 43]. Committee to organize expedition against Pequots, 26 August 1639 [CCCR 1:32]. War Committee (Windsor), May 1653, October 1654 [CT Civil List 43].

ESTATE. On 3 April 1633 he was ordered to maintain forty feet of fencing for two cows at Dorchester [DTR 2]. On 5 July 1635 he was granted and a half acres [DTR 12]. In the meadow beyond Naponset "W. Philps" drew lot #40 containing six acres [DTR 321].

In Windsor land inventory of 23 February 1640, William Phelps the elder "hath granted from the plantation one homelot with its additions, nine acres more or less" (annotated "sold to Mr. Wareham"); "also one great lot fifty acres … with meadow adjoining, seventeen acres"; "over the great river in breadth thirty-four rods, in length three miles" (annotated "given to Sam[uel] & Nathan[iel] Phelps"); "by the little meadow in upland two acres and half more or less, in breadth six rods, in length sixty-seven rods" (annotated "purchased by Daniell Clark and Ray Rossiter"); "in meadow adjoining two acres & half in breadth four rods & half more or less" (annotated "purchased by Rich[ard] Vere"); "also purchased of John Brookes a parcel of land in the upper end of the meadow by his dwelling house containing two acres of meadow with the swamp adjoining"; "also given from the town forty acres of woodland" [WiLR 1:78] On 27 June 1664 swamp land measured out for Mr. Phelps totalled something over three acres [WiLR 1:78].

Son William Phelps's inventory showed that he "had by deed of gift from his father William Phelps the elder" one acre of meadow and four and a half of upland [WiLR 1:84] By February 1650[/1] William Phelps purchased of his father William Phelps a parcel of swampland [WiLR 82]

On 10 March 1663/4 the Connecticut Court granted to "Mr. Phelps, 200 acres of upland and twenty of meadow, where can find it; provided it prejudice not former grants and plantations set up and to set up" [CCCR 1:419].

BIRTH: By about 1593 based on estimated date of marriage.

DEATH: Windsor 14 July 1672 ("Old Mr. William Phelps died" [CTVR27])

MARRIAGE: (1) By 1618 Mary____, who was buried at Crewkerne 13 August 1626.

(2) Crewkerne 14 November 1626 Anne Dover. "Mistress Phelps" was the first on the list of women members of the church at Dorchester who came with Mr. Warham to Windsor [Grant 9]. She died Windsor 30 August 1689 ("Mrs. An Phelps died" [CTVR 57]).


William married twice, to Mary (___) and Ann Dover. Their descendants are given here.

ASSOCIATIONS: George Phelps of Dorchester and Windsor (not to be confused with GEORGE PHILLIPS of the same two places) may have been a brother of William Phelps [TAG 65; 165-66]. This George Phelps married as his first wife Philura Randal, daughter of PHILLIP RANDALL; he was also, in some manner as yet undetermined, an uncle of Elisha Hart, son of EDMOND HART.

COMMENTS: In 1919 Mary Lovering Holman prepared a brief account of the family of William Phelps [Scott Gen 252-53]. In 1990 Myrtle S. Hyde resolved the problem of the identity of the wives of William Phelps and was also able to find the baptisms of his children in England [TAG 65:161-66]. All the Crewkerne records cited above are taken from her article.

^ (1) Swanson, Margaret P., "Phelps Entries in The Great Migration Begins," Phelps Connections newsletter. Volume 6, No. 1, Winter 1997, Page 409. Margaret P. Swanson

Margaret Phelps Swanson was 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.

^ (2) New England Phelps Y-DNA Research on Descendants of New England Phelps.