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William Phelps of Dorchester in the American Colonies

Active in Church and Community

Excerpted in part from The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (Save $201 by ordering through us.) Two volumes. By Judge Oliver Seymour Phelps and Andrew T. Servin. (Eagle Publishing Company of Pittsfield, Mass., 1899). Vol. I, p 72-75


William Phelps was part of an "organized church company, and becoming the first settlers and founders of Dorchester, which claims the distinction of being the first town in Massachusetts Colony to organize a town government. They became original members of Reverend Warham's church, organized March 19, 1630, at Plymouth England, the day before embarkation.

"William Phelps took an active and prominent part in town matters."

"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.)

November 9, 1630, Jury on death of Austin Bratcher. (Anderson(3) 1:81)

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.

May 9th, 1632, Deputy for Dorchester to Massachusetts Bay General Court. (Anderson(3) 1:95, 145)

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.

August 26, 1639, Committee to organize expedition against Pequots.

May 1653, October 1654, War Committee (CT Civil List 43) (Anderson(3) 19:123-124)

"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,

WILLM. PHELPS."

"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."

"His wife, Elizabeth, died in 1635. On May 2 of that year, the first- born, Richard, referred to as seventeen years old, embarked for Barbados Island. No further record of him is available.

"With sixty members of the church, William's brother George went with the Rev. Warham, in the first migration to Windsor, CT, a two-weeks journey, in the fall of 1635.

"In the spring of 1636, William, with his children, departed for Windsor, becoming a founder of that town. There, as in Dorchester, he was an active and honored citizen; was one of eight commissioners appointed by the Colony of Massachusetts Bay to govern the Colony of Connecticut; was one of six who formed the first Court, or general meeting, of Windsor in 1636; and was foreman of the first Grand Jury in Connecticut.

"In 1636 he married Mary Dover, whom was born in England about 1603. Mary had originally come to Massachusetts on the same ship and William and his family. Together, they had two children. [For his descendants, see his family tree.]

"At a court held May 1, 1637, William Phelps presiding, it was ordered that there shall be an offensive war against the Requota [Indians], in which war he served.

"He was a Magistrate for 23 years, between the years of 1636 and 1662. He was a member of Council, in 1637. In 1641, he and Mr. Welles, of Hartford, were a committee on lying - considered a grievous fault. That same year, he served as Governor of the Windsor Colony. He was also one of the earliest Governor's Assistants and Representative from 1645 to 1657.

"He purchased land from Sehat [also spell Sheat], an Indian sachem, of Windsor, for four overcoats and he sold some of his land at 12 pence per acre. Not being able to prove title and payment, he paid a second time, the legal tender being wampum."

Sheat died soon after the settlement was founded, and was succeeded by his son Coggerysnossett, and his newphe Nassahegan. The two appeared to have held joint power until Coggerynossett died in about 1680, when Nassaegan became the chief sachem of the Poquonnoc tribe.(Stiles(2) p. 90)

"His dwelling was on a road running northerly, a short distance north of the Mill River Valley; and he was among those who suffered from the Great Flood, in 1639. Soon after, he removed further south and settled on what is known as Phelps' Meadows. His residence was about three-quarters of a mile northwest of Broad Street on the road to Poquonock, the place owned, in 1859, by Deacon Roger Phelps. The cellar of the old house may still be seen. His son, William, lived a short distance east and Nathaniel, for a while, dwelt opposite.

"William Phelps was a man of property, as shown by the high pew rent he paid. He subscribed, also, to the fund for the poor; an excellent, upright, prosperous man in public and private life, he was truly a pillar of both church and state.

Some time in 1635 Mr. William Phelps purchased of Nassahegan, lands referred to in the above sale, who afterwards, not being able to prove full payment of the same, honestly bought it over again. This transaction is referred to in Stiles(2) as follows. It is in a deed dated March 31st, 1665.

"These presents testify, whereas there was a parcel of land purchased formerly by Mr. William Phelps, Sen., living in Windsor about thirty years since, of Sehat, an Indian, a Paquanick Sachem, and I (Phelps) not being able to prove full payment of the said purchase in consideration ; I now engage to make up the full payment by paying to the said Sehat's kinsman, Nassahegan, Sachem, of Paquanick, 4 trucking coats, or what upon agreement shall satisfy them to the value thereof. The said Nassahegan engaging to make the said parcel of land free, as shall be expressed from any challenge or demands for future time of himself, his heirs or successors, or any other Indian or Indians whatsoever. And Coggerymosset, Sehat's son, and his sister, and the said Nassahegan's own sister, shall subscribe to the said premises. The said parcel of land is thus; bounded, as it takes in all the first meadow bounded by the. rivulet, the Indian name being Tauchag, and half of the second meadow according to the running of the river, the Indian name being Pabachimusk; the parcel of land bounds south by a little brook that falls into the river about 4o rods from my own dwelling house, and to extend in length from the river westward upon a line three miles, all the breadth of the said land from the south brook to the middle of the 2nd meadow; which said agreement is made and signed to by us whose names are underwritten, this year of the Lord 1665, March 31st-owned already, paid in two coats and 4o s. in wampum for a third coat, and six bushels of Indian corn, and fifteen shillings in wampum for the fourth coat, and fifteen shillings in wampum, is at six a penny.

Witnesses Signed by
Samuel Phelps Coggerynossett
Matthew Grant Asuthew, Coggerynosset's sister
John Bartlett Patackhouse, Nassahegan's sister
Timothy Buckland Amannawer, Nassahegan's sister
Nassahegan  

Says the record--In Feb., 1666, "whereas there are several men that have land within the limits of it (the purchase aforesaid) both meadow and up-land, besides Mr. Phelps and his sons, it was therefore concluded that each man according to his proportion of land, capable of plowing or mowing, shall pay 12 pence per acre to Mr. Phelps; and each man paying to Mr. Phelps should afterwards have a clear title to their several shares of land."

Note--Says Trumbull's(3)History of Connecticut: "In these early days the title of Mister or Mr. was only given to elderly persons of distinction, while all military titles were always used." William Phelps received this distinguished title of Mr.

Mr. William Phelps's residence in Windsor, in 1636, was on the road running northerly, and later continued to Poquonoc, and a short distance north of the mill in Mill-river Valley, and was in line with, 1st, Rev. Mr. Warham, Joseph Newbury, John Dorchester, then Mr. William Phelps. He with some of his neighbors were drowned out in the great flood of 1639.

This annual flood which succeeds the breaking up of the ice in the Connecticut river, commenced this year March 5th, and continued by stormy wind and heavy rainfalls to the 18th, when the waters were at the highest; by the 22nd, at night, they were well fallen, yet it was as high then as ever known by the Indians. Many were drowned out and great numbers of cattle were drowned.

This lot was sold with a house, in 1642, to Benjamin Newbury, but a transfer in 1662 does not mention a house.

Soon after the flood Mr. Phelps removed farther north and settled south on the Highlands of what is known on the map as Phelps meadows, on a road running east and west, and on the east side of a road running to Poquonock.

On land purchased by him of the Indians, his son William resided a short distance east of him. Marks of the cellar of this old house may yet be seen.

In regard to deed or pawn of his property, it is recorded in the land office after his death--

Record of Possession.

"Whereas it is testified by Nathaniel Gillett, Sen., and Timothy Phelps, that William Phelps in his life time stood possessed in his own right of that orchard land, that lies on the southerly side of the street before his dwelling house, as it is now fenced in, for the space of twenty years at least, without trouble from any person prosecuting his claim in due form of law.



The said land is therefore, according to law, entered upon Public Records, to belong to the grantee of the said William Phelps, Sen., his heirs and assigns forever.



Henry Wolcott, Register and Selectman.
Benjamin Newbury, Commissoner."

Many records of purchase and sale of land by Mr. William Phelps are recorded in the land records of Windsor.

Says Dr. Stiles(2), "He was one of the most prominent and highly respected men in the colony. An excellent, pious, and upright man in his public and private life, and was truly a pillar in Church and State." And he might have added, one of the fathers and founders of this now ocean-bound Republic.

Mr. Phelps married for his second wife Mary Dover, in 1638. She was an English lady, and one of the passengers of the ship, Mary and John, and was a member of the Dorchester and Windsor Church. By her he had two children.

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 93rd year, honored and respected by all. His wife died there November 27th, 1675.

"His last will and testament, in fact, a Settlement Deed for his son Timothy's marriage with Mary, daughter of Edward Griswold, was dated the 22nd day of April, anno dom., 1660. It was entered on the Windsor, Connecticut register, July 26, 1672, and signed by Matthew Grant, Register.

"William died in his 73rd year, on July 14, 1672, and was buried the following day."


(1) From The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (Save $201 by ordering through us.) Two volumes. By Judge Oliver Seymour Phelps and Andrew T. Servin. (Eagle Publishing Company of Pittsfield, Mass., 1899)Original spelling and punctuation preserved. Vol. I, p 77-89

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

(3) Anderson, Robert Charles. The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995). MBCR = Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England