Possible Origins of the Family in Germany and Italy
Several versions exist as to the origin of the surname Phelps. One historian asserts that Phelps is a contraction and simplification of Phyllyppes, the name of an ancient English family of Staffordshire, the superfluous letters having been dropped during the reign of Edward VI (1546-1553), Phelips, Phillips, etc. meaning Son of Phillip. It is also stated that the name Philips, or Phillips, was derived from a combination of two Greek words, Philos and Hippos, meaning a lover of horses.
A high and reliable authority claims that Phelps is English for Guelph, the name of a historical family of Germany to which Queen Victoria or the House of Hanover belonged, Guelph being German for Welf. The Welf and Guelph names are of a family of princely rank, importance, and power in Italy, originally from the northern part and dating back to the 11th century, or thereabouts, purportedly becoming Phelps, in England, in the 16th. Century.
Another source supplies the information that the name is derived from the Danish word Hvalp, or Swedish Valp, meaning whelp. While there is no proof of the foregoing, we do know that during the past 600 years, we find Phelps is spelled at various times in a variety of ways, including Phelyp, Phelipee, Phelipeston, Philip, Phelip, and others.
However it may be, the Phelps family, with its name definitely established as such since 1560, has many distinguished scions to its credit.
In the burying-ground beside the old Tewkesbury Abbey Church, Gloucestershire, England, founded by the Mercian Princes, Dukes Odo and Dodo, two Noble Saxon brothers who flourished at the commencement of the 8th century, lie interred some of the Phelps ancestors; others lie in the cemetery of Dursley, in Gloucestershire; in Porlock, Somersetshire; in Staffordshire, and in almost all of the shires of old England.
John Phelps, in 1649 was joint-clerk of the Court that tried and condemned to death King Charles I, having such zeal as to sign each record with his full name. To escape the terrible penalty imposed on the regicides for their act, John Phelps became an exile in Vevery, Canton de Vaud, Switzerland, where he died. In the ancient church of St. Martin, in Vevery, a black marble monument, inscribed to the memory of John Phelps, exiled in the cause of human freedom, was erected in 1882 by William Walter Phelps two American descendants of the same English Phelps family of Tewkesbury.
Inscribed on a big bell in St. Paul's Church steeple, London, is the name of Richard Phelps, Whitechapel, London, A.D., 1710.
(1) Excerpted 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. 1, p 46-49. (Order a reprint here.)