Those phrustrating Phelpses

The reason I have not been active on Vita Brevis recently can be laid at the feet of the Phelps family of Salem. Five members of the family will “soon” be published together as the Phelps Cluster despite their complete refusal to cooperate. Here is a little of what I have untangled so far.

The story has been that widow Eleanor Phelps (husband unknown) came to Salem with her three “minor” sons prior to 1639, when she and her second husband Thomas Trusler joined the Salem church. The Phelps boys have been deemed minors because they do not appear in Salem records until 1645 and 1655, and the implication was that the boys all grew up in Salem. However, that claim is complicated by the record of Henry Phelps arriving in Salem by ship about 1645. This and other circumstantial evidence suggest the boys were older, and that none of them came with their mother.

Henry’s 1645 voyage was luridly recounted in the deposition of a passenger describing Henry’s behavior with another passenger, Hannah Baskel, a melodramatic young woman who “wept till shee made herselve sick” when not allowed to accompany Henry on an excursion off the ship at the “Downs.” She “lay her head in” Henry’s lap, was seen lying on the bed with him in his cabin, smoked tobacco with him, and who knows what else. This romance did not, however, lead to a marriage between Henry and Hannah, likely because he already had a wife. It did lead to a marriage between Hannah and Henry’s brother Nicholas.

Nicholas and Hannah Phelps became ardent members of the Quaker community of Salem. The first Quaker meeting was held in their home in 1658. The Phelpses and the other Friends found themselves regularly facing the Court over their non-conformist behavior – not attending the established Puritan church. They were fined, imprisoned, and flogged for their stubborn refusal to reform. In 1659 Nicholas was one of three men who sailed back to England to plead the case to Parliament regarding the mistreatment of the Quakers by the New England authorities.

Meanwhile, back in Salem, Henry and Hannah “renewed” their relationship...

Meanwhile, back in Salem, Henry and Hannah “renewed” their relationship (or perhaps it had continued all along), and Henry was forbidden by the court from “frequenting” the house of his brother’s wife. Fortuitously, though, as Henry Phelps was not then a Quaker, he could rescue the family farm from confiscation by the town for Nicholas and Hannah’s outstanding fines.

Nicholas returned from England after 1662, but “being weak in body, after some time died.” Henry and Hannah married, Henry converted, and the continued harassment of the Quakers drove them out of New England. By 1672 Henry, his son John (mother unknown), and Hannah and her children by Nicholas – Jonathan and Hannah Phelps – moved to “Carolina,” where other Quakers were gathering.

Henry died sometime between 1672 and 1674, and Hannah married at the Perquimans Quarterly Meeting to her third husband, James Hill, Esq., who had been a deputy of the Duke of Albemarle before being arrested for letting a man escape during Culpepper’s Rebellion in 1677. There is a possibility that she married a fourth time to a man named Joseph Smith. In 1685 Hannah Hill was in a Carolina court protecting her grandson’s property from her daughter’s second husband.

Oh, and the third son, Edward Phelps. He moved to Newbury.

If I ever get all of the facts aligned for these five Phelps sketches – Eleanor, her sons Henry, Nicholas, and Edward, and her daughter-in-law (twice over), Hannah (Baskel) (Phelps) (Phelps) Hill – they will be available in the Early New England Families database.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.View all posts by Alicia Crane Williams