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.

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.

23 thoughts on “Those phrustrating Phelpses

  1. Goodness! Sounds like a soap opera. Our ancestors were just like us, sounds like. Loved that story, thank you.

    I bet you’re the one who gets the job of untangling the tree lights at Christmas, too.

    1. Thanks Helen. I had a mother and grandmother who insisted gift packages tied with string be hand undone — no cutting the string.

    1. Christine, thanks. I think most of the problems the Puritans had with the Quakers was that they weren’t a quiet lot!

  2. Back in the day, genealogists struggled to understand the family relationship between early immigrants William and George Phelps. Some believed they both came on the “Mary and John.” But only William Phelps was on that ship. George Phelps arrived four years later. Thankfully, we now have a well administered Y DNA Phelps surname project at Family Tree DNA. We now know that William and George Phelps did not share a patrilineal line Phelps ancestor. Many people, me included, descend from both William and George Phelps. But it must now be recognized that these are two separate Phelp’s families.

  3. Thank you, Alicia, for brightening my Monday morning yet again with your both humorous and accurate narrative about the antics of the “naughty” and phrustrating Phelps phamily!

  4. My husband Peter Phelps never mentioned these possible ancestors and I can see why, lol! But from the little I know of his family a few generations back, I suspect that his direct family had a much less colorful past!

  5. And a welcome return it is with such a Harlequin-Romance tale. When I read Quakers & Carolina, I went “must be Perquimans County.” And it was! I’ve been there recently, reading the Perq History (1931) while trying to figure out the Peter-Robert Evans descents to eliminate those who could NOT be the father of a man born 1805-1807. (I’m down to 1 known candidate, maybe). Perq Deeds are digitized at FamilySearch. The re-written Grantor/tee Index was done carefully and the original folios are done with a very clear hand. Have not yet looked for FS digitized copies of the vitals for Perq. Any advice welcomed.

    And Edward went to Salem and lead a typically calm mid-1600s yeoman’s life, I bet.

    1. Hi Bob, Fortunately I had the super article on “Hannah (Baskel) Phelps Phelps Hill” written by Gwen Bjorkman in the NGSQ (75:289+) to do the Carolina work for me, and I won’t be the one who has to follow her descendants there!

      Have a fine old Thanksgiving.

  6. Ah, the joys of research. This is one of the reasons God made wine: ) I’m also sure the Phelps family will appreciate all your fantastic work!

  7. Hi Rose, thanks. I am reminded that it is now 50 years since I graduated from Katy Gibbs in 1970. Lot of water over the bridge, or under the dam or something like that! Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  8. This is so fascinating! I have a direct line back through my maternal ggrandfather in KY to the PHELPS in North Carolina. I know almost nothing about this family before some of the families migrated from Charleston (mid 1700’s land and tax records) to KY in the 1790’s. I will anxiously await more of your research on this family!

  9. Last week I was working on my husband’s Essex County line and had just reached Oliver Atwood, Jr. and Elizabeth Phelps when an Early New England Families email about the Phelps sketches reached my in-box. I had not paid attention when they were mentioned in Vita Brevis because I didn’t yet know of any connection, but now – – what a gift! Not only was so much research done fore me, but the results are much more detailed, and probably more accurate, than anything I could have managed. Thanks!

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