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The Phelps From England to America

William and George Phelps from
Crewkerne, not Tewkesbury; not brothers

Researchers have long recognized a number of distinctive Phelps lines in the American Colonies, and connecting them to a common ancestor in England has long proven difficult. Two lines that has been definitely identified are those of William and George Phelps.

As a result of the publication in 1995 of Volume III of the book The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633 by Robert Charles Anderson, it has been accepted by a consensus of recognized genealogical scholars that William Phelps found in Massachusetts and Connecticut records is NOT the same William Phelps found in Tewkesbury records, but very likely from Crewkene.

This book provides ample detail as to the Phelps found in early Connecticut and Massachusetts. Furthermore, DNA testing of descendants of William and George Phelps has shown that the two men are not related.

Phelps History in Europe

King James of England had treated the Puritan cause with disregard, but his successor Charles I went a step further and actively tried to suppress them. In 1630, the Pilgrims having been settled in Plymouth for 10 years, not less than seventeen vessels with from 1600-1700 emigrants arrived in New England. William and George Phelps were among them. Shortly after William's arrival in America, John Phelps served as Clerk to the court that dethroned and executed King Charles.

Emigrants' Arrival in America

From 1633 to 1635 about 30,000 individuals left the comfort of civilized England and its repressive government for the frontier discomforts and religous, political, and economic freedoms of the New England colonies. This entire period from 1620-1643, the so-called "Great Migration," ended with the start of the English Civil War, in which John Phelps was clerk of the court that convicted King Charles I.

The immigrants were largely English middle-class desirous of finding a home where they could live, worship, and raise their families without government tyranny, harassment, and vexious taxation.

Early Phelps in New England

Two Phelps were among the first to settle in Windsor.

William Phelps, probably of Crewkene, came aboard the Mary & John in 1630, probably with his second wife and the children from their and his previous marriage. Learn more here.

George Phelps, also likely from Crewkene, probably came aboard the Recovery in 1634. He was single and later married in Windsor. Learn more here.

Phelps History in the Colonies

William Phelps was among a group that grew dissatisfied with the leadership of early Dorchester. In 1636 he was joined about 60 people who founded the town of Windsor, which claims the honor of being the first town in the Massachusetts Colony to organize a town government. Mr. Phelps took an active position in town matters and during the first six months was made a freeman.

Phelps Historical Origins

The Phelps name has a long history in Europe. There were a number of variant spellings documented. The name is said to have anciently been descended from the German-Italian Welf-Guelph.

From 1629 through 1643 approximately 21,000 Puritans emigrated to New England. The population of the European colonists grew from less around one thousand to more than about 27,000. For more information, see the population growth charts.

Colonists' Arrival Decimates Indian Populations

Not coindentally, the native Indian populations was decimated due to contact with the white man's diseases and weapons. It has been estimated in Massachusetts alone that "in 1614 there may have been as many as 3,000 Massachuset living in 20 villages around Boston Bay, but by the time the Pilgrims arrived in 1620 there were less than 800. In 1631 the Puritans counted less than 500. No organized groups of the Massachuset are known to have survived after 1800."(1) "In 1617–1619, smallpox wiped out 90% of the Massachusetts Bay Native Americans."(2)

"In 1600 the Wampanoag probably were as many as 12,000 with 40 villages divided roughly between 8,000 on the mainland and another 4,000 on the off-shore islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The three epidemics which swept across New England and the Canadian Maritimes between 1614 and 1620 were especially devastating to the Wampanoag and neighboring Massachuset with mortality in many mainland villages (i.e. Patuxet) reaching 100%."

"Following the earliest explorers, however, a decimating illness that may have been smallpox reportedly killed 90 percent of the Indians along the Massachusetts coast from 1617 to 1619. Another smallpox epidemic arose in the populations near Plymouth Colony in 1633, killing twenty immigrants from the Mayflower and whole tribes of Indians."(3)

"When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, fewer than 2,000 mainland Wampanoag had survived. The island Wampanoag were protected somewhat by their relative isolation and still numbered about 3,000. At least 10 mainland villages had been abandoned after the epidemics, because there was no one left. After English settlement of Massachusetts, epidemics continued to reduce the mainland Wampanoag until there were only 1,000 survivors by 1675. Only 400 survived King Philip's War from 1675 to 1678."(4)


^ 1 Wampanaog History By Lee Sultzman. Retreived June 14, 2008

^ 2 Smallpox The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge by David A. Koplow Retreived June 14, 2008

^ 3 Ibid.

^ 4 Massachuset History By Lee Sultzman. Retreived June 14, 2008