Select Phelps Surname Genealogy

Phelps is generally seen as a variant of Phillips, found in southwestern England.  Phillips itself is patronymical, the son of Philip (from the Greek Philipos, a lover of horses).  The Phillip name was popular probably because there were a number of early saints named Philip.   Some have suggested that the Phelps surname derived from Guelph, a family of princely rank in Italy, but this seems unlikely.

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Select Phelps Ancestry

England.  Phillip patronymical names were common in medieval England from the 13th century in a variety of spellings.  Phelps originated from this number in the west country.   But itt was not really until the 16th century that Phelps was being found in records.

James Phelps, said to be from Staffordshire, made his home in Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire in the 1560's. His son William served as bailiff of Tewkesbury in 1607.  Thomas Phelps died in Dursley in 1647.  A later Thomas Phelps, a clothier, started the Phelps mill in Dursley in the early 1700's.  The last of these Phelps millowners, William Phelps, exited in the 1790's as the business turned uneconomic.  Phelps were sheriffs of Gloucester in the late 1600's and the name increasingly appeared in town records in the 1700's.  Thomas and Mary Phelps lived at Barbers Bridge Farm near Tibberton in the early 1800's and Phelps are still in the area today.

There were also Phelps in Porlock, Somerset from the 1600's, including Richard Phelps the portrait painter.  Richard Phelps the bell-maker was born in Avebury, Wiltshire in 1670.

Wales.  Phillips is the usual Welsh spelling.  The Phillips name was particularly strong in Pembrokeshire where they were a leading family.  But some Phelps did cross the Severn.  They were to be found in the early 19th century in Glamorgan and further west in Pembrokeshire.

Ireland.  Thomas Phelps fought with Cromwell in Ireland and settled in Limerick.  He was an early Quaker who was repeatedly harrassed for his beliefs.  Later Phelps established themselves at Clonlara in county Clare where they remained until 1914.

America.  Phelps in America outnumber those in England by about three to one today.

The first arrival was William Phelps, a Puritan settler in New England, who came in 1630 and was one of the founders of Dorchester, Massachusetts and then of Windsor, Connecticut.  He is thought to have come from Crewkerne in Somerset and not from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, as posited in Oliver Phelps' 1899 book The Phelps Family in America

From this Phelps line in Simsbury, Connecticut came Noah Phelps, a captain in the Revolutionary War and a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention.  The Phelps house and tavern in Simsbury was owned by five generations of this family for nearly two hundred years.  Some notable Phelps born in Simsbury were:
  • Anson Phelps, the co-founder of the Phelps Dodge mining company
  • John Jay Phelps, an early railroad baron and financier
  • and John Smith Phelps, Governor of Missouri.
Thomas Phelps was a Bristol sea captain who died in Anne Arundel county, Maryland in 1674.  However, the main Phelps line in that county seems to have started with a Walter Phelps from Somerset who had arrived there around that time.  Some of these Phelps later migrated to North Carolina and Kentucky.  Nicholas Phelps, a Revolutionary War veteran from Virginia, was a pioneer in Kentucky, arriving there in the 1780's and settling, despite Indian attacks, in what is now Butler county. 

Australia.  A Phelps family from Tewkesbury migrated to Ledbury across in Herefordshire and their son Robert Phelps embarked for Australia in the early 1850's.  He married Eliza Puzey in Dunolly, Victoria and they raised thirteen children there.

Select Phelps Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Phelps Names

Richard Phelps was an 18th century English bell-maker.  He made the Great Tom that is in the steeple of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Anson Phelps was the co-founder in 1833 of the mining company Phelps Dodge.
Edmund Phelps was awarded the Nobel prize for economics in 2006 for his work on economic growth.
Michael Phelps is the American swimmer who won 18 gold medals, a record, in the Olympic Games of 2004, 2008, and 2012.

Select Phelps Today
  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in Kentucky) 
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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