Jesse Phipps, my great-great-great grandfather, was born about 1788 in Ashe County, North Carolina, a son of Samuel Phipps and his wife Elizabeth (Reeves) Phipps. Elizabeth was called Betty.
The suggestion has been made that Jesse Phipps came from England when he was a young man, but all the evidence is clearly against it. The suggestion has also been made that his parents were melungeons. While it is true that a descendant of Betty (Reeves) Phipps said that Betty had referred to herself as “Portuguese Indian,” as a direct descendant of Samuel Phipps through his son Jesse my Y-DNA clearly indicates British Isles roots.
According to one researcher who I have met with in the 1980s (now deceased), he was born in Ireland in 1788, came to America when he was 19, landed at Newport News, VA, then settled in Washburn, Ashe Co., NC. This was clearly not the case, but some aspects of this may pertain to an earlier ancestor. Efforts by another researcher (also deceased) to locate the elusive “Washburn” in the 1980s have failed.
Although the Phipps families of Ashe County, North Carolina do not appear to have been melungeon, they were surrounded by melungeons and evidently intermarried with melungeons. This may have been at least part of the reason why so many of the Phipps families and those of other surnames who were associated with them left Ashe County, North Carolina in the 1830s, around the time that widespread political moves were being attempted against melungeons in North Carolina and other states. Those moves were designed to, at the very least, disenfranchise melungeons.
Tennessee disenfranchised melungeon voters in its 1834 state constitution. By 1833, Jesse Phipps had moved out of North Carolina and into Indiana, settling in Owen County, Indiana. (Other Phipps families settled in Lawrence County, Indiana.) Charles Blanchard, in his History of Clay and Owen Counties (1884), p. 742, stated that
An early comer, whose reputation was none of the best, was Jesse Phipps, who settled on what is now the Baumgartner estate, which land he entered as early as 1833. He was a man of considerable property, and kept a house which for a number of years was the general resort of a class of roughs who set at defiance the laws of both God and man. He had three grown sons, i.e. Mashach or `Shack,’ Shadrach and Troy, all three of whom gained considerable notoriety on account of their many daring acts of lawlessness.
This reference to “daring acts of lawlessness” was probably mostly an allusion to the gang headed by John Long that was responsible for the 1845 murder of Col. John Davenport at Rock Island, Illinois. In his younger days, Jesse Phipps’ son John Meshack Phipps was associated with Long and his gang, although it is not clear to what extent. Blanchard’s reference to Troy is confused. Troy was actually Jesse’s nephew, not his son. Troy’s father was Jesse’s brother William Phipps.
Does this “house” mentioned by Blanchard refer to his home, or to an inn or tavern? Supposedly Grayson Township, Owen County, Indiana was so named presumably because of the prominence of the Phipps, Long, and Toliver families there, who had Grayson County, Virginia connections. Because they did not get along with others in the area, however, once the “roughs who set at defiance the laws of both God and man” had moved on, the name was changed to Marion Township.
Actually, the reference to the “roughs who set at defiance the laws of both God and man” sounds extremely reminiscent of a quote on the first page of Edward Bonney’s 1850 book The Banditti of the Prairie, or the Murderer’s Doom, which extensively discusses Jesse’s son John Meshack Phips (Phipps), or “Shack.” Bonney refers to the Mississippi River Valley as affording a safe haven for “organized bands, trampling upon right, and defying all law human or divine.”
In his 1845 book, Edward Bonney refers to Jesse (but not by name) as the father of “Shack Phips” (John Meshack Phipps) on p. 89 of the 1856 edition:
. . . we learned that Fox had been arrested on suspicion of horse stealing, Shack Phips was also under arrest on a similar charge. . . . Shack Phips was also held to bail in the sum of $400. His father entering bail for the amount, Shack was released.
Around 1807, Jesse Phipps had married his first wife, Jane Spurlin, called Jennie. Spurlin (also sometimes spelled Spurlen) was a frontier version of Spurling. Little seems to be known about her. She was apparently born around 1760 to 1770 in North Carolina and presumably died around 1839 in Indiana, probably in Owen County. Her father is believed to have been Zachariah Spurlin, who appears to have been born around 1747 in Fairfax County, Virginia and who died 20 Aug 1837 at Gap Civil in Ashe County, North Carolina.
Various records show the locations of residence of Jesse and his family over the years:
- 1820 census, Ashe County, North Carolina, 3-1-0-1-1-0 / 2-1-2-1-0-0-1.
- 1833, moved from Ashe County, North Carolina to Owen County, Indiana.
- 1840 land patent to Jesse Phipps of Owen County, Indiana for the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter of section 34, township 10 north, range 5 west, 40 acres, sold from land office at Vincennes, IN.
- 1843, presumably the Jesse Phipps listed in a tax list in Grayson (later Marion) Township, Owen County, Indiana.
- 1850 census, Marion Township, Owen County, Indiana, farmer, listed with second wife Deborah.
- About 1853-54, moved from Owen County, Indiana to Putnam County, Missouri.
- 1854, May 1, land patent to Jesse Phipps of Putnam County, Missouri for land in Putnam County.
- 1854, Nov 10, land patent to Jesse Phipps of Putnam County, Missouri for land in Putnam County.
- 1856, Apr 1, land patent to Jesse Phipps of Putnam County, Missouri for land in Putnam County.
- 1856, Oct 10, land patent to Jesse Phipps of Putnam County, Missouri for land in Putnam County.
- 1857, 1 Apr, land patent to Jesse Phipps of Putnam County, Missouri for land in Putnam County.
- 1860 census, Union Township, Putnam County, Missouri, age 74, born in North Carolina, farmer (with wife Deborah), 11 Sep 1860.
Jesse married for the second time on 12 May 1848, when he married Deborah. She had been married earlier to a Helms. Deborah was born about 1811 in Ohio and likely died in Missouri.
A myth that Jesse Phipps died in Indiana has been perpetuated through comments by a descendant. This was based on presumption and is proven incorrect by numerous records. Jesse Phipps died of smallpox in Putnam County (or possibly across the county line in Sullivan County), Missouri in 1865. His estate was probated in Putnam County.
His death is documented in the Putnam County, Missouri probate packet for estate 642, the estate of Jesse Phipps. This packet was filed 6 Mar 1865 and refers to his heirs as George Phipps (address unknown), Jesse Phipps (Jr.) of Illinois, [Eli] Shadrach and John M. [Meshack] Phipps of Iowa, and David Phipps of Oregon. A separate probate packet is extant for estate 645, the estate of George Phipps. Whether this is the same George Phipps is unclear.
One receipt in the probate packet for Jesse Phipps refers to expenses “For working Nurseing &c at one dollar per day Sulivan County [adjacent to Putnam Co.] March 3d 1865,” but another dated July 3rd at Unionville, Putnam Co. is “for nursing family while sick.” Does the former indicate that he died in Sullivan County, or did he die in adjacent Putnam County?
A newspaper obituary for Jesse’s son Eli Shadrack Phipps said, “In 1853 the family moved on a farm in Puttnam county, Missouri, at which place the father succumbed to the then most dreaded disease – small pox – his years numbering 111.” He clearly did not reach the age of 111, but his twin sons John Meshack Phipps and Eli Shadrack Phipps did attain the ages of 104 and 99, respectively.
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