Phelps Surname Meaning, History & Origin
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
The Phillip name was popular probably because there were a number of
saints named Philip. Some have suggested that the Phelps
surname derived from Guelph, a family of princely rank in Italy, but
this seems unlikely.
Phelps Resources on
Phillip patronymic 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 it 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 harassed 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.
Phelps Origins. From the time of Edward 1, when Phelyp, Phelip, Phelips, Philip, and Phelipee were
recorded, to Eizabethan times when
Phelps was first mentioned, there were many ways used in spelling
the name. The
following is one account of the Phelps origins:
the burying-ground beside the old
Tewkesbury Abbey Church in Gloucestershire, founded by the Mercian
Dukes Odo and Dodo, two noble Saxon brothers who flourished at the
of the 8th century, lie interred some of the Phelps ancestors; others
the cemetery of Dursley in Gloucestershire; in Porlock in Somerset; in
Staffordshire and in almost all of the shires of old England.”
Phelps in the 1881 Census
The largest numbers of Phelps in Gloucestershire were in Westbury, Cheltenham, Bisley and Gloucester.
Phelps at Porlock. Phelps at Porlock in
Somerset seem to date from the early 1600’s. The death of Henry
Phelps, yeoman, was recorded in 1637. Richard Phelps the
portrait painter lived from 1718 to 1785. Abraham Phelps, a
Porlock tanner, died in 1795. And Henry Phelps was a landowner
and surgeon in Porlock in the early 1800’s.
It was at Porlock in
the mid 1800’s that a Mr. Phelps, a contemporary of the sporting parson
Jack Russell, started the foxhounds which became famous as the “stars
of the West.” His kennels occupied the site of the Bridge House
on Parson Street. He showed wonderful sport with his pack, direct
ancestors of the Exmoor foxhounds whose kennels were at Oare.
William Phelps, Early New England Settler. William Phelps – with his wife Elizabeth, six children and brother George – came to America on
the Mary and John in 1630 and made their
home in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His
Elizabeth died there in 1635 and his eldest son Richard, aged then
next year William left
for Windsor, Connecticut with his remaining children, becoming a
that town. He married again. It was said that he purchased his land from the
for the price of four overcoats. However,
not being able to prove title and payment, he had to pay a second time,
tender being wampum. The site of his home
was not too far away from Deacon Roger Phelps’ house in Windsor in the
mid 19th century.
Phelps was a man of property, as
shown by the high pew rent that he paid. He
subscribed also to the fund for the poor. Forty-two
years of his life were spent in the
New England of the New World; six in Dorchester, and thirty six in
Windsor. He died in Windsor in his 73rd
year, on July
14, 1672, and was buried the
The Phelps Home and Tavern in Simsbury, Connecticut. The Phelps house and
tavern in Simsbury served as a family home, canal hotel, lodge meeting
entertainment hall, and local tavern. From 1786 until 1849, three
generations of fathers and sons, and one widow, served as
Built for Elisha Phelps in 1771, the
house may have included part of an earlier dwelling constructed by
building was a family residence until Noah Phelps, Elisha Phelps’
acquired the first tavern license in 1786. His
son Noah ran the tavern from around 1805
until his death in 1817. His widow Charlotte operated the tavern
for a while
until her son Jeffery purchased the property in 1820. Jeffery
Phelps ran the tavern for 29 years,
closing the business in 1849 to devote himself to agriculture and other
The building was remodeled in
1879 and 1915 by resident family members and remained a family home
was given to the Simsbury Historical Society in 1962.
- 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 Numbers Today
- 6,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 18,000 in America (most numerous in Kentucky)
- 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
Select Phelps and Like Surnames
Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire. These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.
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