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
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

Phelps Ancestry

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 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
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.

Phelps Miscellany

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

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)




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply