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Phelps Origins in Early Massacoh (later Simsbury), Connecticut

In the 1640's, when John Griffin and Michael Humphrey first crossed the Farmington River at "The Falls," they were searching for virgin pine forest where they could pursue their tar and pitch business. What they found was a verdant valley bounded by two low mountain ranges, rich with fish and wildlife. The native Massacoe Indians, of the Algonquin Nation, had lived off the bounty of the rich land and flowing river.

The Halfway Covenant

Full membership in the tax-supported Puritan Church, including baptism and voting rights, required an account of a "conversion experience." The testimonies of second and third-generation descendents were weaker, and they often could not meet this requirements.

The "Halfway Covenant" was an expedient adopted by state-endorsed Congregational churches of New England between 1657 and 1662. Under its terms, baptized persons of moral life and orthodox belief might receive the privilege of baptism for their children and other church benefits, without the full enrollment in membership which admitted them to the communion of the Lord's Supper.(2)

The "Halfway Covenant" was not honored by the minister in Windsor and drove many to seek a more welcoming faith in the verdant Farmington River Valley. The settlement at Massacoh (as Simsbury was known until 1670) brought together many families whose descendants still live in the area.

Between 1648 and 1661, Indian lands were gradually deeded over to the Englishmen. In 1670, the Massacoh Plantation came to be named "Simsbury", probably after Symondsbury, Dorset, England. Many of the earliest English settlers came from Dorset, including Thomas Ford, the first to clear land and farm here.

The first land grant in Massacoh (later Simsbury) was in 1667. Of the thirty in all who had grants we find in Weatouge (a district), Joseph Phelps, the son of William Phelps the immigrant.

Simsbury Burned

On 13th March, 1676, it was ordered by the General Court that the people of Simsbury remove to the neighboring settlements or plantations with their cattle and valuables, and soon after their buildings were burned by the Indians. This took place Saturday, 26th March, 1676.(1)

Says Phelps the Historian: "The ruin was complete. Nothing but desolation remained. During all the Indian wars before and since this event, no destruction of all English settlement in New England has taken place, in which the ruin was more extensive or more general than this conflagration."

A neighboring mountain overlooking Simsbury was then called "Phelps Mountain," because Mr. Phelps owned lands on it, and where it is supposed the native American leader Metacomet, also known as "King Philip" was then encamped, overlooking and gloating in the destruction he had caused. It is called the Metacomet Ridge today.

Early in 1676, the danger being over, most of the settlers returned. May 4th, 1677, we find Joseph Phelps, with nine others, petitioning the General Assembly for assistance in taxing, on account of loss caused by the Indians, which was partially granted.

The War of the Revolution had a profound effect on the Town. Nearly 1,000 Simsbury residents, more than in any other war, served in the Revolution. One hundred Simsbury soldiers engaged in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Noah Phelps was the most noted hero, as it was his spying which led to the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.

Early map of Simsbury, CT. Click for larger image
Simsbury, Connecticut, in 1780.(1)

"May 7th 1683, we find Joseph Phelps with thirty-one others, in all thirty-two (probably the voters of Simsbury at that time), signing a paper, the substance of which was that they not agreeing on a spot for locating their Meeting House, there being two places selected. It was decided to cast lots, and Gov. John Talcott and Capt. John Allyn were chosen to do this. Their action is thus described in the History of Simsbury. "

"May 8th, 1683, the above written agreement of ye above sides is well approved by John Talcott, John Allyn."

At a solemn meeting May 24th, 1683, "where as there is two papers putt in ye hatt, one east and ye other for ye west of the River, for ye decision of ye two places formerly mentioned. It is now agreed that ye first paper that is drawn shall be ye last. This voted, the lot that came forth was for ye west side of ye River." 1

Phelps Land Grants in Simsbury

The archives of the Simsbury Historical Society contains a manuscript written in 1810 by the then Town Clerk, Benjamin Ely. It is a record of the names and amounts of land granted to Simsbury inhabitants in 1723. The Phelps grantees are listed below.

At a town meeting of the inhabitants of Simsbury regularly convened January the second 1723 the said town granted to the several persons hereafter named the quantities of land hereafter exprefsed.

Ensign Phelps 300 acres

Joseph Phelps junr 136 acres

Timothy Phelps 160 acres

Nathaniel Phelps 40 acres

"January the second 1723 the above sums to the men there named was voted in the affirmative and the remaining land to be divided by the same proportions. A true Copy of Records Examined by Benjamin Ely Town Clerk Simsbury Nov 19th 1810 Book 3rd page 24th & onwards. Fees - 40 Cents"

^ 1 From The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (Save $200 by ordering through us.) By Oliver S. Phelps and Andrew T. Servin. (Get an updated index here.).

^ 2For more information, see The Halfway Convenant.