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Phelps Family History in Europe

King James of England had treated the Puritan cause with disregard, and his son King Charles I, who assumed the throne in 1625, continued his father's strong opposition to the Puritan movement. The Puritans opposed many of the Anglican Church's doctrines as retaining too much of its Roman Catholic roots.

After they assumed control of Parliament, the Puritans began to pose a serious threat to the King's authority. In January 1629, in a move to neutralize his opponents, Charles I dissolved Parliament entirely, and actively tried to suppress the Puritans.

The religious and political climate became so difficult for Puritans that many began to make arrangements to leave the country. In 1630, the Pilgrims having first arrvied in Plymouth 10 years earlier, not less than seventeen vessels with from 1600-1700 emigrants arrived in New England. William and George Phelps were among them. Shortly after William's arrival in America, John Phelps would serve as Clerk to the court that dethroned and executed King Charles.

The Great Migration Begins

This was the during the time that later became known as The Great Migration, when from 1620 to 1643 about twenty thousand English men, women, and children crossed the Atlantic to settle New England. Most of these early emigrants originated in the five eastern England counties of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Essex, and Norfolk. These counties were a very educationally and economically advanced area of Britain. Up to one-third of the population of Norfolk and Suffolk countie s lived densely settled and well-educated urban communities. In the Stour Valley in Essex and Suffolk, 50,000 people worked in the textile industry, which was very vulnerable to slowdowns in their European markets. The dense population also made the region vulnerable to food shortages caused by the disastrous harvests in 1628-30. Due to the political instability in England after 1643, emigration slowed considerably.

In 1630, a prosperous Suffolk clothier named John Winthrop organised the Arbella fleet of 11 ships bound for New England. He wrote to supporters in all five counties, from which he drew 375 of his 695 known passengers. He later became the first Governor of Massachusetts.

The book The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors has led many Phelps descendants to believe that their original ancestor in Simsbury was from Tewkesbury, but that has been disproved. Pages 1-72 are about a William Phelps in Tewkesbury, and pages 72 to 1,257 are about the descendants of William Phelps of Windsor, Connecticut. For information on the origin of William Phelps in Crewkerne, England, see The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, (available in hardbound or CD-ROM), (Volume III) by Robert Charles Anderson, and Myrtle Steven Hyde, F.A.S.G. "The English Origin of William Phelps of Dorchester, Mass., and Windsor, Conn. with Notes on His Marriages," The American Genealogist (July 1990) 65:161-166.

William Phelps' early leadership in the colony and activity in government affairs, as well as his family and descendants, are described in Early Phelps History in Windsor and Simsbury.

William and George Phelps were founders of Simsbury, Connecticut. The Simsbury Historical Society owns and operates The Phelps Homestead, a museum complex in the heart of Simsbury. George's identity as Williams' brother has been generally disproved, or at least not confirmed to professional reseacher's satisfaction. It is usually accepted that he actually arrived aboard the Recovery of London in 1635.

The War of the Revolution had a profound effect on the Town of Simsbury. 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 without firing a shot.