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Phelps Origins in Illinois

Thadeus Merrill Phelps

Col. Aaron Noble Phelps, A Pioneer in Illinois

Col. Aaron Noble Phelps is descended from George Phelps and Phillura Randall Phelps, pioneer settlers of Windsor, Connecticut.

My third great-grandfather Aaron Noble Phelps was a Captain in Footes Regiment, Massachusetts Militia, during the War of 1812, and served in William McMurty's company of Rangers in Knox Country, Illinois, during the Blackhawk Indian Wars.

"During the war, William McMurtry organized a company of Rangers of about eighty-nine, which embraced nearly all that were fit for service in Knox, Warren, and Mercer counties.  They were all mounted, each man furnishing his own rifle and horse.  They pursued the Indians in all directions but were never engaged in battle."(1)

Aaron died in Massachusetts after the war. His son Ronald Aaron Noble Phelps was born on 9 Sep 1819 in Westfield, Massachusetts. Sixteen year old Noble, as he was called in contemporary accounts, left Massachusetts among a party of 37 people, with his mother Clarissa Root Phelps, his two sisters Seraphina and Sybelana (his father having died in 1830). This group came to be known as the ill-fated boat party.

Clarissa was the sister of Riley Root and brought his daughters Dancy and Clarissa west, along with her brother's son, Moses. A generous spirit, she later took charge of two additional children, sons of Dr. Gordon Grant.

Aaron Noble Phelps bought 200 acres of land north of Wataga, Illinois, where he established one of the finest farms in the county. In History of Knox County (p. 836), it states,

"Section 8 also includes the premium farm owned by A. N. Phelps, Esq., and contains 200 acres without a foot of waste land...As an indication that Sparta [Township — later Knox County — ] is a rich agricultural locality, capable of producing a great quantity as well as a great variety of crops and having in it many enterprising stock-raisers, besides begin well watered by nattural streams and springs, may be noted the fact that A. N. Phelps' two-hundred acre farm now owned by William Robson on Section 8, took three first prizes from the State Agricultural Society."


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Ronald Aaron Noble Phelps, circa 1870-80. He married Sarah Jerusha Adams of Painesville, Ohio on 29 Mar 1847 in Painesville. Noble came to Illinois via a riverboat that came to be known as the ill-fated boat party. Noble's tombstone in the Galesburg, Illinois pioneer cemetery:"Rest. A. Noble Phelps born Sept 19, 1819 Died June 16 1881. Sarah J. his wife born Apr 5 1818 died Sept 10 1890." (Photo courtesy Foxie Hagerty.)
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1870 section map of Sparta Township, Noble Phelps' farm is located northeast of town in the highlighted section. (4) (Larger image 230K)

"Phelps' celebrated farm, which took the first premium at State Fair, is on Section 8, and is certainly as fine a farm as we ever saw..."  (Illustration and quote from Atlas Map of Knox County, Illinois, Andreas, Lyter & Company, Davenport, 1870, 91 pages. Scanned by Todd Walter) (4)

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Farm location in 2010, now farmed by Henry Andreson. Image courtesy Pat Broeker.

According to the Knox College history, "On June 2, 1837, the first colonists arrived in a wagon train and settled temporarily at Log City [near current Lake Storey], three miles northwest of the present site of Galesburg." At the time of Mr. Phelps' arrival in Illinois, the amount of his worldly possessions at that time was enough to buy a box stove and a cow, valued at $30, or about $17,000 in inflated 2008 dollars. (2) (History of Knox County, p. 840). Knox College was founded by the same social reformers in 1837 who opposed slavery and were committed to help all individuals uncover their potential, to learn, grow and contribute to the greater good of the community.

Galesburg was also home to the first anti-slavery society in the state of Illinois, also organized in 1837, and was a stop on the underground railroad. Real railroads played a key role in Galesburg's history. The first railroad came to Galesburg in 1854, causing no amount of unhappiness with the residents of Knoxville, the county seat. The settlers later founded the pioneer First Church of Christ in Galesburg.

The genealogy book Phelps Family in America gives Ronald's name as "Roger." My grandfather, Harold B. Phelps Sr., penciled this out and inserted "Ronald". He also corrected Ronald's birth year from 1812 to 1819. The book also gives his death at Wataga, Illinois, which my grandfather has crossed out, but not corrected. Noble is buried in the Hope Cemetery in Galesburg, Illinois.

^ (1)1899 Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois Knox County

^ (2) History of Knox County, It's Cities, Towns, and People by Albert J. Perry, Chicago. The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. 1912. p. 840.

^ (3) History of Knox County, p. 489

^ (4) Illustration from Atlas Map of Knox County, Illinois, Andreas, Lyter & Company, Davenport, 1870, 91 pages. Scanned by Todd Walter.

^ (5) History of Knox County, p. 836.