Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hannah (Baskel) Phelps Phelps Hill - A Quaker Woman and Her Offspring

Gwen Boyer Bjorkman is a genealogical researcher. This article first appeared in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, v 75 no 4 (Dec 1987). It won the 1987 Family-History Writing Contest of the National Genealogical Society. It is usually difficult to document the lives of colonial women. As a category, they left few legal documents. Yet through sundry records, it is possible to reconstruct the life of one remarkable woman - Hannah (Baskel) Phelps Phelps Hill. One does not read about Hannah in standard histories of early America, yet she held the first Quaker meeting in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in her home in Salem and later opened her home to the first Quaker meeting in the Albemarle settlement of Carolina. She was truly the Proverbs 31 Lady. After all these years “her children (will now) rise up and bless her saying: ‘Many daughters have done noble, But you excel them all!’ Despite her accomplishments, however, Hannah did not set out to be a noble heroine. She emerges in history as a young woman - human and alone, as far as family is concerned. The search for Hannah began in the records that men have left to chronicle the past. Before 1652, she came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England. An undated deposition of one Jane Johnson provides the only record of Hannah’s maiden name, Baskel. It reveals that, at the time of the deposition, Hannah was the wife of Nicholas Phelps but at the date of “coming over on the ship,” she was in the company of his brother, Henry. The document labels her a “strumpet.” Obviously, Hannah was a woman of independent mind not inclined to conform to the dictates of convention. This trait was to her blessing, scorn, and persecution. 
 "'Deposition of Jane Johnson: Saith yt: coming ov’ in the ship with Henry Phelps and Hannah the now wife of Nich: Phelps: Henry Phelps going ashore the ship lying at the Downes: Hannah wept till shee made herselve sick because mr Fackner would not suffer her to goe ashore with Henry Phelps: and Henry came aboard late in the night, the next morning mr Falckner Chid Henry Phelps and Hannah and said was it not enough for y’ to let Hannah lay her head in y’ lapp but must shee ly in ye Cabbin to and called Hannah Strumpet and this deponent saith farther yt she saw Henry Phelps ly in his Cabbin. Y when he was smocking in the Cook roome tobacco Hannah tooke the pip out of his mouth, etc., etc.'
One Henry Phelps arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634 on the ship Hercules, under John Kiddey, Master. His destination was said to be Salem. However, the Phelps family may have been in Salem before this date. It is known that Eleanor Phelps, mother of Henry and Nicholas Phelps, had married Thomas Trusler of Salem and that they were members of the first church in Salem in 1639. One historian holds that Trusler probably came to Salem in 1629, when a kiln for the burning of bricks and tiles was built, and that he continued this business until his death in 1654. There has been found no record of a previous wife or children for Trusler in Salem, so it is possible that Eleanor married him in England and came to the Bay Colony with him and her five Phelps children. Eleanor mentions in her 1655 will 'the legacy bequeathed by my Late husband to his Daughter in England.' Trusler’s will has been lost. The inventory of his estate has been preserved.”

Nicholas Phelps House. From Sidney Perley's The History of Salem Massachusetts, Vol. II.
What did Hannah find in her new home in Salem? She found independent-minded people who, like herself, were interested in change. She also found others who rigorously opposed any thought contrary to theirs. Since all political and social life was centered in the church, religion was the arena for the excitement of dissent. Roger Williams had a short pastorate in Salem, around 1634, before being banished to Rhode Island. Robert Moulton, a Phelps neighbor, has been excommunicated from the Salem church in 1637 for antinomian heresy during the Wheelwright controversy. Between 1638 and 1650, nine people from Salem were tried at Quarterly Court for heretical opinions, and five of the nine were women. Lady Deborah Moody, a church member since 1640, was charged with Anabaptism in 1642; rather than recant, she moved to Long Island. Samuel Gorton was tried in Boston, jailed there, and sent to Rhode Island for his Separatists beliefs. Eleanor Trusler also was taken to court, in April 1644, for her Gortonist opinions, saying, “our teacher Mr. Norris taught the people lies.” Governor Winthrop was advised to bind her over to Boston Court as an example others might fear, lest 'That heresie doeth spread which at length may prove dangerous.' At the Trusler trial, one Casandra Southwick testified that Eleanor “did question the government ever since she came. This was Salem in Hannah’s day.The shipboard romance alleged between Hannah and Henry Phelps did not result in their immediate marriage. Instead, Henry married (or had been married) to another woman, by whom he had a son, John (born about 1645), while Hannah married his brother Nicholas. Historians have not always treated the latter kindly - he has been called “a weak man, and one whose back was crooked” - but it can be argued that he had a strong spirit much akin to Hannah’s. They had two children (Jonathan, born about 1652, and Hannah, born about 1654) with whom they lived on the Trusler farm in “the woods” about five miles from the meetinghouse in Salem. Situated at the site of the modern town of West Peabody, the farm had been devised to Nicholas and Henry jointly, in 1655, by their mother. It was in the late 1650’s that the Phelps became involved in Quakerism. The Society of Friends, or Quakers, had been founded in England in 1648 by George Fox; and its teaching were brought to Boston, in July 1656, by two female missionaries. However, it is believed that books and tracts by Fox and other Quakers might have been brought to the colony in earlier years. In 1657 William Marston, a Hampton-Salem boatman, was cited by having Quaker pamphlets in his possession. There is a passage in a letter written in 1656 from Barbados by Henry Fell, which provides the earliest mention of Quakerism in Salem. In Plimouth patent, there is a people not so ridged as the others at Boston and there are great desires among them after the Truth. Some there are, as I hear, convinced who meet in silence at a place called Salem.” Another passage bearing on this Salem group is found in Cotton Mathers Magnalia: “I can tell the world that the first Quakers that ever were in the world were certain fanaticks here in our town of Salem, who held forth almost all the fancies and whimsies which a few years after were broached by them that were so called in England, with whom yet none of ours had the least communication.”
       In 1657, the invasion of Massachusetts by Quakers began when visiting Friends from England landed in Boston Harbor and were immediately imprisoned. If the group at Salem had been meeting quietly for several years, they went public when - on Sunday, 27 June 1658 - a meeting was held at the home of Nicholas and Hannah Phelps. This was the first Quaker meeting of record in the colony. Two visiting Friends at that meeting, William Brend and William Leddera acknowledged that they were Quakers and were sent to prison with six Salem residents who were also in attendance. Nicholas and Hannah were fined.
            Quaker meetings continued to be held regularly at the Phelps home in defiance of the law. In September 1658, Samuel Shattock, Nicholas Phelps, and Joshua Buffum were arrested and sentenced by the court to prison, where Nicholas was “cruelly whipped” three times in five days for refusing to work. Within months, Nicholas and six neighbors were called before the court again. This time they were banished on pain of death with two weeks being allowed to settle their affairs. It was at the end of May 1658, that Phelps and Shattock sailed for Barbados with the intention of continuing on to England to present the matter before parliament. However, because of the unsettled state of affairs in England they were not to return until late 1661.
            In the meanwhile, Hannah was left in Salem with the care of the farm and their two small children. The Quaker meetings continued to be held at her home, and she was fined every year from 1658 to 1663 for nonattendance at the Salem Church. In the fall of 1659 she with five others from Salem went to Boston to give comfort to two visiting Friends from England who had been sentenced to death for their faith and defiance of the laws of the colony. She and her group were arrested and imprisoned also. On 12 Nov, two weeks after the execution of the five condemned Friends, the Salem party was brought forth to be sentenced for 'adherence to the cursed sect of the Quakers' and “theire disorderly practises and vagabond like life in absenting themselves from theire family relations and runing from place to place without any just reason.” They were admonished, whipped, and sent home.
           Upon Hannah’s return, her house and land were seized by the Salem Court in payment of the fines levied against her and Nicholas. Henry came to the rescue of his sister-in-law, arguing that the court could take only the half of the property belonging to Nicholas. He managed to obtain control of the entire farm and allowed Hannah and the children to remain there. Did Henry now become interested in his sister-in-law, since his brother was in England, or did he now become interested in the Quaker teachings? There are no records of Henry’s being fined for Quaker leanings. One thing is clear from the records: where Henry had once been a respected part of the community, he was now suspected. At the Quarterly Court of 26 June 1660, Major William Hawthorn was ordered to inquire after the misuse of John Phelps by his father. Henry Phelps of Salem, was complained of at the county court at Boston, July 31, 1660, for beating his son, John Phelps, and forcing him to work carrying dung and mending a hogshead on the Lord’s day, also for intimacy with his brother’s wife and for entertaining Quakers. It was ordered that John Phelps, son, be given over to his uncle, Mr. Edmond Batter, to take care of him and place him out to some religious family as an apprentice, said Henry, the father, to pay to Mr. Batter what the boy’s grandmother left him, to be improved to said John Phelps’ best advantage. Said Henry Phelps was ordered to give bond for his good behavior until the next Salem court, and especially not to be found in the company of Nicholas Phelps’ wife, and to answer at that time concerning the entertaining of Quakers. The testimony seems to imply that Henry Phelps was living with his brother’s wife and holding Quaker meetings. The charges were expressed even more bluntly at the November 1660 Quarterly Court: Henry Phelps, being bound to this court to answer a complaint for keeping company or in the house with his brother’s wife, and appearing, was released of his bond. Upon further consideration and examination of some witnesses, which the court did not see meet for the present to bring forth in public (Was this when the deposition of Jane Johnson was taken?), and the wife of Nicholas Phelps not appearing, said Phelps was bound to the next court at Salem. He was ordered meanwhile to keep from the company of his brother Nicholas Phelps’ wife. Hannah had final say on the subject. At Salem Court, 28 June 1661, Thomas Flint and John Upton testified that, coming into Henry Phelps’ house on a Sabbath-day evening, they heard Hannah say that 'Higgeson had set the wolves apace.' John Upton asked her if Mr. Higgeson sent the wolves amongst them to kill their creatures and she answered, “The bloodhounds, to catch the sheep and lambs.” She was sentenced to be fined or whipped, and one William Flint promised to pay the fine. Political events soon eased the Phelps’ persecution - albeit slightly. The days of Cromwell and the Puritans were over in England in 1660. A new parliament proclaimed the banished Prince Charles as king, invited him to return from exile, and placed him on the throne of his father. As Charles II, he read - and sympathized with - the petition of those Quakers in England who had been banished from Massachusetts. That document contained a list of the sufferings of 'the people called Quakers,' and Number 15 stated, “One inhabitant of Salem, since banished on pain of death, had one-half of his house and land seized. On 9 September 1661, Charles II issued an order to the Bay Colony to cease the persecution of Quakers and appointed Samuel Shattock to bear the “King’s Missive” to Boston. No mention was made of Nicholas Phelps’ return at that time, although the historian Perley claimed “they returned together, but Mr. Phelps, being weak in body after some time died” It is known that Nicholas and Hannah were together again in Salem by June 1662 when, at the Quarterly Court, “Nicholas Phelpes and his wife were presented for frequent absence from meeting on the Sabbath Day. Hannah was fined alone in 1663. On 18 July 1664, Henry Phelps sold the property that he and his brother had inherited from their mother in 1655, and he, Hannah, and the children left Massachusetts. Many of their friends had departed already for Long Island or Rhode Island, but some had journeyed to far-off Carolina, where a new settlement was beginning on Albemarle Sound. It was the latter colony to which Henry and Hannah headed. Preseumably they married in a Quaker meeting before setting off by ship with what possessions they had left. In 1660 a few Virigians had crossed into the Albemarle region, then called Chowan. By charters of 1663 and 1665, Charles II granted to eight proprietors a tract of land which was to lie between the present states of Virginia and Florida, a vast tract that was named Carolina, and colony which had already spring up there was designated Albemarle County. Another settlement was begun at Cape Fear in 1664 by a group from Barbados and New England; their area became the county of Clarendon. By 1664, however, the latter group had deserted the Cape and moved to Albemarle. Fittingly, the first record found of Hannah in Carolina spotlights her religious activities. In 1653 one William Edmundson converted to Quakerism in England; and from 1661 he was recognized as leader of the Irish Quakers. He first visited America with George Fox as a traveling Friend in 1672. While Fox went to New England, Edmundson traversed Virginia; about the first of May 1672, he ventured down into Carolina. Two Friends from Virginia accompanied him as guides but became lost, saying they had “gone past the place where we intended.” Edmundson found a path that “brought us to the place where we intended, viz. Henry Phillips’ (Phelps) House by Albemarle River. It is Edmundson who accounts for the life of Henry and Hannah during the years in which legal records are silent. “He (Phelps) and his wife had been convinced of the truth in New England, and came there to live, who having not seen a Friend for seven years before, they wept for joy to see us.” Some scholars have interpreted this passage in Edmundson’s journal to mean that Henry and Hannah were the only Quaker family in Albemarle in 1672. However, evidence does exist of another couple, Christopher and Hannah (Rednap) Nicholson who had become Quakers and had been persecuted in Massachusetts. The Nicholsons had arrived in Albemarle Sound, probably by 1663, and were neighbors of Henry and Hannah Phelps. (See Nicholson Family-Part II) It is also known that Isaac and Damaris (Shattuck) Page came to Albemarle from Salem, after both had been fined as Quakers. Edmundson’s journal also reveals that the first recorded Quaker meeting in Albemarle was held at the Phelps’ home, just as the first recorded Quaker meeting at Salem had been sponsored by Nicholas and Hannah. Edmundson said, “it being on a first day morning when we got there. I desired them to send to the people there-a way to come to a meeting about the middle of the day.” Hannah opened her home yet again to the “Lord’s testimony,” as brought by the visiting Friends. Following the visit of Edmundson, Fox himself came to Albemarle in November 1672, stopping first at Joseph Scott’s home by Perquimans River, where he held a meeting, and then “we passed by water four miles to Henry Phillips (Phelps) house” and held a meeting there. Edmundson returned to Albemarle in 1676, and again the faithful Hannah appears in his journal.
He took our journey through the wilderness, and in two days came well to Carolina, first to James Hall’s (Hill’s) house, who went from Ireland to Virginia with his family. His wife died there, and he had married the widow Phillips (Phelps) at Carolina, and lived there; but he had not heard that I was in those parts of the world. When I came into the House, I saw only a woman servant. I asked for her master. She said he was sick. I asked for her mistress, she said she was gone abroad. so I went into the room, where he was laid on the bed, sick of an ague with his face to the wall. I called him by his name, and said no more; he turned himself, and looked earnestly at me a pretty time, and amazed; at last he asked if that was William? I said yes.
Between Edmundson’s journeys of 1672 and 1676, Henry died and Hannah married James Hill. James was probably a convert of Edmundson in Ireland or Virginia, since they knew each other by first name. In November 1676, The Lords Proprietors had issued commissions to men designated as deputies in Albemarle. James Hill, Esq, was deputy of the Duke of Albemarle. During Culpeper’s Rebellion in 1677, Hill and one Thomas Miller escaped, and a guard of soldiers was put at his house. Promptly on his return from Virginia, he, along with Francis Jones and Christopher Nicholson, was arrested. Hannah Phelps Hill was again in the thick of conflict.
The Quakers drew up a “Remonstrance” to the proprietors protesting their treatment, outlining the above acts, and declaring they were “a peaceable people.” It was signed on 13 September 1679 by twenty-one Quakers, including Jones and Nicholson, together with Joseph Scott, Isaac Page, and Jonathan Phelps, son of Nicholas and Hannah. Under their signatures, it was written that most of the subscribers “have been Inhabitants in Carolina since the years 1663 and 1664. The Quakers had not been persecuted in Carolina previous to this time, but it is recorded in the minutes of Perquimans Monthly Meeting that about the fourth or fifth month of 1680, nine Friends were fined and put into prison for refusing to bear arms in the muster field. Among those nine were five of the signers of the 1679 remonstrance - including Jonathan Phelps and Samuel Hill, son of James.
Hannah’s devotion to religion did not prompt her to neglect her family, however. She appears again in court records to champion the cause of her grandchildren. In the intervening years, her daughter Hannah had twice wed - first to James Perisho and second, in 1697, to George Castleton. On 30 March 1680, it was ordered by the Lords Proprietors that one hundred acres of land be laid out, for “James Perishaws Orphants,” for the transportation of two persons, namely their parents “James and Hannah Perishaw.” However, complications arose involving this second husband, Castleton; and Hannah Phelps Hill went to court to protect her grandson’s property.
The first hint of the family troubles appears in the court records of October 1685:“Wheras George Castleton hath absented himself from the County and Imbezled the estate belonging to the Orphans of James Perisho deceased. It is therefore ordered that no person or persons buy any cattle belonging to the said orphans or any part of the estate of the said Castleton and that Jonathan Phelps gather the corne and measure the same and deliver the one half to Hannah Castleton and secure the other half til further order.”
Castleton apparently returned to the county and problems continued. In October 1687 the court ordered “that Hannah Castleton the wife of George Castleton doe repaire home to her husband and live with him and that if she departs from him any more it is ordered that the majestrates doe forthwith use such meanes as may cause her to live with her husband.”
The younger Hannah apparently did not live long past this point; she is not mentioned at attending the wedding of her daughter on 5 August 1689, although the grandmother Hannah did. In October of that year, the older Hannah appeared in court, concerned for the welfare of Hannah, Jr.’s son by her first husband.
At a Court Holden for the precinct of Pequimins at the house of Mary Scot on the first Monday being the 7th of October 1689. Hannah Hill Grandmother to James Perishaw hath petitioned this Court to have the management of the stock belonginge to the sd. James Perishaw, It is therefore Ordered that after the last of this instant October the sd. Hannah Hill take into her custodie the Stock belonginge to James Perishaw, and manage the same for the childs Care, putting in security for the same.”
For his proprietary land rights, Hannah’s son Jonathan took out a patent in 1684, covering four hundred acres near Robert Wilson on the west side of the Perquimans River. In his will written in 1688, he gave this four hundred acres (where he lived) to his son Samuel. In 1692, Robert Wilson and John Lilly, executors of Jonathan Phelps, went to court to divide the property. The suit was continued in 1693, when Hannah Hill petitioned for “hur Halfe of ye plantation”; and it was ordered that “Shee be posesed with it.” This patent was renewed by Samuel Phelps as son and heir in 1695.
All of Albemarle’s early land records have not survived. However, it is commonly accepted in the history of Perquimans County that the land Henry Phelps lived on, when Edmundson paid him the visit in 1672, was the land on the narrows of the Perquimans River that was granted to his grandson, Jonathan Phelps, in 1694 - and that part of this grant became the town Hertford. This should be partly true. It was Hannah Phelps’ grandson, Jonathan Phelps, who became owner of the property; but without recorded wills or deeds, the details of the property’s transfer are cloudy.
Since Hannah was the only one of the original family still living in 1694, it was she who proved rights for fifteen persons transported into the county of Albemarle. They were: “Henry Phelps (her second husband), Hannah his Wife (herself), John Phelps (Henry’s son). Jonathan Phelps (her son), Hannah Phelps junr (her daughter), Robt. Pane, James Hill (her 3rd Husband), Saml. Hill (son of James Hill), Mary Hill, Nathanl. Spivey and his wife Judity, John Spivey, Sarah Spivey, Anne Spivey, (and) Jonathan Phelps his freedom.”
This document implies one other situation not otherwise documented: After the death of Nicholas, Hannah’s son by him was apparently bound to his uncle - and her second husband - Henry. Once Jonathan’s servitude expired, in North Carolina, he was eligible for his own grant. The fifteen rights named in the forgoing document amounted to 750 acres. At the time of the survey in 1694, Hannah assigned the first six rights to her grandson, Jonathan Phelps, who was then seven years old, eight rights to her grandson, Samuel Phelps, age ten, and the last right to Robert Wilson, the executor of the estate of her son Jonathan.
Hannah, who outlived her three husbands and her two children, had now provided for her grandchildren. She had seen the establishment of the Quaker meetings and Quaker life in Albemarle.
"A 1709 letter of Mr. Gordon, a Church of England missionary, stated that the Quakers then numbered “about the tenth part of the inhabitants” of Carolina. And in Perquimans Precinct, he said, they “are very numerous, extremely ignorant, insufferable proud and ambitious, and consequently ungovernable.” It is because she was proud, ambitious, and ungovernable that one is now able to document the life of Hannah and her children.

3 comments:

  1. This is a great article! Thanks for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a fantastic account of Hannah Baskel, ancestor of my husband

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a fantastic account of Hannah Baskel, ancestor of my husband

    ReplyDelete