Charles Phelps Papers
Scope and Content Note
The Charles Phelps Papers consist of one document box of manuscripts from the 1750s to the 1780s relating to the Phelps' legal and land transactions, and to his participation in the disputes over jurisdiction over the New Hampshire Grants. The collection includes petitions and addresses to Massachusetts and New York, depositions on Yankee depredations against Yorkers in the Connecticut River Valley, and other papers concerning the various governments and courts operating in the Vermont area in the 1770s and 1780s. For Vermont historians, the Phelps Papers offer some insights into the struggles and divisions that marked the state's history prior to Vermont's admission into the Union in 1791.
- Phelps, Charles (Person)
Language of Materials
Collection is open for research.
All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.
Lawyer, pioneer settler of the New Hampshire Grants, and vocal opponent of the fledgling independent State of Vermont in the 1770s and 1780s, Charles Phelps was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, on August 15 (or August 27, according to some sources), 1717. As a young man he worked as a bricklayer and mason in Northampton and nearby Hadley, to which he moved around 1743, but in the early 1750s he became an attorney and assumed the rank of "gentleman" in Connecticut River Valley society. Phelps served as a selectman for Hadley in 1757, and in 1759 the governor appointed him a justice-of-the-peace for Hampshire County. Led by "river god" Israel Williams, eleven incumbent justices protested vehemently against Phelps' appointment, describing him as "company they never intended to keep," but the appointment stood and he held office until 1761.
Phelps began speculating in the early 1750s in New Hampshire titles to the area that would become Vermont, and in the spring of 1764 he moved with his family to the wilderness township of New Marlborough some 40 miles north of Hadley. He soon became involved in the controversies over who owned the New Hampshire Grants, at first accepting New York's claim to jurisdiction but then switching in the early 1770s to a one-man crusade to have Massachusetts annex most of what is now Windham County. The creation of the independent State of Vermont in 1777 gave Phelps another option, but he quickly became disenchanted with Vermont's government and reasserted his allegiance to New York. As one of the most persistent members of the sizeable Yorker contingent in the Connecticut River Valley, Phelps was a constant threat throughout the American Revolution to the fragile balance of Vermont's authority. He wrote scathing denunciations of the new state's leaders, visited Congress in search of military and political assistance, and repeatedly petitioned New York to reestablish its control over both sides of the Green Mountains.
Vermont did its best to silence Phelps. The state arrested him and his son Timothy (1747 - 1819) several times in the early 1780s, confiscating their property, levying fines against them, and imprisoning Timothy at Bennington for several months in 1783. These tactics eventually had some effect, as father and son grudgingly lessened their anti-Vermont activity, but both remained firm in their personal disapproval of the state. Shortly after his death on April 17, 1789, Charles Phelps dated his will at "New Marlborough, in the county of Cumberland and state of New York"; nearly three decades later, a quarter-century after Vermont's admission to the Union, Timothy Phelps' described himself in his will as "High Sheriff of the County of Cumberland and in the State of New York according to my commission."
- Hall, Benjamin H. History of Eastern Vermont (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1858).
- Huntington, James Lincoln. "The Honorable Charles Phelps," Colonial Society of Massachusetts Publications, 32 (February 1937) : 441 - 60.
- [Phelps, Charles]. Vermonters Unmasked ([Poughkeepsie: Printed by John Holt, 1782]).
- Phelps, John. Family Memoirs (Brattleboro: Selleck and Davis, 1886).
0.4 Linear Feet (One box)
The Charles Phelps Papers consist of one document box of manuscripts from the 1750s to the 1780s relating to the Phelps' legal and land transactions, and to his participation in the disputes over jurisdiction over the New Hampshire Grants.
For current information on the location of these materials, please contact Special Collections.
The University of Vermont purchased the Phelps collection from the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1973.
- Charles Phelps Papers, 1754-1785
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