J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2018

“Probably no one supposed it to be loaded”

According to page 1301 of the massive Phelps Family in America and Their English Ancestors, Daniel Phelps was born in Akron, New York, in 1745.

Since Akron is at the western end of that state, and the area wasn’t part of the British Empire at the time, that statement seems unlikely. Phelps’s siblings were all born in Great Barrington or Salisbury and Simsbury, Connecticut, so he was probably a native of the Connecticut River valley as well. (Perhaps Agawam?)

When word of the shooting at Lexington reached western Massachusetts on 22 April 1775, Phelps was part of the militia company from Stockbridge. He and his companions set out for the siege lines around Boston, probably arriving at the end of April.

As of Monday, 8 May, the company was camped in Cambridge. Stockbridge: Past and Present; Or, Records of Old Mission Station, published by the delightfully named Electa Fidelia Jones in 1854, recounts what happened that afternoon:
Daniel Phelps, being an officer, was asked one day by a company of his associates assembled in his room, to give them the manual exercise. Accordingly he took his seat, and, being first armed with guns which were standing by, they arranged themselves before him.

When the order was given to “take aim,” one man pointed his piece directly towards Captain Phelps. He was requested to turn it to one side, which he did, though probably no one supposed it to be loaded. Yet, when Captain Phelps pronounced the word “fire,” Mr. Y. again pointed the gun directly towards him; and its contents, entering the right breast of the officer, took an oblique direction, boring the lungs, and lodging in the back bone. This was inferred, at least, from his appearance, a numbness in all parts below the ball taking place immediately.

As soon as the surgeons had searched the wound, he asked if it was mortal, and was answered “Yes.”
All the records from the time say that Phelps was not “an officer,” much less “Captain Phelps.” His company was commanded by Capt. Thomas Williams. Phelps may have been designated a corporal or sergeant, or his family may just have assumed he had been promoted to a position of authority after hearing about the way he was wounded.

TOMORROW: The mortal wound.


Mike said...

Akron, NY didn't exist in 1745. The first permanent settlers didn't arrive until 1829: http://www2.erie.gov/akron/index.php?q=about-akron

J. L. Bell said...

First permanent settlers of British/American background, perhaps. But there’s no question that was beyond the bounds of the British Empire at that time.

Sometimes genealogists have used modern place names instead of how people referred to a location at the time of a birth. In this case, it’s conceivable that a child from a British family might be born in what's now western or northern New York while the mother was in captivity. But the family would surely have preserved that story.

How “Akron, N. Y.” got into that Phelps genealogy remains a mystery.

Charles Bahne said...

Perhaps Ancram, New York, instead of "Akron"? Ancram is just over the state border from Great Barrington, Mass., and Salisbury, Conn. Confusion may have arisen because Ancram wasn't given that name until 1814, according to Wikipedia, and also because part of present-day Ancram used to be in Massachusetts until 1855. That Phelps family genealogy you cite was published in 1899.


J. L. Bell said...

Ancram, New York, makes a lot more sense. Thanks!