Vermont History and Genealogy

February 20, 2007

Men of Vermont – Charles Phelps

Filed under: Charles Phelps, Famous Vermont Residents — thedarwinexception @ 4:04 am

Men of Vermont: An Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters and Sons of Vermont.

Phelps, Charles.–The first lawyer to settle upon the grants, in 1764, one of the leaders in the organization of Cumberland county, and the most unbending of all the “Yorkers,” though a supporter of the Revolution, was born at Northampton, Mass., August 15, 1717, of a family which had contained John Phelps, private secretary of Oliver Cromwell. He was one of the original grantees of Marlboro under New Hampshire authority, and he petitioned unsuccessfully for a confirmation of the charter by New York, but nevertheless supported New York authority with a courage and devotion that were pathetic in the sacrifices and suffering it caused him, but with an eccentricity that indicated the twist of mind that after events made only too evident. “Vile Vermonters” was his regular epithet for the great men of the new state. For a time after the Westminster massacre, when New York and royal authority appeared to be identical, he was in revolt against both, and was on the committee that framed resolutions of denunciation. At one time also he intrigued industriously for the annexation of the state to Massachusetts, declaring that he regarded the authority of New York as composed of “as corrupt a set of men as were out of hell,” and that he would as “soon put manure in his pocket as a commission from New York”–though he held such commissions for a good share of his life. But this aberration was short-lived, and he was soon engaged again in fighting New York fights.

Twice, in 1779 and 1782, he appeared before Congress, first as a delegate from the Yorkers of Cumberland county, and last on his own responsibility, to oppose the recognition of the new state, and he stuck to the latter mission, penniless, hungry, and almost freezing at one time, an actual object of charity from the New York delegates, until, by his “persistence, zeal, craftiness, and finesse,” as Jay describes it, he thought, as was the general idea, that he had won in the resolution from Congress, ordering “full and ample restitution” to be made to the New York adherents who had been arrested or imprisoned, or had their property confiscated, and declaring the purpose of Congress to enforce a compliance with this demand; but he found when he reached Vermont that these resolves were treated with as much indifference as the edicts of New York. It was while on this mission that he wrote his trenchant pamphlet, “Vermonters Unmasked.”

He was jailed in January, 1784, his property ordered to be sold for the benefit of the state, and even his law books given to Nath. Chipman and Micah Townshend to pay for their services in revising the laws of the state. But his petition for pardon and remission of sentence, on taking the oath of allegiance, brought a resolution of the Legislature in October, 1784, restoring such property as had not been sold for the benefit of the state. One of the reasons given for this clemency was his fidelity to the whig cause. But his allegiance was only nominal. He remained to the end intensely opposed in feeling to the new state, and he dated his last will at “New Marlborough, in the county of Cumberland and state of New York.” He died in April, 1789, at the age of seventy-three. [p.69] Among his descendants have been some exceptionally able men, but all, in the early generations at least, showing often to the point of insanity, the mental eccentricities that became so marked in his later years. His oldest son, Solomon, a graduate of Harvard and a lawyer and preacher of fine powers, committed suicide at the age of forty-eight. Timothy, his third son, a man of great energy of character and steadfastness of opinion, and sheriff of Cumberland county under New York authority, passed his later years with darkened mind.

John Phelps, son of Timothy and grandson of Charles, was register of probate, state senator and councilor in 1831 and 1832. Other descendants have been: John Phelps, of Guilford, son of Timothy, who was state councilor in 1831 and 1832, his son Charles E. Phelps, congressman from Maryland and brigadier-general of the Union army; Judge Charles Phelps, of Townshend, who was councilor in 1820,-’21,-’22, and his son, the late Judge James H. Phelps, of Townshend; Gen. John W. Phelps, the author, scholar and accomplished soldier, who entered the war with such brilliant prospects which were blasted by his quarrel with Butler and his insistance on emancipation of negroes in Louisiana before the administration was ready for that measure, and who was the anti-Masonic candidate for President in 1780. Except for a young son of General Phelps, the male line of the family is now extinct.

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