In Which I Ponder an Alternative History of Luke Phillips

In spite of what many of his descendants have come to believe, Luke Phillips could not have been born in Marion, New York in either 1804 or 1808 because Marion didn’t exist as a city until 1825. For that matter, he couldn’t have even been born in Wayne County, New York, because that didn’t exist until 1823.

However, if we assume that Luke was from that area, it’s possible that he could have been born in what would come to be known as Marion, in Wayne County, and he would have known that because he didn’t leave New York until 1828.

It becomes somewhat crucial to try to track down the record of Luke’s marriage to Patience, I think. I can’t figure out where else folks would be getting where he was born or what Patience’s last name was, otherwise.

We’re still left with the question–where was Luke before 1850? Why is he in none of the censuses before then? Well, sure, between 1804 or 1808 and 1828, he wouldn’t appear because he was a child. It’s plausible that he might not have been in the 1830 census, just based on whether he was living with a family or if his house was particularly difficult to get to out on the wilderness.

But by 1840, he and Patience have some children. At least four of whom are alive and one who was possibly on the way. All of whom claim in later census data to have been born in Michigan. So, the chances are pretty good that Luke should have appeared as the head of his own household.

And I think I’ve found him as “L.P. Philips.” A young man with a wife the right age and five very young children (if we assume the child who thought she was born in 41 was born in 40 or if there was a child who died).

But I also found an “L. Phelps” living in Pontiac in 1840. A man in his 50s with a woman in her 50s and two men in their teens and twenties. It’s hard not to wonder about the pronunciation of Phelps and Philips. And especially hard not to wonder about Luke being born in a city that didn’t yet exist in a county that didn’t yet exist, in a patch of land purchased from Indians by a man named Phelps and his partner.

Luke is too young to be Oliver Phelps’s kid, especially since Phelps was rotting in debtor’s prison right around this time. But I wonder if he might not be an illegitimate grandson?Luke claims his parents were from Connecticut in the 1880 census and Phelps was born in Connecticut.

I need to find out more about Oliver Phelps. I also think it can’t be that hard to find out what white people moved into Phelps’s land and whether there were any actual Phillipses. I mean in 1811, even Rochester only had 15 people in it. If Luke was really born in that area, during the time white people were settling it, there can’t be that many Phillipses who might be his parents to choose from. And if there aren’t any Phillipses in the area?

Well, as much as I’d like my illegitimate Phelps theory to play out, I think I have to try to figure out where people on are getting their information about him being born in Marion. If that’s something he put on the public record of his marriage (though let’s remember, the state of Michigan seems to think he got married in 1860, whatever light that might shed), that’s one thing. But if it’s not coming from him, that’s another.

6 thoughts on “In Which I Ponder an Alternative History of Luke Phillips

  1. Interesting. Did you check the Continental or Conn Line roster records for Phillipses in the military? Luke’s dad sounds like he would have been potentially of age to serve.

    If you’re really thinking Phelps might be it (and it’s a good hunch, since the Phelpses keep turning up everywhere the Phillipses are supposed to be), then I think that maybe you should be looking at Stephen Phelphs (a brother of Oliver’s, i think — they both trade in Canandaigua) whose sons wind up all over the Midwest. I know the family because they’re all over western KY and up the Illinois River/into Iowa. Anyhow there are a lot of brothers (Stephen, Jr., Marion, etc) and maybe Luke is one of them.

    Did Luke marry twice? It’s not that rare that a man married once in the 1830s would wear out a wife and then get another one — “one for nursemaid, one for nurse” as the saying used to go. That could explain the late marriage date.

  2. Luke did marry twice, but Patience was his first wife and the mother of his children. He married Jane after Patience died. I really need to try to get my hands on the marriage records, because the little bit you can see from in that particular instance isn’t much, just that they supposedly got married in 1860.

    Whether that’s what the actual record says? I don’t know. I know that there’s nothing in the 1850 census that makes it look like Luke and Patience weren’t living as man and wife. She’s listed right there along with the kids.

    I may have to pay the $15 to have Oakland County pull whatever records they have on their marriage, I think.

    I’ve also seen on the boards discussion of rumors of there being folks who called themselves Phillips in that area of New York as the white people were arriving because they were the scattered armies of Metacom.

    I don’t know how much stock to put in that.

  3. Well…hmmm. The CT part would be right; some of the survivors were placed out in English homes as servants. Two things about this story raise some flags, though. It bears some investigation about how and when they start to pass as if they are white. More customarily, they wind up on the other side of the colonial color line and by 1800, most have intermarried with African people and become “colored.” It’s not like the English forget that these Indian dudes (even if they were kids when taken into custody) were part of the group that killed 800 whites.

    I’d also be skeptical that any remnant of Metacom’s forces would be bunking down with the 6 Nations. The Mohawk particularly were aggressive on Metacom’s western flank (the CT River Valley) and there was fairly bad feelings between the folks of Phillip’s alliance and the Iroquois. Still time and circumstance change things, so by the 1770s, they all might have been trying to figure out how to deal with the rapidly changing diplomatic landscape.

    Not completely implausible, but needs a lot more evidence. I would have thought that you’d be finding family stories about being Dutch…plenty of Phillipses in the Hudson Valley.

  4. Well, I have grave doubts about us being descended from those Phillipses, but, if it is true, it complicates trying to find potential fathers for Luke in the area. I can’t just narrow it down based on hoping there’s only a hand full of Phillipses and one will stand out as being the right age. I simply have to get a hold of that marriage certificate, if there is one.

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