A Witcher Family Genealogy
This research attempts to consolidate and decipher existing records for John Fips, who resided in Lunenburg and Charlotte County, Virginia, during the mid-1700s.
John Fips’ estate records assure us that he died in Charlotte County, Virginia around 1768 and that he was probably married to a woman named Tabitha. From his estate documents, we can know that John Fips had a daughter named Betsey, and probably had sons named James and Joseph. From other records, there are indications that John Fips may have had children named Benjamin, John, and Martha. Based on the evidence which will be presented, I also believe John Fips was born before 1710. Click here for a complete analysis of this man’s estate and a more complete analysis of his possible children named Joseph, Benjamin, and Martha.
Also, as one reads through this essay, the spelling of the Phips name will vary greatly. The variant spellings of this name are, Phips, Phipps, Fips, Fipp, and Fipps. The name is spelled as official records indicate, but when a record is not being cited, this name will be spelled John Fips. I would also like to thank the Phips Genealogy blog, from which so many clues and facts have been gathered.
While uncertainty may surround the birth of any sons, we know for sure that around 1760 John Fips had fathered at least one female child. Her name was Elizabeth, who was affectionately called Betsey by those closest to her.
Pittsylvania County, Virginia, court documents indicate Betsey (Fips) Witcher was a young child when given a slave by her father. Knowing the circumstances surrounding John Fips’ gift may be the key to solving the mystery of how old John Fips was when his first son was born.
During a November court session in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in 1778, matters relating to the estate of John Fips were being concluded. Approximately ten years after John Fips had died in Charlotte County, Virginia, his daughter Betsey appeared before a Pittsylvania County judge to establish her legal rights to a certain female slave named Sall.
Here is a transcription of this record, “November court 1778. On the motion of Ephraim Witcher who intermarried with Betsey Fips daughter of John Fips deceased to have a verbal gift of a negro proved according to an active assembly in that case made and provided, it appearing to the court that the heir at law of the said John Fips hath had legal notice of this motion and it also appearing to the court by the oath of Sylvanus Stokes that he saw the said John Fips in his lifetime take a negro girl by the name of Sall by the hand and put it in the hand of his said daughter Betsey then about 6 years of age, and called on him the said Sylvanus Stokes and sundry other persons to take notice that he gave the aforesaid negro to her forever and for reasons appearing this motion is continued until the next court.”
It’s interesting to note that a 1785 Pittsylvania County tax record lists this very slave named Sall under the household of Ephraim and Betsey Witcher.
John Fips died in Charlotte County, Virginia, sometime after February of 1768 and before April of 1769. It took almost eight years before the Charlotte County court settled all the personal accounts in John’s estate.
During the November, 1778, Pittsylvania County court session (in which Betsey proved her father’s gift), John’s widowed wife, Tabitha Fips, signed a release of dower, granting to Jeremiah Ward her rights to the land upon which she was then living in Pittsylvania County. This land was described as a 230 acre tract located on the banks of the Pigg River, on both sides of Cedar Creek.
During this same court session, and after Tabitha had signed her release, Parthetha Fips then signed a release to Jeremiah Ward. This release removed any claim Parthetha had to the same piece of property which Tabitha Fips had just previously signed away her dower rights.
At this one court session in Pittsylvania County, three women, Betsey (Fips) Witcher, Tabitha Fips, and Parthetha Fips stood before the court in matters relating to property once owned by John Fips.
It was almost one year later, in an October, 1779, court session, when James Fips “of Brunswick County” signed away to Jeremiah Ward his interest in the land, which Tabitha and Parthetha Fips had earlier released to Ward. The release James Fips signed defined the property as being 230 acres, located on the Pigg River, on both sides of Cedar Creek.
Based upon then contemporary inheritance laws, from this record of sale, we know with great certainty that John Fips of Charlotte County, Virginia, had at least one son named James Fips. We also know that James Fips was the eldest living son.
There’s nothing simple when it comes to defining colonial laws of inheritance. However, generally speaking, absent dower rights, pre-revolution law granted intestate succession to the eldest living son. There were very, very few exceptions, meaning that daughters were generally not entitled to the land owned by their deceased father.
Comprehending colonial law is essential in determining the identity of Parthetha Fips, who did sign away her rights to the property later sold by James Fips “of Brunswick County”. Since we know a daughter was not entitled to a portion of this land, it has to be concluded that Parthetha was in fact the wife of James Fips. As a wife to James, Parthetha was therefore entitled to her dower portion of her husband’s land.
By studying the 1778 and 1779 Pittsylvania County court documents relating to the estate of John Fips, we can safely assume that James Fips was the eldest living son, Betsey Fips was a daughter, Tabitha Fips was John’s widowed wife, and Parthetha Fips was the wife of James Fips.
One has to wonder why Betsey, not James, was given the slave girl. The inventory of his estate reveals that John and Tabitha Fips apparently lived very modest lives. They were not dirt poor, but they were not rich either. The appraised value of the estate attests to that. Giving his daughter a slave, who was worth the price of a tract of land, indicates to me something unusual about his daughter, Betsey Fips, a uniqueness which will be later discussed.
In 1746 Lunenburg County, Virginia, was created out of Brunswick County. I believe that John Fips was living in the part of Brunswick County which later became Lunenburg County. In 1748, surviving tax documents for Lunenburg County reveal that a certain “John Phips” resided there. John Fips apparently lived in Lunenburg County until 1764, when that part of the county then became Charlotte County.
A Lunenburg County list of tithables taken in 1748, by Hugh Lawson, for the area between Hounds Creek and Meherrein River, reveals that “John Phips” was listed in a household above a certain Tandy Walker. Note the Walker name, as the next year (1749) another “John Phips” is concurrently listed in neighboring Amelia County, under a certain James Walker. I expect that the two Walker men were directly related, as were the two “Phips” men. Amelia County records indicate that James Walker was a surveyor by trade.
In 1749 a list was taken by Lyddall Bacon for the area of Hounds Creek to Little Ronoke River. “John Phips” is listed in a household under Peter Rollins and above Jos. Miner. (Remember that another “John Phips” is also listed this year in neighboring Amelia County.)
The list for 1750 was provided by Lyddall Bacon, and again indicates a “John Phips” listed above Tandy Walker. No geographical location is available for this or the next few years of lists, but since individuals such as Silvanus Stokes, Peter Fontaine, James Barnes, and the Christopher family are found in the same lists with “John Phips,” it can be concluded that John Fips resided in the same general location of the county as the previous two years.
For the year 1751, “John Phips” is again listed, but this time he is enumerated under Mary Barnes, in the list taken by Lydall Bacon.
In 1752 the Lunenburg County tithable records again enumerate “John Phips” under Mary Barns. However, next to Mary Barnes’ name, the word “list” is written. According to some researchers (such as the author of the book, "Sunlight on the Southside), many of these early tax records use the word "list" to indicate that the head of household was chargeable with the number of tithes set under their name, but they themselves were not included as taxable. If the word list was written next to a man’s name, this could be meant to indicate the individual was taxed in another county, where he probably owned another plantation. Free women were not subject to the tax, so Mary Barnes was obviously the Mistress of the family plantation.
Before Mary Barnes’ name appeared in the 1751 tithable records, Captain James Barnes was listed in the previous years. It is my belief that Mary Barnes may well have been the recently widowed wife of James Barnes, though I do not know this for sure. It should be noted that significant connections between the Barnes and Fips family will be seen in later years.
We will continue forward with the 1753 Lunenburg County tax records, but before we do, it may be helpful to understand what the tithable tax was, and who was subject to it.
Colonial law was extraordinarily strict when it came to the tithable tax. Any fudging on the numbers resulted in huge fines, and neighbors were awarded handsomely for turning in any tax cheaters. So, it can be felt that under normal circumstances, any taxable individuals were duly reported as the law required.
Tithables for this region and time period were a tax levied against, "All male persons of the age of sixteen years and upwards, and all negroe, mulatto, and Indian women of the same age, except Indians tributary to [the] government and all wives of free negroes, mulattoes, and Indians, except as before excepted," and "excepting such only as the county court, for charitable reasons appearing to them, shall think fit to excuse."
This tax was a tax against the individual, not the household. It’s overly simplified to say that the master of a household was responsible to report and pay the tax for his slaves, indentured servants, overseers, and male children between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. But that’s basically, though not always, how it was. Generally speaking, freemen over the age of twenty-one were responsible for paying their own tax, and would therefore be listed on their own, even if they were living on someone else’s property.
Understanding this law is important, because if John Fips had tithable male children in his household, they would certainly be indicated under his name. Any male children above the age of sixteen and below the age of twenty-one, who were living in the household of John Fips, would have been reported by name. It should be noted that tax lists for Pittsylvania County, Virginia, for the period 1775 through 1779, do not list any males of tithable age in the household of Tabitha Fips. We know Tabitha (the widow of John Fips) lived in Pittsylvania County during this time period.
We will remember that John Fips was listed in 1752 under Mary Barns. This continued in the next year (1753). John was listed under “Ms” Barnes. Ms Barnes was almost certainly Mary Barnes from the previous two years of lists. Mary Barnes is assumed to be the Mistress of the plantation but was not taxed, as free, Caucasian women were exempted from the tithe. When men were listed but not taxed, it's presumed that they were taxed in another county in which they owned and resided upon another of their plantations. In this tax year, John Fips first assumes the title “overseer,” thus indicating to us his profession.
Generally, the hierarchy of the colonial plantation was three-tiered. First, there was the plantation owner, then the overseer, and finally the indentured servants and slaves. The owner of the plantation relied heavily on overseers to run the plantation. Overseers were men hired by the owners to manage and direct the work of slaves and presumably other workers in the fields. The owner lived in the big house (or on another of his plantations), the overseer lived near the slave quarters in a small house, and the slaves lived in very primitive cabins known as slave quarters.
History books have understandably been very unkind to the overseer’s profession, stereotyping them as men on horsebacks, with leather whips, beating slaves into submission. We will never know the temperament of Overseer John Fips, but I choose to remember him in this profession as just another spoke in the industrial wheel of colonial America.
“John Phips” was again listed in the 1754 tax list for "Ms" Barnes, along with two slaves named Tom and Ned. Though John was not specifically listed as overseer, we can only presume he continued serving in that capacity. The tax years of 1753 and 1754 suggests one could be serving as an overseer but not be listed as such in the tax record, an important point when attempting to determine the age of an individual being taxed. In other words, in 1754, John Fips was not under twenty-one years of age. The person listing him under Mrs. Barnes apparently failed to note John as an overseer. Recall that overseers were not responsible for their own tax.
The Lunenburg County tax records for the year 1755 yield an interesting surprise. Two Phips/Fipps men are listed. One is “John Phips” and the other is James “Fipps.”
In 1755, John Fips apparently left the employment of the Barnes family for employment under a certain Jacobus Christopher. The previous year (1754), Jacobus Christopher was listed a few entries above “John Phips” in the Lunenburg County tax records. In 1754, Christopher apparently was not residing on his plantation in Lunenburg County, but one of his slaves did, her name being Hannah. The 1755 tax list shows “John Phips” on Jacobus Christopher’s plantation with the slave Hannah. It’s to be noted that almost twenty years later, the estate of John Fips sued the estate of a certain William Christopher. The record of that event is imaged below this essay.
The year 1755 is the only year James “Fipps” appears in the Lunenburg County tax records. The appearance of James in this tax list is phantomish, but he does show up, in the list taken by David Garland. I believe this is one of the earliest evidences of John’s eldest son, James Fips, who would years later travel to Pittsylvania County from Brunswick County, Virginia, to sell the land on Pigg River to Jeremiah Ward.
Another surprise appears in the 1756 Lunenburg County tax records. Two different “John Phips” men are listed in this year.
One record indicates “John Phips” was no longer employed by Jacobus Christopher, but was listed under “Col” Peter Fountaine. This year marks the beginning point for a multi-year relationship between John Fips and Peter Fountaine. This 1756 tax record indicates that “Col” Fountaine was not residing upon this particular plantation, but he had hired “John Phips” as his “overseer.” Three slaves are listed in that tax year along with John.
The other “John Phips” in the 1756, Lunenburg County tithable records is located in the John Davis list. This John was simply listed as, “John Phips-----2”, this indicating John was responsible for his and another person’s tax. This John Phips is almost certainly the John who was just previously listed in the Amelia County, Virginia records for year’s 1749 through1752. I believe this was one of overseer John Fips’ sons. This second John “Phips” will be discussed later in this essay. This is the only instance of a second “John Phips” in the Lunenburg County tithe records.
The 1757 Lunenburg County tax records indicate “John Phipps” was still employed as overseer by the absent Col. Peter Fountaine. However, an additional slave is listed. The name of the four slaves are Jommy, Titus, Agg, and Dorcas.
In 1758, “John Fipps” is listed again as an overseer for the absent Peter Fountain. Five slaves are enumerated: Harry, James, Titus, “Fillis,” and Dorcus.
The year 1759 indicates Col. Peter Fountain is still absent, and “John Phipp” is still employed as “overseer” of slaves Harry, James, Titus, Phillis, and Dorcus.
The tax record for year 1760 is missing, but the record for 1761 indicates “John Phips” is still employed at the Fountaine plantation as overseer of five slaves, Harry, Timmey, Titus, Ned, and Dorsus. It’s interesting to note that the number of slaves remained constant, but a few of the names are different from year to year. This is may be due to the rotation of manpower between Fountaine’s plantations.
In 1762, the Lunenburg County tithable list indicates “John Phips” is still employed for Peter Fountaine and is still using the same slave labor as the previous year. One can see in this tax list the names of several individuals who will later be entangled in the lawsuits involving the estate of John Fips, notably Francis Barnes, Matthew Marable, Christopher Marable, and James Burton.
The Lunenburg County tax list for 1763 is missing the page which included the property for Peter Fountaine. Therefore, the record for John Fips is missing. However, as we will see in the 1764 tax list, John was most certainly still employed for Col. Fountaine.
The 1764 Lunenburg County tithable list was gathered on the eve of the division of the county, when Charlotte County was formed on May 26, 1764. This is the last Lunenburg County tax list in which John Fips is found. In this list “John Fipps” is once again found to be employed as an overseer for the still absent Peter Fontaine.
The next published tithable record for Lunenburg County (1767) is absent notable names such as, Barnes, Fontaine, Burton, and Fips. These individuals began to then appear in Charlotte County records. Therefore, we can assume that once Charlotte County was formed in 1764, these persons found themselves under the jurisdiction of the newly formed Charlotte County, Virginia.
Before I move beyond the Lunenburg County tithable records, I feel it is important to note that neighboring Amelia County tithable records have survived for the same time period we are discussing. In Amelia County, for the years 1749-1752, another “John Phips” concurrently appears in the records.
In 1749, this “John Phips” of Amelia County is listed under James Walker. As previously noted, there are indications that James Walker was employed as a surveyor. More importantly, it’s not trivial that in the Lunenburg tithable records for 1748 and 1750, another Walker is listed with another “John Phips.” We can be assured these are two different John Phips men, because of the fact the same name shows up at the same time in the two neighboring counties for the years 1749-1752. There was no double jeopardy with the tithable tax.
For the years 1750 through 1752, “John Phips,” of Amelia County, is listed by himself. Perhaps in 1749 this John Phips was under 21 years of age, but then in 1750, he became responsible for his own taxes. He may well have continued his relationship with James Walker in 1750 through 1752, but since he was no longer a minor, he was then responsible for his own tax.
After the 1752 tithable record, John disappears from the Amelia County tax records, but I believe this individual is the second “John Phips” who is found in Lunenburg County tax records for the year 1756. Again, I believe this “John Phips” was one of overseer John Fips’ sons.
No Amelia County, Virginia, deed record for this time period has been located for John Phips. But before John Phips of Amelia County disappeared from that county’s records, on February 23, 1747, he witnessed the sale of land. Edward Harris sold 100 acres, and John Phips was one of three witnesses to the sale. Also, March 16, 1747, John Phips witnessed several transfers of property from Edward Harris to Edward’s son Nathaniel Harris. Finally, on April 25, 1753, John Phips in an Amelia County record witnessed the sale of 200 acres of land from William Hill to Andrew McAdoe and 50 acres from William Hill to Robert Black.
After 1753 I have found no evidence that this John Phips lived in Amelia County. However, some years later a John Phips of Warren County, North Carolina, purchased land on January 25, 1785, in Amelia County. Then just a few weeks later, on February 17, John Phips’ new property line is referenced in an Amelia County deed record, David Adams to James Southhall.
This John Phips is the same individual who sold land in Warren County, North Carolina, in 1785. According to that deed record, his wife’s name was Tabitha Phips. These two individuals are the John and Tabitha Phips who witnessed the Amelia County, Virginia, last will and testament of Frederick Ford in December of 1786. John Phips was one of several men who were then assigned by the court to be trustees of the Frederick Ford estate.
Returning to the overseer John Fips of Lunenburg County, he presumably is the same individual who in Lunenburg County court, in July of 1761, was one of four men named as candidates to appraise the slaves in the personal estate of Duncan Smith.
Also, in February of 1764, John “Fips” was one of three to witness the sale of 480 acres of land in Lunenburg County to Silvanus Stokes. According to a 1778, Pittsylvania County court record, it was around this time when Silvanus Stokes (along with James Burton and others) witnessed John Fips give his six year old daughter Betsey Fips the young slave girl named Sall.
Apparently Betsey’s father, John Fips, invested money into property located at the time in Halifax County, Virginia. A land grant was deeded after 25 shillings were paid. The record of transfer was dated August, 1760, for property on both sides of the Pigg River, 210 acres total.
It should be noted that at some point before his death, John Fips must’ve also invested in 230 acres, on the Pigg River, on both sides of Cedar Creek. In 1766 this land was separated out of Halifax County and became part of the newly formed Pittsylvania County. This property had been originally surveyed by John Goad Jr. in 1753. Tabitha Fips and family eventually settled on this property, after the death of her husband John. To date, unfortunately, no record of this purchase has been located.
In 1764 John Fips made an appearance in August Court, in Halifax County, Virginia. John was the complainant against a certain Moses Bond. John “Fips” was awarded 27 Pounds, 7 shillings, and 6 pence, with interest from “last Jul 10,” and his costs. Interestingly, and of importance, the estate of John Fips would later sue a Wright Bond in Charlotte County court, during April court, 1770. The image of this proceeding is shown below.
In May of 1767 John Fips apparently was living in neighboring Charlotte County. A deed of sale for the 210 acres in Halifax County granted to “John Phips” in August of 1760 was sold to William Cook by John Phips, who the deed indicates was “of Charlotte County.”
Only months later, in Halifax County, Virginia, July Court of 1767, “John Phips” sits as a jurist on several cases. Of interest, one of his fellow jurymen was a certain Matthew Marable. Matthew Marable re-appears in Charlotte County court records just a few months later, where he swears out an arrest warrant for “John Fips” over an unpaid debt to Marable.
Before his death, sometime after February, 1768, and before April, 1769, John Fips appeared one more time in court.
Halifax County, Virginia held February court in 1768, and “John Phips” was present as a witness in the case of Joshua Powell against Champness Terry. This case must’ve been quite the spectacle as it was a jury trial, apparently lasting at least twenty days, according to a request for re-imbursements from a trial witness.
”John Phips” was a witness for Champness Terry. Presumably after the trial, the court was petitioned by John to order Champness Terry to pay John for twelve days of his time, plus mileage of travel, according to law. The court granted the request, including mileage reimbursements, having, “Twice traveled thirty miles and eight times traveling eighteen miles.” Researchers indicate that colonial law only allowed travel reimbursements when a witness for the court lived outside the boundary of the county in which they were testifying, therefore indicating the reimbursements paid to John Fips were due to his residence being out of the county of Halifax. Almost certainly this indicates that John Fips was living in neighboring Charlotte County as of February, 1768.
We know with absolute certainty that John Fips, who was formerly listed as an overseer, and was married to Tabitha, and lived in Charlotte County at the time of his death, is the same individual who only months before his death was in neighboring Halifax County testifying for Champness Terry.
In July Court of 1770, in Halifax County, Virginia, executors Francis Barnes and Tabitha Fips petitioned the court to compel Champness Terry to comply with the 1768 court order to reimburse John Fips for his time and mileage. Apparently, Mr. Terry had failed to compensate John. From the accounts current record of the John Fips estate, we know that Terry did finally comply with the court, but it wasn’t for several more years.
From the Champness Terry case records, we know with certainty that John Fips had an unusual and unexplained parallel presence in both Charlotte and Halifax Counties during the last couple of years of his life. Without developing this point, the absence of the titles Jr. and Sr. after John’s name should be noted. This point indicates only one of-age John Fips resided in the area.
After the death of John Fips in Charlotte County, in March Court of 1769, Tabitha Fips and Francis Barnes pledged security and were therefore granted the right to administrate the estate of John Fips. Here is a record of the court agreement of that day, “On the motion of Tabitha Fips and Francis Barnes / who made oath according to law/ Administration of the estate of John Fips deceased is granted them / they giving security / whereupon they together with Edward Elam and James Christopher their securities entered into and acknowledged their bond for the due and faithful administration of the said Estate.”
It is interesting to me that Tabitha Fips chose Francis Barnes to assist her in the administration of her husband’s estate. As we noted earlier, “John Phips” was listed under Mary (Ms.) Barnes in the 1751-1754 Lunenburg County tithable lists. This indicates to me a strong connection between the Fips and Barnes family. What the connection was, we can only speculate. It may well have been that Tabitha was a Barnes by birth. It appears that perhaps the Barnes family migrated into the Brunswick/Lunenburg County area from the Jamestown, Virginia, area. This is based on the records of others who have researched the Barnes family. I also suspect that John Fips (or at least his direct ancestors) also migrated from this area of Virginia.
From March Court, 1769, until June Court, 1777, Tabitha Fips and Francis Barnes disputed several lawsuits on behalf of the estate, as both plaintiffs and defendants in Charlotte and Halifax County courtrooms.
In Halifax County, Virginia, in September, 1769 court, Tabitha Fips and Francis Barnes came before the court by Paul Carrington, their attorney. The court action was to force Harris Wilson to pay the John Fips estate four pounds, eight shillings, together with the court costs. The Fips estate was awarded their request, as the defendant failed to appear.
In Charlotte County, the years of 1769 and 1770 experienced the most courtroom action. Individuals such as James Hudson, James Burton, Matthew Marable, Christopher Marable, and Wright Bond, were either suing the estate, or being sued. A few of these court records are imaged below.
Paul Carrington was Tabitha Fips’ attorney. Paul Carrington was a very famous lawyer in the region, who also represented the Crown in colonial legal matters, but later he was part of the original formation of our American government.
This is a quote from Wikipedia: "Paul Carrington was a Virginia lawyer, judge and politician. He served in the House of Burgesses before being elected a Justice on the Virginia Court of Appeals (now the Supreme Court of Virginia). He was a delegate to the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788, and cast his vote for ratification of the United States Constitution."
At the bottom of this page, I have provided a portrait of this Paul Carrington, and to me, it's extraordinary to see the actual likeness of the man whose eyes looked upon Tabitha Fips and was part of the settlement of John Fips’ estate almost 250 years ago. For more information relating to the estate of John Fips, click here.
The probate records of John Fips seem to indicate he was neither wealthy nor poor when he died. I do not believe he was a planter. He apparently did speculate in a few pieces of land. Several of those he worked for (such as Peter Fountaine) were apparently surveyors, or at least were connected by family to surveyors. In colonial days, surveyors were educated, well off financially, and allied with the political and social elites of the day. George Washington was a surveyor. Records tell us that John Fips worked for and associated with these types of well educated, connected, and moneyed individuals.
One of these elites, Matthew Marable, who apparently sat on a Halifax County jury with “John Phips,” in July of 1767, must have been a major moneylender in his lifetime. One particular Halifax County, Virginia, court session, in August of 1759, lists Matthew Marable as plaintiff in case after case, in which he sought monetary damages from those who owed him money. Matthew Marable was one of those tangled up in probate disputes over the estate of John Fips.
Two individuals, Langston Bacon and Silvanus Stokes, who were titled Gentlemen, were appointed by the court to attend to matters relating to John’s estate. Here is a transcript of a court order which, “Appointed to settle an account current of the estate of John Fips decd whereof Tabitha Fips and Francis Barnes are administrators and that they return their account thereof to the next court.” This record of the November, 1775, order is found in Charlotte County Court Order Book 2, page 74.
I suspect Langston Bacon is the same prominent “Gentleman” whose 1748-1755 Lunenburg tithable records listed “John Phips” in his jurisdiction.
The name Sylvanus Stokes was also listed in those early Lunenburg County tithable records with John Fips. We will remember that in late 1778 a Pittsylvania County court interviewed and took an oath from a Sylvanus Stokes, who stated that he personally witnessed John Fips give a young child slave to John’s daughter, Betsey. John Fips gave away his slave around the same time he witnessed a land transaction involving Sylvanus Stokes and Francis Clement, on February 7, 1764, in Lunenburg County.
There seems to have been a close association between the Burton and Fips family; close enough for James Burton to have witnessed John Fips give away the slave to his daughter. However, James Burton, as executor to the estate of James Hudson, sued the estate of John Fips. To read more about some fascinating connections between the Burton and Fips family, you can access articles from the Phipps Genealogy Blog by clicking here and here.
From the Lunenburg County tithable records, we know that John Fips worked for Peter Fountaine for at least nine years as an overseer on his plantation. Peter Fountaine was a wealthy plantation owner and an important surveyor for that area. Interestingly, a certain Peter Fountaine Jr, perhaps the same individual which John Fips worked for, wrote to relatives in England, to inform them of his appointment as surveyor for the new county of Lunenburg. On July 9, I752, Peter wrote, "My district for surveying lies, i.e. the chief of it in Halifax County, in the fork of the River Roanoke, so that I now live out of my County and by means of the indulgence granted me of having assistants, I do not go at all into the woods. Though my living 150 miles from Williamsburg forces me frequently to take very tedious rides."
Concerning the gift of the slave to Betsey Fips, I have often contemplated how it came to be that Sylvanus Stokes and James Burton (and others) witnessed such an event. Was John Fips at a social gathering when he gave the slave away? I suspect he was. Perhaps John’s employer, Peter Fountaine, had hosted a gathering at which many Lunenburg County socialites were present. I can imagine a scenario where all are festively gathered in a well landscaped English garden, the effects of rum relaxing inhibitions. Perhaps it was in this environment when John Fips motioned his daughter forward, and in front of his Gentlemen friends, John placed Sall’s hand into Betsey Fips’ hand and publicly transferred ownership to his six year old daughter.
I do not suspect that John Fips was in his deathbed when he gave his daughter the slave girl Sall. The most obvious reason is that court records indicate John died intestate. If he was on his deathbed, it seems unlikely that he would give away a slave, but not dictate or scribble a will for the rest of his property. I also doubt that notables in the county would have been assembled together around John’s deathbed, thereby observing his gift to Betsey.
Beyond the circumstances of how the gift was given, I have also wondered why the gift was given to a daughter instead of a son. He apparently did have at least one son, James Fips. If those siblings were of a comparable age, why was the daughter given something of such great value and not the son?
Could it have been that Betsey Fips was special in the eyes of her father? Did her uniqueness have anything to do with her mother? I wonder if Tabitha Fips could’ve been the second wife of John Fips, and was Betsey a child of that union, perhaps the only child living with John and Tabitha at the time? A more far fetched theory is that Betsey could’ve been a mid-life baby, born to Tabitha while she was in her mid to late 40s.
As records are accumulated, at this time, we can only theorize who and how many children John Fips may have had. Whoever his sons were, I get the distinct feeling he was never close to them. As their father was employed as an overseer, economically speaking, any children would have had every reason to leave home as soon as possible. I expect their home-life was unpleasant, perhaps even violent.
We do know John had at least one son, James Fips, “of Brunswick County,” who was apparently his eldest living son. We can assume with a high level of confidence that James Fips was John’s son, as he had legal claim to the land in Pittsylvania County, on which Tabitha was living as of 1778, when she released her dower rights to Jeremiah Ward.
It would be nice to locate the record of transfer to John Fips for this land in Pittsylvania County, 230 acres, on the Pigg River, on both sides of Cedar Creek. We know this land was granted in a patent to John Goad Jr., in 1753. However, as of this date, no deed or transfer of ownership to John Fips has been discovered.
When James Fips released his rights to the land to Jeremiah Ward, it is noted in the records that James Fips was “of Brunswick County.” This is of course a very important clue as to the identity of this man, and perhaps an important clue about his possible age.
The Phipps Genealogy Blog has this interesting record for us to contemplate, “James Phipps had land surveyed on Meadow Creek, termed a “north branch” of the Pigg River, in 1753.” The real estate described in this land grant was identified as located in Henry County, which was formerly Halifax County, Virginia. Another record (dated 1784) pertaining to the same land refers to James as being specifically “of Brunswick County, Virginia….”
There appears to be a connection between the 1784, James Phipps, “of Brunswick County,” and the land surveyed in Halifax County in 1753. Could this mean that John Fips’ son, James Fips, is the same individual responsible for the 1753 survey in Halifax County? In 1779 he was identified in the release to Ward as being “of Brunswick County.”
If James Phipps of Brunswick County had land surveyed in 1753 in Halifax County and also signed the Jeremiah Ward release, this would indicate that John Fips’ son James was born no later than the late 1720s. This could be assumed by taking into account previously mentioned colonial tax laws and the absence of this name in the 1748-1764 Lunenburg tithable lists.
Should this analysis be accurate, this could indicate that John Fips of Lunenburg County was old enough to have had a son named John Fips, who then appeared in the neighboring county of Amelia in the 1749-1752 tithable records.
It should be noted that in August Court of 1771, in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, “John Phips” is recorded as having a civil dispute with John Ward. Was this John Phips the same individual who returned in January of 1785 to Amelia County, with his wife Tabitha Phips? Interestingly, the Ward name listed in the 1771 civil dispute is also the surname which Tabitha and James Fips later sold their land to. I can’t help but wonder if the fuss in 1771 was over the property which Tabitha lived on in Pittsylvania County. Unfortunately, the records do not inform us of what the dispute was about.
On the other hand I feel certain that “James Fips,” who as of 1779 was living in Brunswick County, Virginia, was a son of John Fips of Charlotte County. Whether he is the same individual who secured a survey in 1753 in Halifax County, Virginia, that I do not know. Yet, the apparent connections are too interesting to dismiss.
Various court records do indicate there were very strong relationships between the Phips and Witcher families in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia from the 1770s through the 1840s. Understanding how those connections relate will probably allow us to one day attach more lineages to the John Fips family tree.
Four major Witcher family connections are known to have existed during the period of 1777-1840s.
An obvious connection would be the union of Ephraim Witcher and John Fips’ daughter, Betsey. The second and third connections are through two of Betsey and Ephraim’s children, those being Taliaferro and William J. Witcher. Finally, in early Georgia, there were relationships between members of the Phips and Witcher family. Two different Benjamin Witchers and Ambrose Witcher are found in very early Madison and Elbert County, Georgia records. Click here to read more about the Georgia connection between these two families.
The most widely understood association is the union between Ephraim Witcher and Betsey Fips. We know these two were married before 1778, per the proving of slave ownership record in the Pittsylvania County, Virginia, records.
Since Ephraim Witcher lived within Pittsylvania County, among the Witcher clan, it’s obvious that Tabitha Fips (and any of her offspring, next of kin, or family associations) was acquainted with the Witchers of that county. Pittsylvania County records are sterile of early Fips references, except for Tabitha, and a few other Fips individuals, who apparently were associated with the Witchers about the time Tabitha Fips lived on her Pigg River property.
Speaking of Tabitha, she must have been a real scrapper, surviving as a widow during the onset of the Revolutionary War. I speculate that John Fips’ son, John Fips, first moved onto the land in Pittsylvania County, being there at least by August of 1771 (as evidenced by the 1771, John Ward vs. John Phips, William Collier lawsuit, in Pittsylvania County records). A few years after that lawsuit was settled, Tabitha Fips sold her newly purchased Brunswick County, Virginia property and settled on the banks of the Pigg River in Pittsylvania County.
In the Pittsylvania County Book of Estrays, a very interesting record is found, relating to Tabitha Fips. "Taken up by Tabitha Phipps living on Pigg River near the mouth of Cedar Creek one sandy barrow with some black spots and marked with a crop in the left ear and a swallow fork in the right, certify under my hand this 4th day of April 1778, William Witcher.” In this record Jeremiah Ward, Ephraim Witcher, and William Witcher witness the court entry of the, “appraisal of the above stray hogg.” Ephraim Witcher was Tabitha’s new son-in-law, and Justice of the Peace William Witcher was perhaps Ephraim’s cousin or brother. This courthouse event was a real family affair, and it happened in front of Jeremiah Ward, who would only months later purchase Tabitha’s land on the Pigg River. Perhaps it was at this gathering that Mr. Ward first approached Tabitha about purchasing her land.
An apparent close relative of Tabitha Fips was a man named James Fips who was married to Sarah. A July, 1779, Pittsylvania County court record indicates this couple pressed “trespass, assault, and battery” charges against a certain James Flannacan.
This particular James Fips, who was married to Sarah, should not be confused with the James Fips of Brunswick County, the evident son of John Fips, whose wife (James’ wife) was obviously a woman named Parthetha Fips. If we remember, Parthetha signed away her dower rights to the land on which Tabitha lived, indicating therefore that she was married to James Fips of Brunswick County, Virginia.
I can image a scenario in which James Fips (who was married to Sarah) was living on Tabitha’s farm when he was confronted by Mr. Flannacan, who may have trespassed on Tabitha’s farm. Considering the proximity, prominence, and nature of the Witcher clan, I don’t expect the matter ended well for Flannacan. However, we do know from court records that the charges were dropped. I also know from court records that James Flannacan was often being sued in court by various individuals in Pittsylvania County.
In 1777, the colonies were at war with England, and Captain William Witcher was ordered to accumulate an oath of allegiance list for his district in Pittsylvania County. Out of 101 persons who signed that list, “James Phipps” was number twenty-four. This of course proves that as of December of 1777, a James Phipps was living in Pittsylvania County. Since no record of other Fips land transactions occurred in this county, it can be assumed that this James Fips was living on the Pigg River farm with Tabitha Fips by late 1777. This James Phipps was almost certainly not the same James Fips who was “of Brunswick County,” as per the 1779 release to Jeremiah Ward.
Could it be that the newly married Betsey and Ephraim Witcher forged a relationship with James and Sarah Phipps, a relationship which would later lead both couples to move to the area of Montgomery County, Virginia, where John and Daniel Witcher had already moved? I think this is highly probable.
My research has concluded with certainty that Ephraim and Betsey Witcher did move for a short period of time in the early 1780s to neighboring Montgomery County, Virginia. The 1782, Montgomery County tax records enumerate James Phips next to Ephraim Witcher. Therefore one may assume they lived in close proximity to each other. However, Ephraim Witcher quickly sold his land to William Spencer, and returned to Pittsylvania County by late 1785. Upon their return to Pittsylvania County, they repurchased the very land Ephraim had only four years earlier sold to his close relative, James Witcher. For more research into the migration of Ephraim and Betsey Witcher, click here.
Another connection between the Fips and Witcher Families is seen in the relationship between Steven Potter and Ephraim Witcher. According to extant records, such as this testimony from Gideon Potter, Steven Potter’s wife Martha was a Phipps by birth. In that Steven Potter and Ephraim Witcher lived next to each other in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, and later both moved to Surry County, North Carolina, it seems there must’ve been a close blood relationship between the two neighboring Phipps women, those two women being Betsey (Fips) Witcher and Martha (Phips) Potter.
In the 1808 will of Ephraim Witcher, Steven Potter was called a “good friend,” and was appointed a co-executor for the large Witcher estate.
Interestingly, sometime after the death of Ephraim Witcher and before 1833, Steven Potter left North Carolina and moved his family to Indiana, where other Phipps family members had already settled. Evidence indicates such a tight bond existed between the Phipps, Potter, and Witcher families that two Phipps boys were apparently named in honor of Steven Potter and Ephraim Witcher.
Littleberry Phipps named one son Benjamin Potter Phipps and the other John Witcher Phipps. It’s a mathematical improbability that those two boys, who would be born in Indiana, would be randomly middle-named Potter and Witcher. The facts compel us to believe that they were in fact named in memory of the two good friends, Steven Potter and Ephraim Witcher and their two Phipps wives. Click here to read more about Littleberry Phipps.
One of Betsey (Fips) Witcher’s children, Taliaferro Witcher, seemed to have been very acquainted with the Phipps family in North Carolina. Taliaferro Witcher was a prominent politician and lawyer and had signed a bond pertaining to the estate of Joseph Phips, dated November 24, 1840, in Ashe County, North Carolina. Interestingly, Taliaferro was apparently married to a certain Jane Reeves, and the Reeves family was intermarried with the Phipps family in the area. Click here to read more about these interesting connections.
In 1838 another of Betsey (Fips) Witcher’s sons, William J Witcher, was involved with several matters of estate for the Phipps family in Grayson County, Virginia. Grayson County had earlier been separated from Montgomery County, where James Phips and Ephraim Witcher had both lived as of 1782.
In one document William J Witcher (who practiced lawyering) assisted in, “Laying off [land boundaries] and assigning to Catherine Phipps the widow of James Phipps decd.” I do not know if this James Phipps is the same individual who earlier lived next to Ephraim Witcher in Montgomery County in 1782, being the supposed grandson of overseer John Fips. He very well may have been, but would certainly have been very old by the time he died. I do know that there must’ve been some family relationship, as Betsey’s son William J Witcher was involved in several court related issues regarding the James Phipps estate, including an October 30, 1837, appraisal of the estate of “James Phipps.”
William J Witcher was not only associated with the estate of James Phipps. On March 12, 1839, a survey to establish the dower for Jane Phipps was recorded, with W. J. Witcher signing as one of three witnesses. Jane Phipps was the widow of Benjamin Phipps, who was reportedly the Revolutionary War veteran of Grayson County, Virginia. WJ Witcher is undoubtedly William J Witcher, the son of Betsey and Ephraim Witcher, and is the same individual found in an 1838 trust deed which indicated that William J Witcher lived at that time in Grayson County, Virginia.
In conclusion, we can say that the trunk of John Fips’ family tree is evident. We know for certain that he died in Charlotte County, Virginia, around 1768. I feel he was born around 1705-1710. We also know for sure he had a daughter named Betsey. I feel certain that he had a son named James. Perhaps other sons and daughters were born to him, including sons John, Benjamin, and Joseph Fips, and another daughter named Martha.
The work of attaching family branches to this trunk will rest with others. The primary reason for this essay is to assist in that endeavor. Another purpose of this write-up is to honor the memory of John Fips of Charlotte County, Virginia, a man whose genetics continue in the thousands who have descended from the dozen or so children of Betsey and Ephraim Witcher. I’m sure John Fips would be very proud, were he here today!
In order to view the images below, some browsers will require you to scroll down. You may have to scoll way down! I hope you enjoy!
Researched and written by 5X great-grandson, Wayne Witcher, 2-22-17
This is an estray record for Tabitha Witcher, in which her son-in-law Ephraim Witcher signs as witness, along with Ephraim's Uncle, Captain William Witcher, and Jeremiah Ward.
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Tabitha Fips' Lawyer, Paul Carrington
Who were the children of
of Charlotte County, Virginia?