Noah Phelps

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Maj. Gen. Noah Phelps
Born (1740-01-22)January 22, 1740
Simsbury, Connecticut
Died November 4, 1809(1809-11-04) (aged 69)
Simsbury, Connecticut
Occupation Soldier, lawyer, magistrate
Known for Helped to capture Fort Ticonderoga; Delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787

Major General Noah Phelps (22 Jan 1740 - 4 Nov 1809) was the son of Lt. David Phelps and Abigail Pettibone Phelps and was descended from the English immigrant William Phelps. His parents settled in Simsbury, Connecticut before 1750 and Phelps became an active and influential man. He was a Yale University graduate, a justice of the Peace, judge of Probate for twenty years, and was a Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to ratify the Federal Constitution.[1]


Noah Phelps was the fourth of nine children born to David Phelps and Abigail Pettibone. David Phelps was the son of Joseph Phelps and his third wife, Mary Case. David married Abigail Pettibone on April 25, 1731 and died of smallpox on December 9, 1760. Noah married Lydia Griswold of Windsor, Connecticut on 10 June 1761 in Simsbury, Connecticut. They had six children: Noah Amherst (3 May 1762), Lydia Griswold (25 Feb 1764), Chandler Conway (22 Oct 1766), George P. (18 Aug 1773), Elisha Phelps (16 Nov 1779), and a son (18 Nov 1783, died at birth).[2]

He held a variety of essential positions, including Surveyor of Lands in the greater Simsbury area in 1772 and 1783, Justice of the Peace for Hartford County in 1782, Judge of Probate in 1787, and Major-General of the Militia, 1796-1799.[3]

Noah Phelps was a leader within the Simsbury community. He chaired the town meeting that passed the Articles of Confederation in January 1778, and in November 1787, the meeting picked him and Daniel Humphrey Esq., as delegates for the Convention of the State of Connecticut, set to convene in Hartford in January and vote on whether or not to adopt the federal constitution. They were directed to oppose it, but "one of the delegates though voting as instructed by the town, took occasion to state that his personal convictions led him to favor the proposed constitution." This may have been Phelps.[4]

Phelps died in Simsbury 4 November 1809, honored and respected. On his tombstone is inscribed: "A Patriot of 1776. To such we are indebted for our Independence."[1]

Revolutionary War[edit]

Early in the American Revolutionary War, Phelps was chosen as a member of "Committee of War for the expedition to capture Ft. Ticonderoga and Crown Point." The committee considered the advisability of taking Fort Ticonderoga, then occupied by the British, and in which there was stored a large amount of heavy artillery and other war implements. Capt. Phelps, Barnard Romance, Ephraim Buell, and Capt. Edward Mott, with others, composed this committee, Capt. Mott acting as chairman. They raised £300 (in today's value, €45907 or US$25652.01 ) from the Public Treasury, though guaranteed by several patriotic gentlemen. This fund was placed in the hands of Capt. Phelps and Barnard Romance, with the request that they should go north and press forward this project. This resulted in the great and bloodless victory — the capture of Fort Ticonderoga.[1]

Captain Phelps gathered key intelligence in preparation for the taking of the Fort. Sent out to reconnoiter the southern part of Lake Champlain, he stopped overnight at a farm house some little distance from Fort Ticonderoga. Some British soldiers occupied rooms adjoining Phelps, where they were having a dinner party. Phelps heard them discuss the condition of the fort, and the position taken by the rebels, as they styled the people. Early the next morning, Phelps gained entrance to the fort disguised as a peddler seeking a shave.[1]

"Pretending that his object was to get shaved, he avoided suspicion, and had an opportunity to ascertain the construction, strength, and force of the garrison. And he had the good fortune to elude detection, though as it afterwards appeared, his presence had began [sic] to excite mistrust before he left the garrison."[5]

While returning through the fort, the commander accompanied him talking with him about the rebels, their object and movements. Phelps, upon seeing a portion of the exterior wall in a dilapidated condition, remarked that it would afford a feeble defense against the rebels, if they should attack in that quarter. The commander replied, "Yes, but that is not our greatest misfortune. All our powder is damaged, and before we can use it, we are obliged to dry and sift it."[1]

Phelps soon after left the fort, hiring a boatman to take him down the lake in a small boat. He entered the boat in full view and under the guns of the fort. He requested the boatman to row hard that he might terminate the journey as soon as possible. The boatman then requested him to take an oar and assist. This Phelps declined to do, being in full sight of the fort, by saying he was no boatman, because as a peddler he would not usually know how to handle an oar.[1]

After rounding a point that blocked their view from the fort, Phelps quickly took up an oar, and being a strong active man as well as a good oarsman, he excited the suspicion of the oarsman by his efficient work. The boatman remarked with an oath, 'You have seen an oar before now, sir.' This excited the suspicion of the boatman at the time that he was not a good and loyal citizen, but a rebel, however his fear of Phelps' superior strength prevented any attempt to carry him back to the fort. This the boatman confessed to Capt. Phelps after the surrender of the fort. Capt. Phelps returned safely to his command, and reported the intelligence he had gained to General Ethan Allen. The information he gathered enabled the attacking force to plan a surprise dawn raid that resulted in the bloodless taking of the fort.[1]

Trenton and Princeton[edit]

At about this time Phelps raised a militia company mostly at his own expense, and was appointed captain. He served under Col. Ward, was at Fort Lee, joined General George Washington's army, and was at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. Later he acted as commissary, and after the war was chosen Maj. Gen. of militia.[6]

As commissary, he supplied troops with all manner of supplies, including guns and bayonets, clothing, "victualing and liquor," and lodgings for his troops and horses.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Phelps, Oliver Seymour; Servin, Andrew T. (1899). "The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, With Copies of Wills, Deeds, Letters, and Other Interesting Papers, Coats of Arms and Valuable Records (Two Volumes)". Pittsfield, Massachusetts: Eagle Publishing Company: 204. 
  2. ^ Ellen Wilds (2003). "In Their Own Words: Excerpts from The Phelps Family of America: Noah Phelps". Retrieved 2008-09-12. 
  3. ^ Noah Phelps Papers. William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan. 1917. 
  4. ^ Stowe, Rev. Charles E. (1896). "Simsbury's Part in the War of the American Revolution". Hartford, Connecticut: Press of Case, Tiffany and Burnham: 23. 
  5. ^ Phelps, Noah Amherst (1845). "History of Simsbury, Granby and Canton, From 1642 to 1845". Hartford, Connecticut: Press of Case, Tiffany and Burnham: 94–95. Archived from the original on January 15, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  6. ^ Hart, Samuel (1917). Encyclopedia of Connecticut Biography: Genealogical-memorial; Representative Citizens. American Historical Society, Inc. 

External links[edit]

  • Noah Phelps Papers William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
  • Service record from Francis B. Heitman's Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army