Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phipps, William

PHIPPS, Sir WILLIAM (1651–1695), governor of Massachusetts, born near Pemaquid on 2 Feb. 1650–1, began life as a ship-carpenter, and in time became a merchant captain at Boston, Massachusetts. He there married the well-to-do widow of John Hull, daughter of Roger Spencer. He got tidings of a sunken Spanish treasure-ship near the Bahamas, and made an unsuccessful attempt to raise her. If we may believe his biographer, Cotton Mather, this search put Phipps on the track of another and more valuable wreck. In the hopes of recovering this, according to Mather, he went to England, and in 1683, by favour of Christopher Monck, second duke of Albemarle [q. v.], a lord of trade and plantations, obtained command of a frigate, the Algier Rose. Mather gives very full details of two mutinies which Phipps had to suppress during his command of this ship. In this expedition he failed to find the lost treasure-ship of which he was in search, but obtained further tidings of her, and learned that she was sunk off the coast of Hispaniola. The project of recovery was taken up by the Duke of Albemarle and others. In 1687 Phipps was fitted out with a fresh vessel and a more trustworthy crew, and the wreck was discovered. The total treasure is said to have amounted to 300,000l., of which 16,000l. fell to the share of Phipps.

Phipps returned to England, and on 28 June 1687 was knighted. In the following August the king created the office of provost marshal-general of New England, and Phipps was appointed to it during the king's pleasure. With this commission Phipps went out to Massachusetts. In less than a year he returned to England, and thus took no part in the revolution which deposed James's deputy, Sir Edmund Andros [q. v.] After the latter's abdication James appears to have made overtures to Phipps, and to have offered him the governorship of New England.

Early in 1689 Phipps returned to Boston. He found the colony under the de facto government of a revolutionary convention. Andros was in prison, and his legal authority had not devolved on any successor. Soon after his arrival Phipps indicated his deliberate intention of throwing himself into the public life of Massachusetts. In March 1690 he joined the north church in Boston, making a formal profession of adhesion and repentance, and receiving baptism. This step was no merely private incident. Till the revocation of the charter by judicial sentence in 1684 church membership in Massachusetts was a necessary qualification for citizenship. Within two months of his admission to the church, Phipps was placed by the court of Massachusetts in command of an expedition against the French colonies. On 28 April 1690 he sailed, with eight ships and seven hundred men, against Port Royal. The French were wholly unprepared for resistance, and the place at once surrendered. In the following July Phipps was sent, with thirty-two vessels and 2,200 men, on a similar expedition against the French occupation of Quebec and Montreal, which resulted in a total failure. The miscarriage of Phipps's attack on Montreal enabled the French to concentrate their whole defence on Quebec, where a mixture of impetuosity and ignorance led Phipps to open fire without waiting for the land force which was to co-operate.

In 1691 Phipps revisited England, and urged upon William III the necessity of an aggressive policy against Canada, while he enlarged upon the importance of the fur trade and fisheries to the north of New England. In the September of the same year a new charter for Massachusetts was issued, and on the last day of 1691 Phipps was sworn in as governor.

The career of Phipps as governor added nothing to his reputation. He landed at Boston in May 1692, and found the witchcraft mania in full activity. He did nothing to check it or to control its fury. His first act was to appoint a special commission to try alleged cases of witchcraft. At the head of the commission he placed Stoughton, the lieutenant-governor, a man of narrow mind and harsh temper.

Another attempt against Quebec was planned, but no steps were taken towards the execution of it. All that was done by Phipps against the French and their Indian allies during his governorship was to build a fort at Pemaquid, a measure of utility in itself, but unpopular at Boston. Phipps also entangled himself in more than one discreditable brawl, and his correspondence with Fletcher, the hot-tempered and overbearing governor of New York, was singularly wanting in dignity. The various enemies whom he thus made succeeded in getting him summoned to England to answer for his conduct. In November 1694 he left Boston. On his arrival in England he narrowly escaped arrest on a civil suit. Before any proceedings were taken on the pending questions, Phipps died in London on 18 Feb. 1695, and was buried in the church of St. Mary Woolnoth in Lombard Street.

[Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts; Mather's Magnalia; colonial papers in Record Office; Palfrey's History of New England; Savage's Genealogical Dict. of New England.]

J. A. D.