Project Success Stories

The Four Sons of Bennet Phillips

I grew up in a very small town (1,100) in Southern Illinois where being a Phillips was like being royalty.  My father and his brother were lawyers; their father had owned the bank, which he had inherited from his father "Judge" Phillips.  When I was young (in the 50's), my Great-Aunt Anne lived in the dilapidated Phillips mansion on the edge of town.  Most people probably found it very spooky, but it was just a normal part of our lives.  Aunt Anne's husband had lost all his money in the Great Depression, and the house had been left to her in its entirety with all its contents.  They had not thrown anything out since the house was built in 1893, so it was packed to the rafters.  A few items that stand out were a boxed pair of derringers and newspapers announcing Lincoln's death.  When I was about 12, the house and all its contents were sold to pay for my aunt's move to a nursing home.  The new owners had a bonfire in the back yard with the pictures and letters and sold all the antiques to dealers who came from all over.

When I was 13, we moved to northern Illinois where no one knew the importance of being a Phillips, although that was largely rectified when my father became a prominent Judge in the area.  I started doing family research when I was 16, writing a letter to a cousin.  I continued on and off through my college years, and was pleased to find that my great-grandfather Judge Winfield Scott Phillips had been included in three different books which contained biographies of prominent residents of Illinois (or those who were willing to pay a fee to get their family in the book).  One included the name of Winfield's parents and grandparents and all their children.  This was a huge boon when searching a name like Phillips.  In my twenties, I started going to Newberry Library in Chicago where they had census records and DAR records (no on-line stuff in those days and few photocopiers).  Among the DAR records, I found that Winfield's great-grandfather was Bennet Phillips, a Revolutionary War Veteran.
Over the next few years, I found that Bennet Phillips had a pension for his war service, a will, AND owned land - all very important when dealing with a common name like Phillips.  Through these I was able to determine that Bennet was born in Somerset County, Maryland, and lived in Granville County, North Carolina, before he settled in Rutherford County, Tennessee, in 1797.  Bennet Phillips had eight children, four of whom were sons.  I had the sons' names, Samuel Phillips Esq., Richard Newton Phillips, Isaac M. Phillips, and William B. Phillips, but with a name like Phillips, it's hard to be sure that you have the right man.  In the 1800's in Tennessee, there were at least 2 or 3 Phillips families in every county, and they ALL had a son named William.  Samuel and Richard were easy to locate, as I knew they had both lived in Bedford County, Tennessee.  Isaac should have been easy to locate, but he had died before the 1840 census.  I did know from Bennet's will that Isaac had left 2 children named Sofrona Jerusha and Isaac William.  One day while browsing a book of Tennesseans in Texas, I came across a family that looked promising, but I couldn't be sure - don't you hate it when they used initials!
1850 Cherokee County, Texas, enumerated 24th Sept. 1850
Page 806, Dwelling 22-22
W. R. Wadley (m)       32        Carpenter        $200      born Tenn
E R. Wadley  (f)          34                                          born Tenn
Sam P N Wadley (m)   7/12                                        born Texas
F. G. Denman (m)        23       Merchant                      born Georgia
S. J. Denman (f)          14                                          born Tenn
Isaac W. Philips (m)    12                                                "
In the later 1990's, after we had Internet access, I posted an inquiry about this family on the Cherokee County GenWeb site.  Some time later, I received an e-mail from Mansel Phillips, who believed that this was his family, and was delighted to get a lead on where they came from in Tennessee.  It turned out that Isaac M. Phillips lived right in the corner of Williamson County, Tennessee, in the area adjoining Rutherford and Bedford Counties.  Mansel and I were sure we were cousins, but, again, with a name like Phillips, it's difficult to be 100% sure.  In 2005, I decided to venture into the DNA arena and asked my brother to take the test.  He was glad to do it, and a few days later I contacted Mansel and asked him if he was interested.  He was happy to do it and ordered a kit immediately.  I anxiously awaited the results - was all my research going to be thrown out the window?  We didn't think so, but we were delighted to get the results - they matched, although not exactly.  On the 12 marker test they had a 2-marker difference.  This would teach me a lot about the value of a 12 marker match, because when we got the 67-marker results back we had a 3-marker difference and 2 of the mismatches were in the first 12 markers.
I knew that Bennet's oldest son Samuel had a number of descendants still living in Bedford County, Tennessee.  I had exchanged information with a female descendant whose grandmother was a Phillips.  I contacted her to see if she knew any male descendants.  She said she went to church with Howard Phillips, who was 88 and had only daughters. She also told me that Howard's brother had been very interested in genealogy, but had passed away the year before.  I told her that I would purchase the kit if she would talk to Howard.  He was not especially interested in genealogy, but said he would take the test.  I anxiously waited, again, (there are an awful lot of Samuel Phillips's, too!) and was thrilled to find that Howard matched my brother 100% on the twelve marker test.  Later, we got my brother, Howard, and Mansel upgraded to 67-marker results and have been able to create a "genetic fingerprint" for Bennet Phillips - 40 years after I had first dabbled in family history.
Bennet's fourth son was named William B. Phillips - an almost impossible name to research.  Early in my years of research, I had come upon a book of Rutherford County cemeteries which included a few cemeteries located in southern Davidson County.  Among these records was a William B. Phillips who was the right age to be Bennet's son, but how to know for sure?!  He looked promising, but I didn't ever expect to solve this one.  One helpful thing was that there were two Phillips men buried in the same cemetery with uncommon names - Leonard S. and Richard S.  Their birth and death dates were given and their wives were buried with them.  About five years ago, I took the plunge and subscribed to  I was able to locate them in the census and other records, and, eventually, was able to get a reliable list of this William B. Phillips' descendants.  One of his grandsons was named William Bennett Phillips, so I was almost positive I was on the right track.  The family also used the unusual name Richard Swepton Phillips three times.  This really helped with tracking them down in the census.  About a year ago, I found that someone had posted a family tree that included Richard Swept Phillips, grandson of William B. Phillips.  I contacted the poster and soon got in touch with Joe Phillips.  Joe's family had wonderful Bible records, going back to William B. Phillips, but did not have anything on William's father.  A couple of months ago, I wrote Joe a note and asked him if he would be willing to take the test if I supplied the kit.  He would!  We received the results last week and Joe was an exact match to my brother!
Now that we have identified the descendants of the four sons of Bennet Phillips, I am ready to turn my attentions to Old Somerset County, Maryland, which includes present-day Wicomico County and part of Sussex County, Delaware.  I have an extensive paper trail going back to Roger Phillips who settled there in 1672, and believe there are still descendants in the area.  I hope to locate a few who will be willing to take the test.  AND the teacher in the room next to mine is a Phillips!  I have been working on her to get her father to take the test.  Her grandparents were born in England, and I have traced her line back to a small town just 20 miles from Abergavenny, Wales, where I think my Phillips line came from - but that's a different story.