Spencer Phips, Acting Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay

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Spencer Phips (Bennett), (adopted)

Also Known As: "Spencer Phips alias Bennett"
Birthplace: Rowley, Essex, Massachusetts
Death: Died in Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts
Immediate Family:

Biological son of Dr. David Bennett and Rebecca Bennett
Adopted son of Sir William Phips, Colonial Governor of Massachusetts and Mary Sergeant
Husband of Elizabeth Phipps
Father of Mary Lechmere
Brother of William Bennett
Half brother of Anthony Bennett; David Bennett; Sarah Decker and Elizabeth Crosby

Managed by: Private User
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About Spencer Phips, Acting Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay


Spencer Phips (June 6, 1685 – April 4, 1757) was a British politician in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Born Spencer Bennett, he was adopted by Massachusetts Governor Sir William Phips, whose name he legally took. Phips served for many years in the provincial assembly, and on the governor's council, before receiving an appointment as lieutenant governor in 1732, a post he held until his death. He was twice formally acting governor.


Spencer Bennett was born to David Bennett of Rowley, Massachusetts and his wife Rebecca, but he was formally adopted by Sir William Phips, the husband of his mother's sister. He graduated from Harvard College in 1703 (listed at the top of the class because of the prominence of his family), and in 1716, by an act of the provincial legislature, changed his name to Phips. In 1706 he purchased land in Cambridge, where he settled. He married Elizabeth Hutchinson in 1707, with whom he had eleven children; five, one son and four daughters, survived him.

In 1713 he was appointed a justice of the peace for Middlesex County, and was also made colonel of a cavalry regiment in the colonial militia. He entered politics in 1721, winning election to the provincial assembly. He was, however, appointed to the governor's council that year, and thus did not take the assembly seat. He served in the council until 1724.

He was appointed lieutenant governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1732, and served in that post until his death. Twice during his term he was acting governor when Governor William Shirley was absent. The first time was in 1749 when Shirley took several years leave to participate in boundary negotiations with France. Later, in 1756, he took over again when Shirley returned to England to defend himself against charges of treason and incompetence.

Most of Phips' first tenure as acting governor was occupied with negotiating a peace treaty with native tribes near Falmouth (present-day Portland, Maine, not to be confused with either present-day Falmouth, Massachusetts or Falmouth, Maine). The negotiations were unsuccessful due to ongoing violence perpetrated by British settlers. He also implemented currency reforms advocated by House Speaker Thomas Hutchinson to finally settle the province's longstanding problems with inflationary paper currencies. In 1751 he signed legislation authorizing the exchange of the province's unbacked paper currency for silver-based currency.

Acadian refugees

During parts of 1754–1756 Governor Shirley was often out of the province on military business associated with the French and Indian War, and gubernatorial duties would fall to Phips. The principal issue during this time was the arrival in November 1755 of several shiploads of Acadians, who the British army had begun deporting from Nova Scotia after the Battle of Fort Beauséjour. The expenses incurred with housing and caring for about 1,000 refugees burdened a provincial treasury already bearing the heavy demands of wartime. This prompted Phips to write to Nova Scotia Governor Charles Lawrence, demanding compensation for the care of the refugees. In 1756 when Acadians who had been resettled in Georgia were found sailing north, apparently intent on returning to Nova Scotia, Phips again complained to Lawrence that Massachusetts was unable to assimilate any more refugees.

Indian bounties

In 1755 Phips issued a Proclamation declaring a bounty on the scalps of men, women, and children of the Penobscot Indian Tribe in present-day Maine. This came after some bands of the previously neutral Penobscots had declared allegiance with the French following the unprovoked massacre by Englishmen of a Penobscot fishing party at Owls Head, Maine earlier that year. The proclamation "required" all of the king's subjects "to Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians". Scalps for males over the age of 12 were to be worth 50 pounds, females of the same age 25 pounds, male children under 12 netted 25 pounds, and female children under 12 fetched 20 pounds. Within a year of the proclamation, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted to raise the ceiling on the bounty to an unprecedented 300 pounds. In 1759 Governor Thomas Pownall of Massachusetts would take possession of the Penobscot River and the tribe's homeland "by armed force".

Second term and death

His second term as acting governor, begun after Governor Shirley's recall, was brief. Phips was ill, and died six months after Shirley left for England.


http://www.mass.gov/statehouse/massgovs/sphips.htm Governors of Massachusetts

Spencer Phips (1685-1757)

Acting Royal Governor of Massachusetts 1749-1753, 1756-1757

Spencer Phips took office twice in the absence of Governor William Shirley. First, in 1749 when Shirley took several years leave to participate in boundary negotiations with France. Later in 1756, he took over again when Governor Shirley returned to England to defend himself against charges of treason and incompetence.

Phips, the nephew of former governor and treasure hunter Sir William Phips, was predominantly occupied with creating a peace treaty with native tribes near Falmouth. His efforts were disrupted by continued violence by English settlers, which never allowed sufficient peace to conclude his negotiations.

Acting Governor Phips died in April 1757 while serving in office.

  • http://capecodhistory.us/genealogy/getperson.php?personID=I11339&tree=Nauset
  • http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~walkersj/MarySpencer.htm January 17, 1713/14;  Will written. PROBATE February 19, 1713/14 Peter Sargeant (merchant): Ex.: nephew Thomas Sargeant. Legatees: wife Mehitable, the South Church, Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton, and Joseph Sewall, pastor of the church, to the other ministers Increase & Cotton Mather, Thomas Bridge, Benjamin Wadsworth and Benjamin Colman, to Eliakim Hutchinson, my brother in law, & his wife Sarah, and to their children William Hutchinson & wife, Thomas Palmer & wife, Spencer Phipps & wife. My wife's kinswoman Mrs. Hannah Ellis. To Abigail Bourne of London sister of my second wife, to Thomas Sergeant, nephew, son of my brother Henry Sergeant, my two surviving sisters and the children of my deceased brothers & sisters the balance of my real estate including a house and land in Boston. Inventory 560 pounds, 13 shillings, 4 pence. (SPR 18:249). (Thwing database)


From Will of Sir William Phips Genealogical Gleanings in England, Volume 1 By Henry Fitz-Gilbert Waters. Page 46:

Sir William Phips, Knight, of Boston in the county of Suffolk, Province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England, 18 December, 1693 sworn to by Dame Mary Phips 10 September, 1696 proved 29 January, 1696. To brother James Phips or his heirs, the sum of five shillings. To my dear and entirely beloved consort Mary Phips, and to her heirs forever, all my estate, real and personal, &C. &c., with power to alienate by deed of gift, will or codicil. If she should die without having, by will, disposed of my estate, &C., it shall all descend and fall to my adopted son. Spencer Phips ats Bennett and the heirs of his body. If he should die without issue surviving, what is left shall be equally divided and shared, one half thereof by my sisters Mary, Margaret and the heirs of my sister Anne deceased, or their heirs forever, and the other half in like manner, to the relations of my beloved consort, reserving only out of the whole estate one hundred pounds current money of New England, which my said relations and the relations of my said wife shall cause to be paid unto John Phipps, son to my brother John Phipps deceased, or to his heirs, if this clause be not repealed by my wife aforesaid. If my dear consort should die before my said son is come to age or is married, then I do nominate and appoint my friends Capt. John Foster, Esq., and Capt. Andrew Belcher of Boston, merchants, to be trustees of my estate and guardians to my said son, until he shall be of full age or married.

The witnesses were John Phillips, John White, John Hiskett, Josiah Stone and John Greenough. Pyne, 15.

Francis Phipps, the elder, of Reading, in the county of Berks, mentions (inter alios) son Constantine Phipps, in his will proved 1668. Hene, 69.

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Spencer Phips, Acting Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay's Timeline

June 6, 1685
Rowley, Essex, Massachusetts
December 27, 1725
Age 40
Cambridge, Middlesex, MA, USA
April 4, 1757
Age 71
Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts