Three Girls Named Philip

One of my favorite things happened recently, – I made contact with a new cousin and genealogist. After I’d sent along my line of descent (the way cousins introduce themselves), I received this gentle correction,

BTW, your 8th-g-grandmother was Phillipa CHASE, daughter of Benjamin and Phillipe (Sherman) CHASE.

To start off, I wholeheartedly thank every thoughtful and generous person who has spotted my errors and got me back on track. (Please do keep it up.) Now, this is a rare thing, but I don’t always agree with suggested corrections, and this is one of those times.

You’ll work out from that note, the presumed mistake was that I gave the above Chase and Sherman females the masculine moniker, “Philip.” However, it wasn’t a goof; I did it deliberately. Despite our society’s sensibility that a girl must have a girl’s name, – I believe this line has three females named Philip and they embody a tradition that can be traced in records from 1652 through 1795.

Who would give a girl a boy’s name?

Perhaps it’s no surprise, this story begins with a man, Philip Sherman / Shearman (1610-1687). Born in England, he came to Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1633, married Sarah Odding there the year after, had a few kids, then had a disagreement with church elders. That precipitated the family’s move to Rhode Island, an early bastion of religious tolerance. By 1638, Philip was making himself useful to the new settlement at Portsmouth, and 10 years later (1648), Philip Sherman was appointed General Recorder (secretary) of Rhode Island. He was described as

An excellent penman (his records remain in Portsmouth), educated and wealthy for the times. [1]

Philip spent years growing Portsmouth, growing a personal estate, and growing his family. In addition to three girls, he and Sarah had seven (or eight) boys, and none was named Philip in 1651, when Sarah told him for the eleventh (or twelfth) time, she was pregnant. Both were Into their forties, financially secure, and doubtless feeling pride in worldly accomplishments and public honors, It’s likely, in the interest of preserving health and happiness, the Shermans agreed this child would be their last.

God had been good to Philip thus far; He clearly approved of his conduct and his plans, Having deferred the honor so many times, surely God would send him a Philip Sherman junior. When Sarah’s time came, Philip would have been humbly grateful to the almighty for preserving the lives of his beloved helpmeet and the newborn. No doubt the daughter was a surprise, but that was the divine will, and Philip named the baby just as he’d planned.

Miss-Spelling and Miss-Interpretation

Oh yes, misspellings and other errors crop up in official records, and all too often. (I expect you have some frustrating, and / or funny examples of your own.) But, before you relegate my female Philips to the category of mistakes, gentle reader, I offer two points for your consideration:

(1) Philip Sherman / Shearman, General Recorder of Rhode Island, as noted above, has been recognized for his excellent handwriting. This ability and attention to detail were key qualifiers for creating official documents for the colony. It’s reasonable to expect that what Philip wrote, he meant to write. For example, on 15 Apr 1678, Philip Sherman deeded some land to…

Benjamin Chase my son-in-law and my daughter Philip his wife.

Three years later, he made his will (dated on 31 Jul 1681)…

Philip Shearman, yeoman, aged seventy-one years, of the Town of Portsmouth… to my daughter Philip ten ewe sheep.

The man, Philip, the colony’s recording secretary, in two documents, spelled his daughter’s name exactly the way he spelled his own. He meant to do that. To avoid confusion, he specified “daughter.”

 (2) There is consistency in records that give the name Philip to females through time. Examples from Freetown, Masachusetts records and compiled indexes include marriage listings:

CHASE, Benjamin (1639-1731) & Phillip / Phillopa [SHERMAN] (1652-); ca 1672?; Portsmouth, RI / Freetown

HATHAWAY, Jacob & Phillippa / Philip? CHASE; 28 Jan 1696/7, 1696; Taunton

We see the compiler’s instinct to femininize the form for the bride, but that eloquent “?” tells us the record said Philip. Here’s a birth

Born in freetown Philip Chase the daftor [daughter] of Benjamin Chase born 5 day of July 1679 ———

Image excerpt from Freetown, MA town register showing

Click to enlarge the image.

The Jacob and Phillip (Chase) Hathaway who married in 1696, decided to name a son Philip, so our female Philip skipped generation. However, Jacob and Philip’s daughter Hannah Hathaway, married Lot Strange and named her first daughter, born in 1722, Philip Strange, and we hit the jackpot with marriage records for this lady:

Philip Strange to John Payne (Paine) Jr. 10 Apr 1738

Philip Pain to Seth Chace (Chase) 7 Nov 1751

John Crandon of Dartmouth & ye widow Philip Chase of Freetown were married December ye 14th – –  – 1768.

Over three decades, with different town clerks, we see the same, masculine name, attached to women. That’s consistency. Finally, nearly 30 years after the 1768 marriage, among the town’s compiled death records (1686-1844), is a 1795 listing for Freeborn Paine (Payne) which gives the wrong father, but note the detail on the mother:

Freeborn Payne, son of Eben.r & wife Philip (m.n. Strange) died Sept. 11, 1795.

I believe, the sources out there giving Philippe, Philopa, Phillipa, etc. as given names for these Sherman, Chase and Strange girls were just reacting to cultural conditioning, making the Philip of the records into an appropriately feminine form. Is that correction really necessary? How many researchers would conclude that Philip & Benjamin, Philip & Jacob, Philip & John or Seth were married male couples in colonial Massachusetts? Not likely.

I think we should relax, be accurate, and accept – like that founding father of Portsmouth, that Philip is a fine, worthy and noble name for a child of any gender. But I have a final surprise for the finish, – the original Philip Sherman was not himself named for his father, but for his mother, Philippa (Ward) Sherman (1577-1610). Betcha didn’t see that coming.

Notes & Sources:

Philip (name meaning), Greek for a lover of horses. Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_%28name%29

Unisex names; Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unisex_name

[1] New England Families Genealogical and MemorialAmerican Historical Society, editor,1916; reprint, LaVergne, TN: BIBLIOLIFE, LLC, 12 May 2012), Page 363.

AmericanAncestors.org (New England Historical Genealogical Society); RICR  1:209, 217, 230, 236. | Great Migration Study, Philip Sherman profile.

FamilySearch.org; Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT, Film # 1993524.

Ancestry.com: Torry, Clarence A. New England Marriages Prior to 1700; Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988; Freetown, MA.

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