William Phips



Occupation 1

Governor of Massachusetts


NA/North America


Anglo-American Atlantic World (1641-1750)






Robert A. McCaughey


The son of a West Country father who moved to Maine from Bristol, England in the 1630s, Phips grew up on the shores of the Kennebec River. At 18 he was apprenticed to a shipwright and, in 1673, upon completion of his apprenticeship, moved to Boston as a ship's carpenter.

Marriage to a wealthy widow of a Boston merchant allowed Phips to become the owner of a ship (that he built in Maine) and become a sea captain. In the 1680s, with backing from English investors, he engaged in treasure hunting in the Caribbean, looking especially for Spanish wrecks. His success in this adventure in 1687 made him and his English investors wealthy, who further rewarded him be securing for him a knighthood, the first to an Englishman borne in America. <br. <br="" style="font-family: verdana; font-size: 12px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); ">In 1690 he was entrusted by Massachusetts (he was by then linked to the Mathers) to lead amphibious operations against the French at Acadia and in Quebec. Neither was a success. Nonetheless, in 1691, after sailing to England to report on his naval activities, he was appointed the first royal governor of Massachusetts. His governorship ended with him in political trouble with his English superiors but his death in 1696 but an end to the investigations then underway in London.

<br. <br="" style="font-family: verdana; font-size: 12px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); ">If not quite the rags-to-riches story that Cotton Mather made of him in his 1697 biography, Phips was, despite his rough language and limited literacy, one of the most upwardly mobile New Englanders of the 17th century, having parlayed his considerable maritime experience and entreprenurial energies into wealth and political prominence achieved by few of his peers.

Related Images

external image head0_william_phips_0000.jpg

Related People

Mather, Cotton

Related Source

New England Knight, The: Sir William Phips, 1651-1695 (1998)