PHIPS (or PHIPPS), SIR WILLIAM (1651-1695), colonial governor of Massachusetts, was born on the 2nd of February 1651, at Woolwich, Maine, near the mouth of the Kennebec river. He was a shepherd until he was eighteen, and then a ship carpenter's apprentice for four years; worked at his trade in Boston for a year, at this time learning to read and write; and with his wife's property established a ship-yard on the Sheepscot river in Maine, but soon abandoned it because of Indian disorders. In 1684-1686, with a commission from the British Crown, he searched vainly for a wrecked Spanish treasure ship of which he had heard while on a voyage to the Bahamas; he found this vessel in 1687, and from it recovered 300,000. Of this amount much went to the duke of Albemarle, who had fitted out the second expedition. Phips received 16,000 as his share, was knighted by James II., and was appointed sheriff of New England under Sir Edmund Andros. Poorly educated and ignorant of law, Phips could accomplish little, and returned to England. In 1689 he returned to Massachusetts, found a revolutionary government in control, and at once entered into the life of the colony. He joined the North Church (Cotton Mather's) at Boston, and was soon appointed by the General Court commander of an expedition against the French in Canada, which sailed in April 1690 and easily captured Port Royal. A much larger expedition led by Phips in July against Quebec and Montreal ended disastrously. Phips generously bought at their par value, in order to give them credit in the colony, many of the colony's bills issued to pay for the expedition. In the winter of 1690 he returned to England, vainly sought aid for another expedition against Canada, and urged, with Increase Mather, the colonial agent, a restoration of the colony's charter, annulled during the reign of Charles II. The Crown, at the suggestion of Mather, appointed him the first royal governor under the new charter. On reaching Boston in May 1692, Phips found the colony in a very disordered condition, and though honest, persevering and indisposed to exalt his prerogative at the expense of the people, he was unfitted for the difficult position. He appointed a special commission to try the witchcraft cases, but did nothing to stop the witchcraft mania, and suspended the sittings of the court only after great atrocities had been committed. In defending the frontier he displayed great energy, but his policy of building forts was expensive and therefore unpopular. Having the manners of a 17th-century sea captain, he became involved in many quarrels, and engaged in a bitter controversy with Governor Benjamin Fletcher of New York. Numerous complaints to the home government resulted in his being summoned to England to answer charges. While in London awaiting trial, he died on the 18th of February 1695.
See Cotton Mather's Lift of His Excellency Sir William Phips (London, 1697; republished in his Magnalia in 1702); Francis Bowen's " Life of Sir William Phips," in Jared Sparks's American Biography, 1st series, vol. vii. (New York, 1856); William Goold's " Sir William Phips," in Collections of the Maine Historical Society, series I, vol. ix. (Portland, 1887); Ernest Myrand's Sir William Phippsdevant Quebec (Quebec, 1893); Thomas Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts (2 vols., Boston; 3rd ed., 1795); and J. G. Palfrey's History of New England (5 vols., Boston, 1858-1890).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)