This biography of Civilian Phelps chronicles the life of Civilian Phelps, an early settler in Richland Township, who made significant contributions to his community despite facing personal tragedies. Born in New York in 1834, Phelps’s early life was spent farming and teaching before serving in the Civil War. Post-war, he married and moved to Michigan in 1873, where his family endured the smallpox epidemic, resulting in the loss of a child and their home. Despite these hardships, Phelps rebuilt his life, cultivating a successful farm and serving as Superintendent of Schools and Justice of the Peace, exemplifying resilience and dedication to community and country.
by Lorenz H. Loesel
Another early settler that took an active part in this community is Mr. Phelps. Again, we have a fair amount of information dealing with the life of this pioneer: “Civilian Phelps was born in New York in 1834, a son of David and Hero (Emerson) Phelps. His father is now living in Jefferson County, New York, and his mother died there some years ago. Mr. Phelps was brought up and received his education there; he spent his early days on a farm, which occupation he followed, together with teaching school. After the war broke out in 1862, he enlisted at Watertown, in Co. A, 10th N.Y. Artillery, and served three years. He was in the battle of Petersburg, and stationed in Virginia and Maryland. In 1865 he was united in marriage in Vermont with Martha S. White, a native of that State, and they have 1 child living, Edward C. He came to Michigan in 1873, and located in Richland Township, on section 10, where he owns a fine farm of 80 acres, 35 of which are improved. On their coming here, the entire family was taken down with smallpox, which took away one child, Ida May, who is buried on the place. The house, clothing, and furniture had to be burned to satisfy the authorities, leaving them with scarcely anything; but by hard labor and perseverance, they made the little home in which they are now living. A fine orchard and vineyard are on the place, which they have under cultivation. Mr. Phelps has been Superintendent of the Schools for three years and is now serving his third term as Justice of the Peace.” (1)
There are several important historical facts given in the biography of Mr. Phelps. In one of the earlier articles, we discussed the smallpox epidemic when it visited this area in 1873. Here we have an entire family which was stricken with this disease. One daughter died from the disease. You will have noted that the health officials made this family burn their house. A similar procedure was followed in other cases. It almost seems ironic, but then we must realize that germicides were unknown.
It is particularly interesting to note that Mr. Phelps was a Civil War Veteran. From records, biographies, and other sources, we can see that many of our early settlers of Richland Township and neighboring areas served their nation in this bloody conflict. Our community, with its many Civil War Veterans, can certainly be classed as a constituency whose loyalty transcended local interest. This same spirit of loyalty and devotion revealed itself in later years of national stress and peril.
Mr. Phelps’s home stood where Ed. Bohn presently (1962) lives. Mr. Fred Fiting related to the undersigned that he knew Mrs. Phelps as a kind, pleasant lady. Mr. Fiting also stated that Mr. Phelps was a very neat and efficient farmer.
- History of Saginaw County, Michigan 1881.