Colonial French America
The New England Knight

By Juliana L’Heureux

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Note:  Although Sir William Phipps (1651-1695) carries the name of an English  nobleman, he was born a colonial American, in a small Maine town named Woolwich (although Maine was actually part of Massachusetts at the time of his birth).  If Phipps were born in the middle 18th century, he would have been a new American, through and through.  Phipps’ actual life is not quite as significant as the times he lived in, thus,  his biography brings the complicated politics of life in Colonial America into a human perspective. Franco-Americans can learn more about the political climate that existed during the French and Indian wars in well researched biography by Baker and Reid.

A good trivia question about Maine might ask, "Who is the Midcoast town of Phippsburg, Maine named after?"   It was named for Sir William Phips (1651-1695), subject of the biography, "The New England Knight". 

Indeed, Phippsburg is named in honor of Sir William Phips, though he never lived there because the coastal community was named long after his death. 

Phips grew up in the nearby coastal community known today as Woolwich, ME.

History and trivia fans alike will be delighted to hear about a new Canadian published biography of this colonial politician's life.  A recent e-mail interview with one of the authors of "The New England Knight" sheds interesting light on how Phips' short life reflected the politics of French and English colonial America.

Emerson W. Baker, 40, is a York resident and an assistant professor of history at Salem State College in Salem, MA.  About 10 years ago, Baker joined forces with Canadian professor and historian John G. Reid, of St. Mary's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia to write a biography about Phips and the politics of his time. 

They teamed up to write about Phips because he was involved in many of the crucial events in the English and the French colonial world of the later 17th century.  "A biography about him is one way to look at these times," says Baker.

Many books have been published about the history of colonial New England, but most are about events leading up to the American Revolution.  Nevertheless, the later 17th century was an important time, with things like frontier warfare, witchcraft trials and a series of new governments in the New England colonies, he says.

One question raised in the Phips biography is about the role he may have played in mistreatment of French and Acadians in Nova Scotia (Acadia) when he invaded Port Royal in 1690. Could Phips have laid the framework for the subsequent 1755,  expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia?   Baker explains how Phips may actually have tried to get along with the French Acadians, even though he was involved in some mistreatment.

"Phips did mistreat the Acadian Governor and he tortured one resident of Port Royal, but for the most part, his policy was opposite from these incidents," writes Baker. 

"Phips answer to the Acadian question  and even the Wabanaki Indian issue was to make them full English citizens with all the rights implied," says Baker.

There is evidence of his attempts to treat Acadians fairly when, in Boston, he witnessed an incident whereby a French Acadian was being mistreated by a customs collector in Boston just because the man was an Acadian. 

"Phips got into trouble with the Boston establishment for his willingness to embrace the French and the Wabanaki as subjects of the King of England, a contributing fact to his ultimate recall as governor of Massachusetts," says Baker.

Phips probably had no thought of removing Acadians when he invaded their land in 1690.  Furthermore,  "I suspect he would have been against the idea in 1755", he says.

"The New England Knight" is fascinating because it tells about colonial French and English political history through the life of a man who was prominent in his times. 

The New England Knight : Enrichment, Advancement and the Life of Sir William Phips, 1651-1695 by Emerson W. Baker and John G. Reid, University of Toronto Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8020-0925-5 (cloth), ISBN 0-8020-8171-1 (paper). Available new and used at

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Published on May 6, 1999
Copyright 1994-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux