Henry Phillips. Papers, 1728-1738: Finding Aid
Harvard Law School Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Harvard Law School
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Location: Harvard Depository
Call No.: HOLLIS 9339426
Repository: Harvard Law School Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Henry Phillips
Title: Henry Phillips papers
Quantity: 1 boxes
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Papers relating to the 1728 sword duel in which Phillips killed Benjamin Woodbridge
on Boston Common, Phillips' flight to England and France, his indictment and conviction
in absentia for murder, his subsequent death intestate, and the longstanding dispute
over his estate.
Purchased by the Harvard Law School Library.
Inventoried by Arthur Freeman; edited by Sally Vermaaten April 2004
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The Henry Phillips Papers have been digitized and can be viewed here.
Henry Phillips was born in 1704, the younger son of the Boston bookseller and publisher,
Samuel Phillips (active 1681-1720). Henry's grandfather (and namesake) was also a
publisher, and his brother Gillam carried on the business until at least 1732.
Henry Phillips graduated with an M.A. from Harvard in 1724 and joined his brother
Gillam in the book business, with some trading in lumber and fish on the side. He
was said to be mild and studious, but he freqented Luke Vardy's Royal Exchange Tavern
on King Street, where gambling was rife. It was at this tavern that Henry had a falling
out with Benjamin Woodbridge, the son of a Barbadian Admiralty judge. On 3 July 1728
the two met on Boston Common, after dark, to duel with swords. Phillips suffered wounds
to his belly and hands and abandoned Woodbridge with a chest wound. Phillips fled,
leaving word to provide a surgeon for Woodbridge, but rescuers could not find the
victim where directed. Woodbridge was found dead at 3am the following morning. After
Henry Phillips fled the duel, his brother, Gillam, and friends attempted to dress
Henry's wounds and then sucessfully smuggled him onto the British man-of-war, "Sheerness,"
which was about to depart Boston Harbor.
On August 13, 1728, Henry Phillips was indicted for murder. Phillips' friends remained
loyal and by July 29 they had assembled a formidable petition, signed by ninety leading
inhabitants, headed by the Governor himself, asking for grant of a pre-emptive royal
pardon, which would quash the indictment and permit the exile to return.
Meanwhile, Phillips reached London and went on to La Rochelle, where his brother's
brother-in-law, Peter Faneuil, had an uncle who took him in. Depressed and ill, Phillips
died only four months later, having failed to sign his will.
Henry left an unsigned will, provoking a law suit, in which brother Gillam challenged
the Massachusetts statute which awarded a good portion of Henry's estate to his mother
and sister, Faith Savage. Under English common law Gillam would have inherited the
whole of Henry's estate, but colonial Massachusetts statute law awarded a large portion
to their mother and sister. Gillam challenged this award (Phillips v. Savage). The
Province of Mass. helped Faith Savage contest the suit in London, reimbursing her
legal expenses after her victory over Gillam.
The 17 documents that make up the Phillips Papers span the years 1728-1738 and were
likely assembled by Gillam Phillips himself for his extended lawsuit in which he tried
to become sole inheritor of his brother, Henry's, estate. The papers fall into three
groups: legal papers that relate to Henry Phillips' duel with Benjamin Woodbridge
and Phillips' subsequent flight from Boston; an inventory of Henry Phillips' estate;
and legal documents and letters from Gillam Phillips' unsucessful litigation.
- 1-1. Seven sworn statements by witnesses on the events surrounding the Phillips-Woodbridge
Duel and Phillips' subsequent flight from Boston. Contemporary clerical copies attested
as correct by Elisha Cooke, J.P. July 4, 1728, Boston. Recorded testimonies by:
Date: July 4, 1728,
- Robert Handy
- Captain John Winslow
- John Cutler
- George Pemberton
- Peter Faneuil
- John Underwood
- William Pierce
- 1-2. Copy (attested by Samuel Clarke and Samuel Tyley) of the indictment of Henry Phillips
for the murder of Benjamin Woodbridge. The indictment is signed by Joseph Hiller, Attorney General of the Bay Colony. August 13, 1728.
Date: August 13, 1728.
- 1-3. Petition signed by 90 eminent New Englanders, preceded by a declaration concerning
it, 6 October 1728, written by Josiah Willard, signed by Willard and Governor William Burnet; with the
public seal of the Province of Massachusetts Bay affixed. 29 July 1728.The signatures
include John Wenworth, William Tailer,James Stevens, Thomas Lechmere, John Jekyll, John Menzies, Thomas Steel, four ministers: Henry Harris,George Pigot,James Stevens, and Timothy Cutler; Ebenezer Miller; Andrew, Peter, and Benjamin Faneuil, as well as lawyer Robert Auchmuty.
Date: 29 July 1728.
- 1-4. An inventory of the estate of Mr. Henry Phillips Deceased. Prepared by John Gerrish, Joseph Billings and George Shore, presented to
Josiah Williard by Gillam Phillips. 9 October 1730
Date: 9 October 1730
- 1-5. 4 documents ribboned together with the Public seal of the Massachusetts Bay Province:
- (1) Belcher, Jonathan, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Province. L.s. confirming the official standing of
Willard and Boydell and their Acts. 26 November 1733
- (2) Willard, Josiah, Judge of the Court of Probate, to Stephen Boutineau and 4 others instructing them
to proceed with the division of Phillips' estate. Official copy (attested by John
Boydell) 6 April 1733.
- (2a) [Begins on verso of Willard's letter.] Boutineau, Stephen [et al.] to Willard. Plan for estate division. Official copy (attested by John Boydell) 15 May 1733.
- (3) Phillips, Gillam. Copy (attested by Josiah Willard) of Phillips' petition to Governor
Jonathan Belcher, 10 October 1733, with copy of Belcher's response, 2 November 1733.
- (4) Phillips, Gillam. Copy (attested by Willard) of Phillips' second petition to Belcher,
with Belcher's response 6 November 1733.
- (4a) [With Phillips' 2nd petition] Willard, Josiah to Gillam Phillips, making him
Administrator of his brother's estate. Copy (attested by John Boydell), 17 July 1730
- 1-6. Sharpe, John to Gillam Phillips.London, 1 June 1733. Copy (possibly taken from letterbook), on verso, copies of 2 other letters
to Theodore Morris and James Pemberton and part of a third from Mary Dunbars.
Date: 1 June 1733.
- <ref id="law00141f1-7" xlink:type="simple">1-7</ref>. Phillips, Gillam ALS to Silas Hooper, 28 December 1733.
Date: 28 December 1733.
- 1-8. Phillips, Gillam. Autograph copy, signed, of letter to Silas Hooper (see 1-7), 28 December 1733. On back, Auchmuty, Robert to John Sharpe, n.d. Copy in Phillips'
- 1-9. Phillips, Gillam ALS to Silas Hooper. 9 Nov 1734.
Date: 9 Nov 1734.
- 1-10. Sharpe, John to Silas Hooper at the "New England Coffee ho[use]" 7 November 1734.
Date: 7 November 1734.
- 1-11. Copy of opinion in Gillam Phillips' case, prepared for Sharpe by the Solicitor General,
D. Ryder, 4 November 1734. With copy of Sharpe, John to Hooper, 7 November 1734
Date: 4 November 1734.
- 1-12. Phillips, Gillam ALS to Silas Hooper. n.d.
- 1-13. Phillips, Gillam ALS to [Silas Hooper.] 26 May 1732.
Date: 26 May 1732.
- 1-14. Detailed accounts of legal costs submitted by John Sharpe to Silas Hooper, 1734-1737.
April 11, 1737. With receipt and a tally of expenses for legal documents received by Silas Hooper
(for the Gillam and Hannah Phillips), signed Thomas Lane. 6 December 1738
(Mass.)--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
Inheritance and succession
Massachusetts. Governor (1730-1741 : Belcher)
Phillips, Gillam, 1695-1770.
Phillips, Henry, 1704-1729.