Among the glories of the old Bay State are truly numbered the Berkshire hills. Lying along the western border of the State, they form a boundary between it and the Empire State, as magnificent as it is marked. Italy, under her sunny skies and beside her blue waters, hath no more beautiful scenery than the Berkshire hills reveal when clothed in the beautiful garments of June, or arrayed in the gorgeous raiment of the Indian summer. Even amid the bleak, howling winds of winter, when the feathery flakes are driven furiously down the gorges of the mountains, or lie piled upon the numerous spurs that lie along the main ridge; even then there is a grandeur that looms up from the white-robed clearings, set in the dark surroundings of the hemlock and pine forests that still crown their summits, though one hundred years have passed since the axe of the settler first resounded through their dim recesses.
Amid these surroundings, in the beginning of the last year of the eighteenth century (January 16, 1799), Elnathan Phelps, the subject of our sketch, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was one of ten children-four boys and six daughters born to Benjamin and Sally Phelps. He was familiar with the hardships and privations of a farmer's life among the hills, where, in those days, the greatest luxury, almost, the larder afforded was a pie, with one crust of rye and one of wheat flour, and that provided only on a Sunday; and he therefore determined to go where the country, though less beautiful, was more productive.
When he was twenty years, he gave his father one hundred dollars for his time, and went on foot to western New York, where he worked for a time, getting together thereby some money, when he returned to Pittsfield, where, in 1826, he married Clarissa Colt, who bore him two children, --Edwin and Helen (twins). His wife dying October 21, 1832, he was left alone with his two children, and in the spring of 1833 he removed to Michigan, where he settled on the farm now owned and occupied by his son, Edwin Phelps, in the township of Pontiac.
In 1837 he was united in marriage to Elizabeth Smith, who died in 1842, and Helen, his daughter, then fourteen years of age, took charge of the household. In 1852 he brought another companion to cheer his loneliness, Jane Butler, who survives him. About that time he sold his old homestead, reserving but a small portion, on which he erected a new house, near the old one, in which he resided until his death, which occurred December 2, 1870.
He was a member of the Congregational church, which he united with soon after he came to the county. He afterwards united with the Presbyterian society, and after his last marriage attended the Baptist church. He lived a consistent Christian life, avoiding the law; and having no political ambition, he secured the respect of all who knew him, and was blessed with the affection of his family and love of his friends. He survived all of his father's family save one, his brother, Alfred Phelps, who now resides in Troy, Michigan, who, at the ripe age of seventy-seven years. sheds a genial atmosphere on all who approach him. The old homestead is a lasting monument to its founder, in its elegant improvements and beautiful trees which adorn its spacious area.
Source: History of Oakland County, Michigan by Durant, Samuel W. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & co., 1877.