The Phillips family were important Philadelphia merchants and manufacturers over four generations.
John Phillips (1702-1762), the founder of the family in America, was the son of a Welsh curate. He ran away to sea and by his ability rose to be a successful merchant captain. Quarrelling with his wife's family, he determined to emigrate to America. He sailed to Barbadoes, and with the profits of the voyage purchased some sick slaves from the captain of a slave ship. These he restored to health and sailed to Philadelphia, where he established a rope-walk with his mate as foreman and the slaves as laborers. His son, John Phillips (1739-1806), continued the business.
William Phillips (1771-1845) clerked in the counting house of George Meade and became a merchant and importer. He began in the French trade, but later extended his operations to the West Indies, the Mediterranean and the Far East, generally trading Pennsylvania foodstuffs for rum, wine , spices and cloth. He maintained a large house in Philadelphia and a farm and summer home on the Delaware River north of the city. He also invested in city real estate and speculated in land in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Kentucky.
John Smith Phillips (1800-1876), the eldest son of William, was a skilled mechanic and manufacturer. His first venture was a partnership with Joseph S. Lovering in a sugar refinery, and he later joined his brother-in-law, David Lewis, in operating a cotton-weaving mill in Holmesburg. In 1825 Lewis, Phillips & Co. took a ten-year lease of the Old Sable Forge and Nail Works at Rockdale on Chester Creek and built a cotton mill with 200 power looms. The sugar refinery failed in 1826, and William, who had endorsed his sons notes, lost a portion of his fortune, while Lovering was briefly jailed for debt. By contributing his expertise to the textile business, John Phillips overcame his reverses. In 1835, when the Rockdale lease expired, he removed the operation to Fairmount in Philadelphia.
John S. Phillips was a founding member of the Franklin Institute in 1824. He was also a leading member of the Academy of Natural Sciences and an accomplished conchologist. In later life he invented a slide lathe to cut screws of irregular sizes and engaged in the manufacture of fine ivory turnings. He privately supported the technical training of young mechanics and assembled a large collection of Old Master prints and engravings, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
From the description of Business records, 1793-1838. (Hagley Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122503382