Junius marks the 52nd and final post in the Know Your Neighbours blog series.
Thank you to everyone who followed for the past year. I hope you enjoyed learning about all of the amazing, noteworthy people that helped build this wonderful city. Although this blog is ending, please keep your eye open for the new upcoming blog series: “Ask Alicia!”
(Please note due to a changeover in our blog platform, for all those who missed the earlier posts, the series will be reposted beginning with the first post).
Oliver Seymour Phelps (a.k.a. Junius)
Oliver Seymour Phelps was born on January 12th, 1816 to parents Oliver Phelps Esq. (1779-1851) and Abigail St. John Phelps (1783-1871) in Ludlowville, New York. He was the twelfth son of the 17 children had by the Phelps’, and went by Seymour rather than Oliver.
Phelps lived with his family in Ludlowville for the first ten years of his life until he and his family moved to St. Catharines. Oliver S. Phelps remained in St. Catharines for 43 years. On October 27th, 1840 he achieved his certificate of naturalization as a Canadian resident.
Phelps was married to his first wife, Hester Ann Dexter on May 6th, 1838. Dexter was born in Manlius, New York on February 18th, 1816 and died in Lewiston, New York on January 26th, 1849 at the age of 32 years. Phelps was married a second time to Eliza Rebecca Layton, also of Lockport, New York, on July 31st, 1850 with whom he had his only child, Frank Orson Phelps, born on December 1st, 1860.
Oliver Seymour Phelps is remembered in St. Catharines for articles he wrote under the pseudonym “Junius” titled “A Walk Around Town”, which were published in the St. Catharines Journal from 1856 to 1857. Junius’ articles are highly detailed and tell stories of people, places, events, the Welland Canal, even Temperance movements in St. Catharines at that time. The column was bursting with extravagant and embellished language that some people found to be over the top, however he was shrewd and insightful; each article packed with detail, thoroughly documenting factual, historic accounts. The articles were titled sequentially using the alphabet (Walk A, Walk B and so on until he reached Z).
There are various possible reasons that Phelps chose to remain behind the name Junius but there is no documentation that he actually spoke of this reason. The name Junius can be traced back to that of a Roman clan. There were two well-known Juniuses in ancient Rome: the founder of the Roman Republic in 509 BC, Lucius Junius Brutus; and the man who killed Julius Caesar, defender of personal freedom, Marcus Junius Brutus. However, local historian Alun Hughes believed that Phelps chose the moniker to emulate a different Junius; a man who wrote an anonymous series of letters in 18th century England, to the London Public Advertiser. England’s Junius, however was known for being brutally negative, especially toward the government of that time; whereas St. Catharines’ Junius prided himself on being respectful and stated in one article that he: “designed to write or publish nothing that would give offence to any one…Our chief intention has been to please and amuse, as well as to enlighten and instruct as far as we are able…”
While the articles were being published, the true identity of Junius was never revealed, however citizens were intrigued and wanted to know his true identity. There were a number of investigations and many guesses as to who wrote the column but it is not known when his true identity was ever discovered.
In 1869, Phelps moved to Portland, Oregon with his family, where he became a judge. He eventually published a history of the Phelps family and was ambitious in his search for genealogical information. He even wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln dated June 28, 1860, requesting information on his family and genealogical documents to which he believed Lincoln might have access. In his letter he also affirmed his support and belief that Lincoln would be voted in as President.
Oliver Seymour Phelps died on July 22nd, 1902 in Viola, Oregon.