Mr Carlton Thomas Phelps was born on a farm in New Ashford, Berkshire, Massachusetts on 13 October 1867. He was the son of George W. Phelps and Celestia Beach.
Schooled in his local community and with a lifelong love of rural affairs, he set his mind to a legal profession; through a natural talent, he entered the Boston University Law School and completed a three-year course ahead of schedule, graduating in 1891. That same year he opened an office in North Adams, Massachusetts where he practised as a lawyer; three years later in 1894 and at the age of 27 he was a successful candidate for the state legislature, serving for two years. In 1895 he was appointed special justice of the district court and two years later was named presiding justice by the State Governor. For several years he was also vice president of the North Adams National Bank.
In August 1886 Phelps married Welsh immigrant Virginia Turner, a resident of North Adams; the couple went on to have three children: Christine (later Mrs Clarence Kimball), Arthur Carlton and Gordon Winfield (later an attorney), with their middle child Arthur dying as a toddler.
In April 1912 Judge Phelps, his wife and their friends Mr and Mrs William H. Pritchard were first cabin passengers aboard the Carpathia, en route to a vacation in Europe. Once the survivors of the Titanic had been rescued, the party showed them many kindnesses, including giving up their staterooms and sharing clothing and other essentials. Phelps’ description of the rescue was printed in The North Adams Transcript on 20 April 1912.
With their experiences not deterring them, the Phelps and Pritchard couples continued their journey aboard Carpathia, returning to the US towards the close of June but refusing to be further drawn to comment on the Titanic disaster.
Judge Phelps and his wife remained in North Adams and remained avid travellers. In 1938, after 41 years on the bench, Phelps retired.
Carlton Thomas Phelps died on 7 April 1940 at the age of 72 and he was buried in a family plot in Southview Cemetery.