Sheldon


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The Sheldon surname derived from place-names found in Derbyshire and Warwickshire in the English Midlands. Sheldon here had its root in the Old English words scylf meaning “shelf” or “ledge” and dun meaning “hill” – i.e. a hill with a flat top. 

The early spellings were Scelhadun in Derbyshire (in the 1086 Domesday Book) and Scheldon in Warwickshire (in the 1190 pipe rolls)
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EnglandThe English families named Sheldon initially divided into Warwickshire and Derbyshire Sheldons.  Among the Warwickshire Sheldons were several lines of knightly, landed gentry.  The Derbyshire Sheldons on the other hand were mainly yeomen farmers, although one of them – Gilbert Sheldon – did rise to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1663.

Warwickshire
.  These Sheldons first appeared in the parish of Sheldon, now a suburb of Birmingham.  Around the time of the Black Death in the 14th century, Ralph Sheldon moved his family to Rowley Regis in Staffordshire.

Subsequently Sheldons migrated to Worcestershire, first leasing Abberton manor and then purchasing Beoley manor.  Ralph Sheldon acquired land at Broadway in 1539 at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and built a manor there.

Ralph also acquired land around this time at Cole Orton in Leicestershire.  Cole Orton was so named because it had coal seams.  Ralph’s son William and his descendants would grow rich from this coal. 
William also started weaving tapestries in workshops he had set up.  These tapestries are on display today at a number of museums and stately homes around the country.

Later Sheldons were supporters of the Stuart cause.  Ralph Sheldon was a Royalist at the time of the Civil War.  Domenic Sheldon served in James II’s Irish army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and afterwards, in exile, joined the French army.


These Sheldons were covered in E.A.B. Barnard’s 1935 book The Sheldon Family of Worcestershire and Warwickshire.


There were no early Sheldon lines recorded in Birmingham or its environs.  The first recorded appears to have been Benjamin Sheldon, a file maker and gunsmith, who was working there in the early 1800’s.


Derbyshire
.  The Sheldon place and name here originated in the Peak District near the town of Bakewell.  The earliest recorded, from the 1623 Visitation of Derbyshire, was Richard Sheldon of the village of Monyash, born around 1385.  Richard Sheldon in the 1662 Visitation showed a Sheldon pedigree of ten generations from this Richard.  Isaac Sheldon who emigrated to America was also of this tenth generation.

Just across the county boundary in Staffordshire, several Sheldons were recorded in the villages of Ellastone and Alstonefield from the 1550’s onwards.  Ellastone was the birthplace in 1598 of Godfrey Sheldon who was to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Sheldons at Burselm in Staffordshire date from about 1650. 

The Sheldons were local gentry at Eyam in Derbyshire during the 17th century.  Philip Sheldon survived the great plague of 1665, but Agnes and Thomas Sheldon did not.

Later.  The 1881 census showed that the main bulk of Sheldons remained in the West Midlands.  But they had shifted northwards with the main numbers being in Staffordshire and additional numbers in Cheshire and Lancashire. Sheldons were noticeable in Staffordshire at Tipton, Leek and West Bromwich.  

America.
  Early Sheldons came to New England.  


Godfrey Sheldon from Derbyshire was in Saco, Maine around 1660.  His son William, fleeing there because of Indian raids, moved to Salem, Massachusetts where he died in 1691.  William’s son Godfrey had been killed by Indians in Maine; while his daughter Susannah became one of the main accusers during the Salem witch trials in 1692. 

One descendant through a son Skelton was Asa Sheldon, born in 1788.  He was a farmer in Wilmington, Massachusetts and wrote his Life of Asa G. Sheldon: Wilmington Farmer in 1862. 

Isaac Sheldon had arrived in Windsor, Connecticut also from Derbyshire sometime in the 1650’s.  His descendants were numerous.  When he died in 1708 he was reported to have had fourteen children and 114 grandchildren. Descendants are said to have included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Humphrey Bogart and Franklin Roosevelt. 

Sheldon descendants here have included:
  • Ensign John Sheldon who survived the Deerfield massacre by Indians in Massachusetts in 1704.  Sheldons did remain in Deerfield afterwards.  George Sheldon, born in 1818, lived to be ninety-eight.  He founded in Deerfield one of the first historic preservation societies in America.  
  • Seth Sheldon from Hartford, Connecticut who headed north to Vermont in the 1790’s.  His son Seth settled in western New York in 1826 and his grandson Herbert Sheldon moved to Kansas in 1857. 
  • and Alexander Sheldon from Hartford, Connecticut who moved to Montgomery county, New York around the year 1800.  He was the Speaker of the New York State Assembly from 1804 to 1812, the last Speaker to wear the Cocked Hat as a badge of office.  His son Smith Sheldon was a successful Albany merchant who established the publishing house of Sheldon and Co in New York City; his daughter Delia Sheldon the mother of the Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson who established more than a hundred new churches in the West.
John Sheldon also arrived in New England sometime in the 1650’s.  He made his home in Rhode Island.  The main line of descent was through his son John and grandson Isaac:
  • one Quaker line here moved from Rhode Island to upstate New York in the late 1700’s.  Wallace Sheldon left there in 1875 for San Francisco and made his name as an architectural engineer and builder along the California coast.   
  • while another line of Baptist ministers was in Ohio by the early 1800’s.  The Rev. Henry O. Sheldon was a well-known itinerant preacher and educational promoter there.
South Africa.  Charles Sheldon from Providence, Rhode Island was the captain of the American ship Abby and Sally that was wrecked off Table Bay in Cape Colony in 1808.

Thomas Sheldon was a trader from Somerset who came to the Cape Colony as a young man sometime in the 1870’s.  His mother and two sisters joined him and they settled in the Paarl district.  He was captain of the Paarl District Mounted Troops at the time of the Boer War.  His son Thomas distinguished himself in the campaigns in German South West Africa during World War One and lived onto 1960
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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


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Gilbert Sheldon was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1663 until his death in 1677.
Wallace Sheldon
was a notable architectural engineer and builder along the California coast in the early 1900’s.
Sidney Sheldon
, born Sidney Schechtel, was a prominent TV producer and writer of romantic novels in America during the 1970’s
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Select Sheldons Today
  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous in Staffordshire)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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