Select Shepherd Genealogy

Shepherd, as its name suggests, is an occupational name for someone employed to tend and watch over sheep.  Its origins are the Old English sceap meaning “sheep” and hierde meaning “herdsman.”  The German equivalent is Schaefer.

Shepherd, Shephard, Sheppard, and Shepard
are the main surname variants today.  Shepherd and Sheppard seem to divide geographically.  Shepherd has been a name of northern England and is also in Scotland; while Sheppard was more found in SW England.  Shepard is commoner in America than it is in England today.

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Select Shepherd Ancestry

EnglandShepherd and Sheppard surnames divide between southern and northern England.

Southern England
.  The earliest Shepherd references appear to have been in the south of England.  Some have the surname originating in Dorset. 
It is claimed that records from before the 10th century showed a notable Shepherd family from Dorset with battle-axes on their coat of arms.

The Sheppard spelling tended to take preference in the south.
  Shepherdes from Cambridgeshire later became Sheppards.  William Sheppard acquired the Littlecote manor in Buckinghamshire in 1507.  It remained in family hands until the late 19th century.  Two notable Sheppards were to be found at Oxford, both with affiliations to Magdalene College:
  • John Sheppard, a court composer at the time of Henry VIII
  • and Fleetwood Sheppard, a courtier and literary wit of the late 1600’s.
However, the Sheppard spelling generally had a more westward direction.  The main numbers in the 1891 census were in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Somerset:
  • in Wiltshire Henry Shepherd was born in Aldbourne in 1620.  The name here subsequently changed to Sheppard.  They owned the village bakery.  The Sheppards of Purton dated from the 1640’s; while the first recorded Sheppard in Figheldean was Nias Sheppard who was born there in 1733.
  • William Sheppard, Cromwell’s law reformer, was born in Whitminster, Gloucestershire in 1595.  And Sheppards were prominent at Michinhampton near Stroud from the 1650’s.  Edward Sheppard who had made his fortune as a clothier built Gatcombe Park there in the 1770’s.  Unfortunately the family went bankrupt forty years later and the estate had to be sold.
  • while the Sheppards were an important family of Frome in Somerset as clothiers during the 18th century. The first recorded was John Sheppard, a cardboard maker, who was born there in 1614.  The family history was recounted in Derek Gill’s The Sheppards and 18th Century Frome
Northern England.  Shepherds have been more numerous in northern England, although there has been less record of them. 

The earliest sightings were probably in Westmorland.  One Shepherd family, dating back to the 1500’s, became landed gentry from their home at Shaw End near Kendal.  Arthur Shepherd, Westmorland’s oldest magistrate, died there in 1909.  His grandson Arthur Shepherd, the heir apparent, perished in the Great War in 1917.  Another Shepherd family, dating to the late 1600’s, was to be found at Sedbergh.  They migrated to Stanningley near Leeds in the 1830’s. 

Henry Shepherd, a Beverley solicitor in the East Riding of Yorkshire in the early 1800’s, is remembered for the diaries he kept at that time.  Frederick Shepherd founded the Shepherd building company in York in 1900.  His descendants still feature in what is now one of the largest privately-owned UK construction companies.

Channel Islands.  The Shepherd name also appeared in the Channel Islands.  The first time it was recorded there was at the marriage of Lanvrenic Shepheard and Marie de Quetteville at Grouville in Jersey in 1703.

.  The Shepherd name also crops up in NE Scotland.  The form Scyphard appeared in Elgin as early as 1363.  Shepherds were later to be found on the Moray coast and in Aberdeen and Angus. 

In the Jacobite Rising of 1745 at least three Angus Shepherds served in Ogilvy's regiment, one of whom was later transported to the American colonies.  Dr. John Leege Shepherd departed Aberdeen for Iowa sometime in the 1880's; while Nan Shepherd, born just outside Aberdeen in 1893, made her name as a writer and poet in Scotland

Ireland.   Shepherds in Ireland were from England:
  • Thomas Shepherd from Shropshire was a captain with Cromwell's army in 1649 who was awarded lands at Castle John in Tipperary.  Castle John stayed with the Shepherds until the mid-1800's.  One line of these Shepherds departed for America in the 1680's. 
  • another line of Shepherds, this time from Durham, were Quakers and came to Tyrone in the 1660's because of religious intolerance at home.  Solomon Shepherd left for Pennsylvania in the 1720's.
The few Shepherds in Ireland at the time of Griffith's Valuation in the 1850's were mainly in Ulster - in Tyrone and county Down.

AmericaThe extent of the Shepard name presence in America may well have been attributable to three early Shepard arrivals in New England – Ralph, Thomas and Edward.  The family lines of these Shepards were covered in Gerald Shepard’s 1973 book The Shepard Families of New England.

New England
Ralph Shepard and his wife Thanklord (or Thank ye the Lord) had married in London in 1632 and they departed for New England on the Abigail three years later.  After several moves they eventually settled in Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-1660’s.  Two of their sons, Isaac and Jacob, were slain by Indians in 1676.

Thomas Shepard, a Puritan minister from Northamptonshire, came on the Defence in 1635 and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Although his life in America was not long (he died in 1649), he was regarded in New England as one of the foremost Puritan ministers of his time.  Three of Shepard's sons followed him into the ministry – Thomas, Samuel and Jeremiah.  Edward Shepard from Essex, a sea captain, also settled in Cambridge, arriving four years later in 1639.  He lived there until 1680. 

William Shepard from Suffolk was another Shepard immigrant around this time.  It was said that his son John had been brought to Westfield, Massachusetts as an infant after William had been killed by a shark in Boston harbor. John’s grandson William, whose statue can be found in Westfield, distinguished himself in the Revolutionary War. 

John Shepherd from Yorkshire came to Massachusetts around 1690.  His son John adopted the Shepard spelling and made his home in New Hampshire.  A descendant is the astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to walk in space in 1961.

.  Robert Sheppard from Gloucestershire arrived at the Jamestown colony on the Hopewell in 1624, aged 20. His children, including the Rev. John Shepherd, became Shepherds.  Another Rev. John Shepherd, related to the New England Ralph and Thomas Shepards, was a pastor in Middlesex county from 1668 to 1683.  Later Shepherds here settled in Anson county, North Carolina. 

William Sheppard acquired the Meadow Farm property in Henrico county in 1713.  Seven generations of the Sheppard family lived at Meadow Farm until it was donated to Henrico county as a museum in 1975.

Uriah Shepherd meanwhile migrated from Lee county, Virginia to eastern Kentucky in the early 1800’s and later settled in Alabama.

.  In 1683 various Shepherds from Ireland came to what was then West Jersey and settled along the Cohansey river in Cumberland county:  
  • branches of the family also made their home in North Carolina and Maryland.
  • Shepherdstown in West Virginia was named after Thomas Shepherd who died there in 1776.
  • elsewhere the family spelling often became Sheppard.  The Quaker Sheppards in Philadelphia, Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, lost much of their property at that time.  But Moses Sheppard later prospered as a merchant in Baltimore.
From Philadelphia, born in 1728, also came John Shepherd, a Revolutionary War veteran who lived to the grand old age of 117.

Thomas Shepherd died in Charles county, Maryland in 1817.  Five years later his son Alexander left to seek his fortune in Washington DC, the new nation’s capital.  But it was Alexander’s son Alexander Robey Shepherd, known as Boss Shepherd, who was to leave his mark on the city in the decade after the Civil War.

Canada.  There were early Shepherds at Harbour Grace in Newfoundland, beginning with Francis Shepheard from the Channel Island of Jersey.  He may have been trading at Harbour Grace as early as 1705.  A later Francis Shepherd reported in 1775 that his family had been living there “for upwards of ninety years.”  Another early settler, Martin Shepherd, came from Guernsey.

The spelling on Newfoundland could be either Shepherd or Sheppard.  John Sheppard from Dublin settled in Spaniard’s Bay sometime in the 1770’s.  His Sheppards were Protestant.

Australia and New Zealand
.  James Shepherd was convicted of horse stealing in Surrey in 1785 and spent six years in cramped convict quarters before being transported to Australia on the Matilda in 1791.  Three years later he received his conditional pardon, married, and spent the rest of his life as a farmer on his Thorn Farm at Kissing Point near Sydney.  He died in 1847 at the good age of 84. 

From Kissing Point came Isaac Shepherd a farmer and his son James Shepherd an Anglican missionary. 

“James Shepherd and his family advertised in the Sydney Gazette in 1821 that they were soon to leave the colony in the Brig Hope for New Zealand as missionaries.” 

William Horder Sheppard was born in Fordingbridge in Hampshire in 1829 and emigrated with his brother James to Australia and later to New Zealand in the 1850’s, settling in the Taranaki district

Select Shepherd Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Shepherd Names

Fleetwood Sheppard was a notable English courtier and literary wit of the late 1600’s.
Thomas Shepard
 was a prominent Puritan minister in early 17th century New England.
Nan Shepherd was a Scottish novelist and poet whose work first appeared in the 1920’s. 
Alan Shepard was an American astronaut, the first American to travel in space in 1961. 
David Sheppard was a high-profile Anglican Bishop of Liverpool who had played cricket for England as a young man.
Sam Shepard
is a highly acclaimed American playwright, actor, screenwriter and director.
Cybill Shepherd
 is a well-known American actress.

Select Shepherds Today
  • 65,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 51,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 37,000 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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