Sheldon Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Sheldon Meaning
The Sheldon surname derived
from place-names found in Derbyshire and Warwickshire in the English
Midlands. Sheldon here had its root in the Old
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
in Warwickshire (in the 1190 pipe rolls).

Sheldon Resources on

Sheldon Ancestry

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
moved his family to Rowley Regis in Staffordshire.

Subsequently Sheldons migrated
to Worcestershire, first leasing Abberton manor and then purchasing
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 Sheldons in Birmingham and its environs from the 1500’s.  Benjamin Sheldon, a file maker and gunsmith, 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
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.
Burselm in Staffordshire date from about 1650.

The Sheldons were local gentry at

in Derbyshire during the 17th century.
Philip Sheldon survived the great plague of 1665, but Agnes and
Sheldon did not.

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

Godfrey Sheldon from
Derbyshire was in Saco, Maine around 1660.
His son William, fleeing there because of Indian raids, moved to
Massachusetts where he died in 1691.
William’s son Godfrey had been killed by Indians in Maine; while
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
    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
  • 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

    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
    City; his daughter Delia Sheldon the mother of the
    Presbyterian missionary
    Sheldon Jackson who established more than a hundred new churches in the

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
    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
    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.

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
during World War One and lived onto 1960.


Sheldon Miscellany

The Sheldons at Cole Orton.  Ralph Sheldon quite late in life acquired land at Cole
Orton in Leicestershire in around the year 1533, possibly at the behest
of his
eldest son William who was to benefit from the rental income.  In Ralph’s will “all such colles as be
gotten at Colle Orton” were bequeathed to William.

That Ralph and William
could see the potential for coal was far-sighted for Henry VIII’s time,
its use as a fuel did not come into general use until the reign of King
I some eighty years later.

William prospered during his lifetime.  A
contemporary described him as “the
richest commoner in England,” someone who used his wealth to build a
portfolio or properties and investments. He died in 1575.  In his will he wrote as

I have compounded with Mr. Winter and the Earl of Huntingdon to make a
sough or
drain in Cole Orton to get coals therefrom, my executors are to
continue making
the same as the coal will be beneficial to my heirs and a great
commodity to a
great number of the Queen’s Majesty’s subjects to have the said coals
reasonable prices for their fuel, my son, Ralph, to have the issues of
my manor
of Cole Orton and of the said coal mine with contingent remainders.”

Sheldon family association with Cole Orton was to last for some two

Eyam – The Play.  In 1665 the plague had
infiltrated a small Derbyshire village via a tailor’s cloth brought
back from
London. The citizens faced a deeply dramatic dilemma: should they flee
and save
themselves or keep quarantine and prevent the plague spreading?  This dilemma was the basis of Matt Hartley’s
2018 play Eyam.

The Rev. William
Mompesson had arrived in Eyam, but initially failed to make friends
locals.  Tension bubbled up between him
and the local landowner Sheldon.  William
then called on the villagers to make the ultimate sacrifice.
unbelievably, they agreed.  The villagers
decided to stay and three quarters of them died.

In the show’s dying moments, Mompesson solemnly recited
the names of the 273 villagers who lost their lives
to the plague.

Reader Feedback – Sheldons in Birmingham.  There were Sheldons in Birmingham and its environs from the early 1500’s.  A notable resident was Rodger Sheldon who was baptized in 1561 at St Martins.  In the 16th and 17th centuries there were Sheldon town constables.  In the 18th century Sheldon births, marriages and deaths, were recorded at St Martins, St Philips, and Aston nearby.

By the time we get to early 1800’s there are at least 10 Sheldon businesses appearing in directories and gazettes (as scale beam makers, pen manufacturer, school mistress etc.).  The Ben Sheldon you mention in the early 1800’s was a great grandfather times eight of mine.

Rob Sheldon (

John Sheldon and the Deerfield Massacre.  Ensign
John Sheldon was at home in
Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1704 when the Indian raid happened.  Hacking and hewing the strong oaken door of
his house, the Indians made a hole through which they fired a shot that
killed his
wife.  Swarming into the house they
killed Mercy, aged three, and captured Mary and the two boys.

His eldest son
John and wife Hannah had jumped from their bedroom window at the first
alarm.  She sprained her ankle, but urged
him to leave her to bring help.  Binding
his bare feet with strips of blanket, he hurried down to Hatfield, about fourteen miles away, to give the
alarm.  His wife, along with three of his siblings, were taken
captive and
carried away to Canada.

The following year Ensign John Sheldon went to Canada and was able to
in the spring with five of the Deerfield captives, one of whom was
Hannah, his
son’s wife.  The negotiations usually involved the exchange of
“gifts” for the captives.  This
type of exchange was probably also instrumental in the return of
brothers Ebenezer and Remembrance and his sister Mary, all of whom were
back in
Deerfield by 1706.

John Sheldon moved to Hartford soon after 1707 and remarried there.  However, other Sheldons remained in
Deerfield.  Their home, which came to be
known as the Old Indian House, stood until 1848 when it was demolished.

The Rev. Henry O. Sheldon.  The Rev. Henry O. Sheldon was a vigorous, driving
man who made things happen. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut in
1799, moved
to Ohio in 1819, and died in Oberlin there in 1882.  He has been
called “the Tom
Paine of Ohio education,” being an early advocate and promoter of Ohio
University.  He kept a life-time journal which is now preserved in
the Firelands
Museum in Norwalk, Ohio.

He also developed early genealogical data about the
Sheldons in America.  This was in the
1850’s at the time when he was a circuit preacher riding some 3-4,000
miles a
vear from village to village and collecting data from those who shared
Sheldon surname.   He organized this information which he published
into what he called The Sheldon Magazine.

that time he documented five separate and apparently unrelated Sheldon
in America:

  • Godfrey Sheldon (1599-1671) of Saco and Scarborough, Maine
  • Isaac
    Sheldon (1629-1708) of Windsor, Connecticut
  • John Sheldon (1630-1708) of Rhode
  • John Sheldon (1628-1679) of Rhode Island
  • and Richard Sheldon (of which
    little was known).

Twenty years after
his death his leather-bound manuscript was passed onto Philetus
Sheldon for publishing.  Then it disappeared.
A copy was later discovered in 1955 in the
hands of John Layton Sheldon who said that his family had received it
around 1906.

Meanwhile the Sheldon Family Association (SFA) was
founded in 1939 by a group of Sheldon descendants, with the purpose of
furthering interest in their heritage and preserving their family
history.  The SFA is active today and holds
reunions for Sheldon members.

Herbert Sheldon Who Headed West.  Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, was telling
young men in the 1850’s: “Go west” and many like Herbert Sheldon did
that at that time.

In October, 1857 he left his home in New York to seek a
in the West.  He first went to northern
Iowa.  But when he learned of the
severity of the winters there he determined on a more southern location.

a boat at Dubuque, he went down to Hannibal, Missouri. The Hannibal
& St.
Joe Railroad was just starting, having a track laid out thirty miles to
a place
they had named Shelbina.  Getting on
board a construction train, he went out to the end of the road.  Four or five miles south of Shelbina he came
to a school and taught there for a five months’ term.

In the spring following he
rented a farm in that neighborhood for one year and returned to his
home in New
York and then to Vermont where he got married. Together he and his wife
returned to the farm he had rented.

Missouri at that time was a slave state and
most of their neighbors held slaves.  The
environment was anything but pleasant for those who had been reared in
atmosphere of a free state.

So in October 1858 they started across Missouri, a
distance of 300 miles, traveling in a covered wagon, their objective
Lawrence, Kansas.  From Lawrence they
went thirty-seven miles south to Ohio City in Franklin county where
purchased land and built a log cabin.

They survived the early traumas – fever
and ague and the great drought of 1860 – and stayed (although many
dispirited, had returned to the East).
Within a year of his settlement Herbert was elected a county
commissioner.  He was for four years
county clerk and for eight years register of deeds.
In 1871 he had built one of the finest
theaters in the state of Kansas at that time.
It was known as Sheldon Hall.

Herbert was married three times and lived
to the grand age of eighty-six, dying in 1917.



Sheldon Names

  • 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

Select Sheldon Numbers 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)


Select Sheldon and Like Surnames

Some surnames have originated from the English Midlands – the swathe of countryside which covers such counties as Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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