Shelton Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Shelton Surname Meaning

The English Shelton surname derived from the place-name Shelton that was to be found in Nottinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Shropshire and Staffordshire.  The root of the name was the Old English scylf, meaning “shelf” or “ledge,” and tun, meaning “settlement.

Shelton Surname Resources on The Internet

Shelton Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Norfolk and Nottinghamshire) and from Ireland
  • to America (incl. African American), Caribs (Jamaica) and Australia

EnglandThe Shelton place-name near Long Stratton in Norfolk provided an early prominent Shelton family.

Norfolk.  John de Shelton, born around 1140, was the first lord of the manor of Shelton.  It was said that Nicholas de Shelton was among those barons presenting the Magna Carta to King John in 1216; while Ralph Shelton was knighted for his services on the field of battle at Crecy in 1346.

By the Tudor period Sheltons were living at Shelton Hall in Shelton (long since demolished) and at the manor house at Great Snoring (still standing). Sir John Shelton and his wife Anne were entrusted with the custody of the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth as children, partly because Anne was the aunt of Queen Anne Boleyn and the mother of Mary Shelton, said to have been the mistress of Henry VIII during his marriage to Anne.

Hugh Astley in his 1908 book Memorials of Old Norfolk has suggested the following:

“John Skelton, poet laureate in Tudor times, may well have been of the Shelton family.  The poet had a Norfolk background and the names of Shelton and Skelton seem to have been used indiscriminately at that time.”  

The Sheltons were never so close to the English throne again.  Sir Ralph Shelton, the 26th in the line of these Sheltons, was the last to live at Shelton Hall.  He died in a battle off the coast of France in 1628, leaving no children.  However, there were related Shelton lines established in Ireland and, later possibly, in America.

Elsewhere.  The Sheltons have left little footprint in Norfolk.  There were only 21 Sheltons recorded in Norfolk by the time of the 1881 census.

The largest number at that time, representing 14% of all Sheltons in England, was in Nottinghamshire.  That county had its own Shelton place-name, in the south of the county near Newark, and John de Shelton first held the manor there. The manor later passed into other hands, but the Shelton surname remained.

Shelton lines in the proximity of Nottingham in the 18th century began with the following marriages:

  • that of Robert Shelton and Sarah White at Stoke Bardolph in 1780
  • that of William Shelton and Sarah Lee at Attenborough in 1781.
  • and that of William Shelton and Martha Slack at Gedling in 1784.

Sheltons have been recorded at Gedling since the 1600’s.

From Nottinghamshire, the Shelton name extended across the Midlands into Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, and Staffordshire. Benjamin Shelton married Esther Langston in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire in 1774.

Ireland.  John Shelton from Norfolk came to Ireland and was the Mayor of Dublin in 1537.  His son Henry was its Sheriff in 1579 and his grandson John was to have been the Mayor in 1604, but was denied because he was a Catholic. Thomas Shelton, possibly his brother, was educated in Spain and arranged for Cervantes’ Don Quixote to be published in an English translation in London in 1612.

The Conyers and Sheltons were Protestant gentry in the Castletown area of Limerick.  The Sheltons were to be found there from the early 1700’s.  Captain John Shelton had fought with the Royal Dragoons of Ireland under Marlborough and died in Belgium; while a later Captain John Shelton fought under Wellington in the Peninsular Wars and at Waterloo where he was severely wounded but survived.

Their Castletown home was Rossmore House.  The Rev. Grantley Shelton was an Anglican minister there in the 1850’s.  Interestingly, there were also Catholic Sheltons living in the area.

America.  The main Shelton influx into America was through Virginia.  The first here was Captain James Shelton who arrived in Jamestown in 1610, but later departed for Bermuda where he died in 1668.

Virginia.  Some of the early arrivals – from the 1630’s to the 1660’s – probably came as indentured servants.  It was hard to keep track of them – their spellings often shifting around between Shelton, Skelton, Chilton, and other similar-sounding names.  However, it was not the case, as some have suggested, that they all come from one source.

John Chilton had arrived in Northampton county in 1666 and later moved to Westmoreland county where he built his plantation house Currioman.  This home remained with his Chilton descendants.

The origins of John Shelton who built the plantation house Rural Plains in Hanover county are uncertain.  According to family lore, John and two brothers came to America together, with John settling in Virginia and another brother going to New England.  That version of the family has never been possible to prove. 

John’s son John inherited Rural Plains on his death in 1725.  A line through another son David led to Colonel Joseph and Major Thomas Shelton, brothers who both fought in the Revolutionary War.

Ralph Shelton had been born in Middlesex county, Virginia around 1685.  During his lifetime he moved to Essex, Amelia, Louisa and then to Pittsylvania county where he died in 1771.

One line of his descendants migrated to North Carolina, Tennessee, and later to Arkansas.  Edmond Shelton, born in 1827, married in Tennessee, and then brought his wife and four children to Arkansas where they got malaria and all died. Edmund remarried and had more children. In the Civil War he fought in the Confederate army, was captured by the Yankees, and died in prison.

Meanwhile the line from Jeremiah Shelton, born around 1740 in Amelia county, led to his son Jeremiah who moved to Kentucky sometime in the 1790’s.  His family was the subject of Kenneth Shelton’s 1987 book The Shelton Trek Across Kentucky.  Some later Sheltons in Kentucky, thought to have been Irish in origin, were the forebears of the Shelton bootlegging gang in southern Illinois in the early 1900’s.  

A Shelton line out of Louisa county, Virginia led to David Shelton who came to Talbot county, Georgia in the 1830’s.  His plantation was soon one of the largest in Georgia, with 90 slaves recorded there in 1850.  Then there were the descendants of Thomas Shelton who left Louisa county for North Carolina and then to Georgia and Texas.

Some Virginia Sheltons departed for Alabama:

  • John Shelton married Carolina Messer in Virginia around 1810 and they moved to Jackson county, Alabama in 1833.  
  • George Shelton who had married Jane Johnston in Virginia in 1820 had already left for Fayette county, Alabama in 1824.  After George’s death in 1857, Jane moved the family from Alabama to Arkansas.

African American.  Sheltons were plantation owners and slave holders in the South and the Shelton numbers were boosted by slaves or freed slaves adopting the Shelton name.  One such was Pollard Shelton who was born a slave in North Carolina and became free in Alabama.  Frederick Shelton had been a slave in Arkansas who lived long enough to have his reminiscences recorded in the 1930’s. 

Elsewhere.  Daniel Shelton was first recorded as a merchant in Stratford, Connecticut in 1687.

“According to family tradition, Daniel Shelton was sailing in his own ship when it was wrecked off the coast of Connecticut, cut off by the Indians and prevented from returning to his people in Virginia.”  

The Shelton name has been perpetuated in Stratford.  One part of the town is named Shelton after a descendant, Edward Shelton, who founded the Ousatonic Water Power Company and started the Shelton Company there.

Caribbean.  Shelton was an early name in Jamaican history.  John Shelton received a land grant from Charles II in Jamaica in 1674. A generation later his grandson, also named John, bought neighboring lands in St. Ann parish to make a large sugar plantation which he named the Richmond Estate.  This estate was sold in 1784.

Australia.  Early Shelton arrivals in Australia were convicts:

  • William Shelton from Limerick in Ireland who was transported on the Andromeda to Sydney in 1830
  • and Thomas Shelton from Nottinghamshire who was transported on the Circassian to Tasmania in 1832.

Shelton Surname Miscellany

Shelton Hall in Norfolk.  Ralph Shelton was the first Shelton to rise into Tudor prominence.  He was present at the coronation of Henry VII in 1485, was knighted, and built the family home of Shelton Hall.

Sir Ralph’s semi-fortified “investment in personal safety” at Shelton has long since disappeared.  But some idea of what Shelton Hall looked like can be got from the still-standing Oxborough Hall.  Sir Ralph’s daughter had married Sir Edmund Bedingfeld and their house, Oxborough, is thought to have been built along the lines of Shelton Hall.

The only remains of Shelton Hall today are the below ground-level walls and the wetness of the moat. 

Sir Ralph Shelton Who Died in 1628.  Sir Ralph Shelton, born at Shelton Hall in Norfolk in 1560, was the 26th in line of the Lords of Shelton that dated back to the twelfth century. He was the last to have had a royal connection.  He served as the minister to Spain in 1611 and subsequently was secretary to the Prince of Wales (who became Charles I).  He had previously, around 1606, sold his Norfolk estates.

Sir Ralph died in 1628 off the coast of France – being caught up in a skirmish between Catholics and Huguenots on the Isle of Rhea.

He was married twice, to Dorothy Jermyn and to Jane West, but apparently had no children.

However, some sources have suggested that there were in fact four children to these marriages.  One of these children was said to have been the James Shelton who came to Virginia in June 1610 with his relative Lord Delaware.  Other sources have disputed this connection.

Reader Feedback – John Shelton, Sheriff of Dublin.   Is there any confirmed evidence that John Shelton who was Sheriff of Dublin in 1537 actually came from Norfolk in England? I’ve been hunting for ages now and still can’t find a connection.

Lyn Shelton (

Reader Feedback – Sheltons at Rossmore House in Limerick.  I have a Susan Shelton, born in 1802, who married William Upton (Newcastle West Limerick/Cork) a cavalry officer born at Ballcottin(ton) in county Cork, and later married a man named Agar.

Can you elaborate on your writings of the families of Shelton at Rossmore House of Castletown in Limerick?  Rossmore was previously held by the Conyers, I have two Conyers great grandmothers (cousin marriages across three generations).

Who were the daughters of these Shelton men at Rossmore House, (John, Robert, Grantley and Deane)? Deane is a bit too late, but the thought is – could one of these Shelton women have married a Conyers and had a Conyers daughter (Elizabeth, Catherine or Mary Conyers) who was one of my great grandmothers?

FYI: look up Upton Family Records (1893) by William Henry Upton of Walla Walla, Washington state at the Internet Archive, (photographic copy of the book can be viewed for free!).  Also, look up Higginson Publishing for family history books (Salem MA).

Mark Upton (

John Shelton’s Plantation House Rural Plains in Hanover County, Virginia.  There was a historical bed in John Shelton’s plantation home Rural Plains.  It was said to have been listed in the Doomsday book in 1086 and that Queen Elizabeth used the bed at one time.  For a time it was also said to have been located at Shelton Hall in Norfolk.

Visitors to the house have included Dolly Payne (later Dolly Madison, wife of President James Madison), General John Hancock, and Patrick Henry who spent the first years of his married life there. Patrick Henry had married John Shelton’s daughter Sarah there in 1754. According to popular lore the marriage took place in the house’s first floor parlor.

Dating back to the 1720’s, Rural Plains is the oldest home in the United States in continuous possession of one family. It was damaged by Confederate cannonballs during the Civil War in 1864.  Rural Plains remained with the Shelton family until 2001. The house was then dedicated to the National Park Service in 2006 as part of a 124-acre historic park.

The Shelton Trek from Alabama to Arkansas.  After the death of her husband George Shelton in 1857, his widow Jane – with her son George and two of her married daughters Laura and Mary and their families – left Alabama for a new home in what turned out to be Arkansas.

They had two wagons, with two yokes of cattle to each wagon.  All of the family walked, except for the little children who were too small to walk. They had two big tents that they would put up at night to sleep in.

They went by land until they reached the Tennessee river, then by boat as far as Cairo, Illinois.  From there, they went to St. Louis and again traveled by land until they reached Kansas.

They stayed awhile in Kansas with John Kirkland and his wife, Olleva who was Jane’s sister. However, they soon decided to move onto Arkansas. There Jane’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband were already living.

The area in which they lived later became Logan county.  Jane lived there until her death in 1888.  Son George, however, died in a Civil War prisoner-of-war camp in 1863.

Reader Feedback – Sheltons in Bootlegging.  There are many Sheltons in Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee that played a big part in the bootlegging business in the early 1900’s from Chicago to St. Louis to Nashville and beyond. Also the Shelton gang in the early 1900’s was fairly famous around those parts.

Rrosa (

Thomas Shelton Transported to Australia.  Thomas Shelton appeared to have gone from Arnold to Papplewick in Nottinghamshire to commit his crime of stealing oak.  Following his conviction in early 1832, he was initially sent to the convict hulk Justitia, moored on the Thames, leaving behind a wife Anne and eleven children.

He had to wait until October and move to Plymouth before he could embark on the Circassion.  It took 125 days to make the journey to Tasmania and 186 male prisoners, including Shelton, were disembarked at Hobart in February 1833.

There is some evidence that seven years of transportation failed to cure Shelton of his criminal ways. He received a second sentence of transportation, this time for life, in 1844.

Shelton Names

  • Sir John Shelton was a powerful Tudor courtier during the reign of Henry VIII.   
  • John Shelton was a large landowner and banker in Texas after the Civil War. 
  • Anne Shelton, born Patricia Sibley, was a popular English singer for soldiers during the Second World War.

Shelton Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Nottinghamshire)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Shelton and Like Surnames

The Anglo-Saxon word tun meaning “settlement” gave rise to many place-names with the suffix “-ton.”  And the place-name could become a surname describing someone who came from that place.  Sometimes the name was specific to just one location; but often the place-name could be found in various places and the surname would also crop up in a number of locations.  These are some of these place-name surnames that you can check out here.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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