Getting in Trouble in Early Rhode Island: John SHELDEN / SHELDON of Newport & Kingstown

Getting in Trouble in Early Rhode Island: John SHELDEN / SHELDON of Newport & Kingstown

I have come to love the ancestors that got into mischief and survived to be my ancestors. Such is the case of my dear John SHELDEN and one of the first records of him on these shores. I, like my cousin Dale SHELDON find his escapade a delightful insight into our ancestor.


From The RI Court Records Vol 1 pg 37

John Sheldon Beinge by Recognzence bownd to this Court and by the Cenrl Aturny indicted for an afray by Disorderly Carridges acted in and at Thomas Coulds howse on the 6th janr 1657. The jurry impanelled: upon the Traverce pleads not guilty And refferrs him Selfe to god and Guntry for Tryall.”John Sheldon Beinge by Recognzence bownd to this Court and by the Cenrl Aturny indicted for an afray by Disorderly Carridges acted in and at Thomas Coulds howse on the 6th janr 1657.

The jurry returned and their answer is that the indictments came not Soe orderly to them as to justify them to give in A verditt because it had not beine passed on by A grand in quest before hand.

Thomas Gould Robert Griffin Edmund Audly John Sheldon and Thomas Winterton all of newptt Beinge bownd over to this Court for Disorders Done at Thomas Goulds house on Wedensday night the sixt of January last and the Court haveinge had A verry strict and a Searious hereinge and inquiry into the matter are convinced that the sayd persons in their then drinkinge helths intended nothing against the dignity of his highnes the lord protector, &cr thay also Solemly Denyinge any indignity intended in the same, and also confesinge their sorrow for their Rude and unorderly Caridges at the afore-sayd time and place, and of makeinge soe much disturbance therby and promisinge every one of them to Endeavour to avoyd the licke Disorderly actions againe, the Court are pleased noe longer to continue the sayd persons to stand bownd but upon paying Fees due to officers of Court thay are Discharged by proclamation in open Court.”

To place these transgressions in context let us have a closer look at the laws he violated.

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Laws against Drunkenness From The Records of the Colony of RI Vol 1 pg 186

Apparently a dim view of drunkenness was taken by the Colony of Rhode Island. It looks as if the young men got off with a fine of five shillings, being sufficiently repentant. The charge of speaking against the Lord Proctor (Oliver Cromwell as acting head of England), a much more serious charge could have much more serious consequences. See the consequence should they have been convicted. (Hung, cut down drawn and quartered).

Since we do not see our John SHELDEN back in the court records it seems he must have learned his lesson. What else can we learn from this record?

If you have been reading  my blog posts on gophering you will realize that looking closer at the friends of your ancestors may provide dividends. So we have John SHELDEN’s friends who were arrested and charged with him: Thomas Gould, Robert Griffin, Edmund Audly and Thomas Winterton, who else is a part of this record? We have the Pettit  jurors who heard his case. Remember when searching for origins across the pond everyone your ancestor came in contact with is a potential clue. And back in 1657 Rhode Island people knew each other. It truly was a jury of your peers. In 1650 the total population of Rhode Island was 785 and by 1660 1539. So for Newport it was likely a few hundred at most. So who was on the jury:

  • Mr. John EASTON, foreman (1624-1705) bpt 15 Dec 1622 Romsey, Hampshire
  • Edward ENMAN (INMAN) (bc1620-1706) possibly bpt 25 Aug 1616 Edward INMAN s of William at Wootton Wawen, Warcs.
  • Capt. Thomas COOKE (1600-1677) 13 Apr 1600 in Netherbury, Dorsetshire, England
  • James BADECOCKE (1612-1607) unknown possibly Redford, Semele, Warwickshire
  • Thomas LAYTON (1614-1681) 17 Apr 1614 in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England
  • Mr Peter EASTON (1624-1705) bro of John above bpt 19 Dec 1624 Romsey, Hampshire
  • Henry BULL (1610-1684) perhaps bpt 14 Dec 1606 Henry Bull s of Mr Bull Sutton Coldfield, Warcs.
  • Petter GREENE (1622-1659) bpt 10 Mar 1622 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
  • Sam WILBORE (1614-1697) possibly 1614 in Sible Hedingham, Essex, England
  • Francis BRAYTON (1612-1692) unknown origin
  • Lott STRAINGE (STRANGE) (1647-1690 too young) so perhaps John (Lott?) STRANGE bpt 3 Jun 1623 Ashchurch, Gloucestershire
  • John ALMY (1637-1676) son of William ALMY bc 1601 possibly son of Christopher Almy of South Kilworth, co. Leicester, England

So we are going to scrutinize all the families in John’s network of friends and family. Sadly we do not have John’s wife’s surname and we only know of one child. So we have no choice but to focus on his friends and neighbors, since some ancestors leave very little behind. We have 3 possibilities for people with a connection is the area that John’s YDNA relative appears to be from. All are speculative. Adding his friends we have:

  • Thomas GOULD (bc1623-?)possibilities bpt 15 May 1602 Thomas GOULD, Nuneaton Warcs.; bpt 12 Jan 1605 Upton Snodsbury, Worces Thomas GOOLD; or bpt 2 Feb 1625 Birmingham, Warcs. Thomas GOOLD
  • Robert GRIFFIN (bc 1620?-1684) no agreement (All Midlands) bpt 28 Jan 1601 Rob Griffin Allesley, Warwickshire; bpt. 24 Nov 1624 Blockely, Wiltshire
  • Thomas WINTERTON (bc1620?-?) possibly bpt 10 Feb 1621 Kimcote, Leics.; bpt 10 Dec 1620 Wyken, Coventry, Warcs OR bpt 4 Jan 1607 Claybroke, Leceistershire

Let us now turn to the first record we have of John SHELDON when he was a witness 13 Oct. 1652 “John Sheldon and Richard Knight witness a covenant between Peter Easton and Henry Stevens, both of Newport, RI.” This would be the same as the Peter Eastman above and we can add RIchard Knight and Henry Stevens.

  • Richard KNIGHT (1620?-1680) several good possibilities bpt 19 Oct 1626 Wootton Wawen, Warcs; bpt 5 Dec 1619 Hampton in Arden; bpt 6 Oct 1624 Brailes, Warcs.; 13 Dec 1612 Long Compton, Warcs.
  • Henry STEVENS (1620-1676?) possibly bpt 25 Mar 1605 Aston Juxta, Birmingham, Warcs


On the 20th Jan 1657, the land Company known as the Pettaquascutt Purchasers acquired a large tract of land measuring approximately twelve square miles (encompassing much of present day Kingstown). The deed was executed between the Naragansett Indian Sachems: Qussaquanch, Kachansquant and Quequaquenuet and John HULL of Boston, John PORTER Samuel WILBOR, Samuel WILSON and Thomas MUMFORD all of Rhode Island. Two later members added were Benedict ARNOLD the first and William BRETON. The lands were broken up so that each member received woodlands, marshlands and farmland.

Next, 18 Apr 1663, is a record where John SHELDON is a witness to a deed from Zachery RHOADES to Stephen ARNOLD both of Pawtuxet. Zachery RHOADES deeded 100 acres of land on the shore of the Pawtuxet River to his brother in law Stephen ARNOLD. Zachery married Joane ARNOLD, but he died just two years later, in a drowning accident off the Pawtuxet shore. The older brother of Stephen and Joane and first born, was Benedict ARNOLD I, all children of William ARNOLD of Ilchester, Somerset, England Benedict ARNOLD I, as noted above, was one of the Pettquascutt purchasers. He went on to become the first Governor of Rhode Island. (It is Benedict Arnold V who is notorious for defecting from the Continental Army to the British army during the Revolutionary War.)

Then 19th of January 1664 Henry HALL and Richard KNIGHT purchase from the Chief Sachem of the Naragansetts a large tract of land in present day Kingstown Rhode Island and later referred to as the Hall-Knight Purchase. This tract was to the west of the Pettaquascutt Purchase. The boundary between being known as the Pettaquascutt line. [See second map below.]

A deed of 22 Sep 1671 recorded 26 Oct 1683 from Benjamin CONGDON to John SHELDON of Narragansett Country, Planter, for seven pounds being 33 acres of a larger parcel had by CONGDON 22 Sept 1671 from William BRENTON, Benedict ARNOLD, John HULL, John PORTER, Samuel WILBOR, Samuel WILSON and Thomas MUMFORD ( the original Pettaquascutt Purchasers).

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Part of the Pettaquascutt Purchase from Rhode Island Land Evidence Just under the Benedict Arnold parcel is a small parcel adjacent Caleb ARNOLD labeled John SHELTON

Another view rotated with North at top and approximate location of John SHELDON Senior’s property.

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Part of E.R. POTTER’s 1835 Map

Then we have on July 29, 1679 forty-two residents of the Narragansett Country signing a petition to King Charles I of England asking him to make a judgement as to which colony the Narragansett Country belonged to. Was it to be Massachusetts Bay Colony, Connecticut or Rhode Island? “John SHELLDIN” and “John SHELDON Jun’r” signed this petition.

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Petition dated 29 July 1679 Partial image courtesy Yale Indian Papers Project

In 1681, forty residents of Narragansett founded the new town of South Kingstown and we find John SHILLDON and John SHELDON Junior among them. This is copy taken in 1723 from the original town records of Kingstown before it became North and South Kingstown of the original 1679 record. Since John Sheldon senior does not appear on this list we can assume he died between August 1679 and December of 1696.

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South Kingstown Book 1B page 1

CORRECTION: Although it appears in the South Kingstown Book shown above as only John SHELDON Jr. the one from an earlier version apparently showing a more complete list does include John SHELDEN (senior). See below. So my original hypothesis must be amended and it would appear that John SHELDEN senior died between Dec 1696 and the writing of John Juniors Will in 1704.

That is the sum total that we have for John SHELDEN/ SHELDON of Kingstown. We know he had a son John SHELDON Junior, however we do not have a birthdate for him nor for John SHELDON senior’s marriage or the births of any of his other children, if he had any others. Since his son John was a signatory in 1679 we can assume he was at least 21 at the time making his birth at or before 1658. We also know that John Senior was a witness in 1652 placing his birth probably at or before 1630, however he could have been born much earlier. If we look at the friends that he was arrested with their births look likely to have occurred between 1601-1625 so that leaves a very broad window of between 1601-1630. Will delve into possibilities for his birthplace in another post and further scrutinize his friends likely origins.

Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021. All RIghts Reserved. First published at

By |2022-01-05T17:31:31-05:00November 17, 2021|Genealogy|1 Comment

About the Author:

50 years of Genealogical Research experience and 11 years with DNA & Genetic Genealogy. Author of and the Beginner's Guide to Genetic Genealogy. Enjoys writing, genealogy related travel, research, "gophering" for genealogy, gardening, photography and being a grandma.

One Comment

  1. George Sheldon November 21, 2021 at 4:44 am

    As I read this post, I thought this shows the beginning of our legal system here in our country. Today, we still have a grand jury. It’s even in our Constitution – Amendment #5. No indictment from the Grand Inquest. Makes me wonder if John Sheldon celebrated his dismissal of the charges with some adult beverage, not in excess, of course.

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