The Question of Richard, the Progenitor?!

The Question of Richard, the Progenitor?!

For the past year we have made a strong effort to better understand the mysterious Sheldon line listed as “Richard ?” in the Sheldon Magazine and we’ve come to a hard realization and difficult decision.  Let’s start with some background.

In the original Sheldon Magazine, published by the Rev. Henry O. Sheldon in 1855, Richard was listed as the son of John Sheldon and Joan Vincent of Providence, Rhode Island, and the father of Lemuel and Thomas.  No notation was given for him apart from a “?” next to his name – the first sign of trouble.  In trying to establish a timeline of the family a problem becomes glaringly clear – there is far too much of a gap.

John Sheldon and Joan Vincent were married in 1660, and the births of their children are recorded in the town records of Providence, Rhode Island through to 1672 when Joan would have been at least 32 years old although she is believed to have been older.  The family continued to live in Providence past this time and the children of other families are recorded.  At the other end of the timeline, Richard’s son, Lemuel, was married to Millicent Brock in New Jersey in 1752 – nearly a century after his supposed grandparents wedding.  This is twice the length than the average of 25 years between generations.

But there is an even more glaring problem with Richard as the son of John & Joan, and that is back in those town records.  The family continued to live in Providence after 1672 and the children of other families are recorded, but there is no record of a son Richard at all – or anything remotely similar.  Richard is also not mentioned in John’s will and there is no Richard in any land or tax records in Providence.  So it has seemed clear that Richard was not, in fact, the son of John & Joan.

This led the Sheldon Family Association, under Rose Sheldon-Newton, to decide to separate him in their database and make him a 5th progenitor – even though there was also no evidence to suggest that he was a progenitor, or first immigrant, himself.  DNA later confirmed that his descendants were a match to the Group A Sheldons, which does include the descendants of John & Joan, but a closer analysis of SNPs clearly show that he was more closely related to the Godfrey Sheldon line of Maine with John & Joan being a slightly more distant line – likely known cousins to each other.  How John of Providence was related to Godfrey of Maine is still unclear, but their relationship seems to have been back another generation or two in England.

It was at this point that we at Sheldon Genealogy, lead primarily by George Sheldon, Missy Rummie, and myself (Dale Sheldon), began a deeper dive.   We wanted to find any reference at all for Richard so that we could begin to piece together his life.  When was he born?  Where did he come from?  Where did he live?  Who did he marry?   The answer that we found to these many questions was extraordinary.  It was ziltch, nada, nothing.  There is NO sign of Richard at all in any of the colonies where his supposed family lived, or indeed anywhere in New England.  There is absolutely no sign of him at all.

How could this be?  And how could we narrow down the search and put a focus to a specific location for a deeper dive?

Trying for another direction, and knowing that DNA has shown that the Richard descendants are more closely related to Godfrey, we went back to that family and began to document and track them down.  We knew that all of the Richard descendants were in New Jersey, so could we find a Godfrey line with connections to New Jersey that could better explain these origins?  And there was, just one in fact, and it made more sense than we could have imagined.

Godfrey Sheldon and Alice Frost listed among the marriages in Bakewell in 1620

We know that Godfrey Sheldon was married to Alice Frost in Bakewell, Derby, England in 1620 and we have the baptismal records of their children in Bakewell as well as the wills of Alice’s siblings which name her and her Sheldon children.  The first of these children, William, was baptized in Bakewell in 1622 with the Latin form “Guilielmus filius Godfredi”.  In Godfrey’s will he also named this William as his “Elldest sun”.  William later moved down to Salem village in Massachusetts where he died in 1691, the year before the famous witch trials.

William also named all of his children in his will, including his son Ephraim who would get caught up in the trials in a minor role. Ephraim, along with his then widowed mother Rebecca, would later sell the property back in Maine – further confirming that this line of Godfrey to William to Ephraim is solid.  Ephraim left Salem after the trials and married Jane Peard in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1693 and set up his family in Boxford, Massachusetts where the town records show the births of their children. The first of these children were William (1694), Rebecca (1696), Ephraim (1699), and Lemuel (1701).

The name Lemuel immediately stands out.  It is an extremely uncommon given name (sometimes mistaken for Samuel), an obscure biblical King who is warned by his mother against promiscuity and drunkenness.  It is this same rare name, Lemuel, that is listed as one of the two sons of the mysterious Richard by the Rev. Sheldon in 1855.  As mentioned previously, this later son of “Richard”, was married to Millicent Brock, (or “Millah Brach” on the record) in New Jersey on the 12 Aug 1752.  If he married in 1752, we can estimate a potential year of birth at c. 1730, which is perfect timing to be a son of the earlier Lemuel born in 1701.  Further, and this is perhaps the clincher, there is a reference to a probate for a Lemuel Sheldon in Northampton, Burlington County, New Jersey in 1754.  This could not be the younger Lemuel who continued to have children with Millicent well past this date, and it could not be a child of the younger Lemuel as an infant son would not have a probate record.  The only possible Lemuel this could be is the one born in Massachusetts in 1701.  He is the only other Lemuel Sheldon to exist in the colonies at the time.

William Sheldon leaving his estate to son Ephraim and specifically his land “at blackpoynt or scarbourouh” in Maine, 1691

So what does this leave us with?  We know that the “Richard” descendants are close relatives of Godfrey of Maine, confirmed with the Y-DNA study.  We know that the Rev. Henry O. Sheldon was not fully sold on Richard, indicative of the ? next to his name.  We know that there are no records for anyone actually named Richard Sheldon in the colonies at that time.  We know that Godfrey Sheldon had a great-grandson named Lemuel, born in 1701, who died in New Jersey in 1754.  We know that “Richard” supposedly had a son Lemuel, born c 1730 who married in New Jersey in 1752.

It is, therefore, now our belief that “Richard” never existed and that the two sons previously attributed to him, Thomas and Lemuel, were in fact sons of the Lemuel born 1701.  So this gives us a line of Godfrey Sheldon of Bakewell, England and later of Maine (1599-1664), was father to William Sheldon of Maine and Salem, Massachusetts (1622-1691), who was father to Ephraim Sheldon of Massachusetts (1670-1737), who was the father to Lemuel Sheldon of Massachusetts and New Jersey (1701-1754), who was the father of the brothers Thomas and Lemuel of New Jersey.  We would also like to add a possible third brother, Joseph, who was listed as the administrator to Lemuel’s Will in 1754.  Lemuel did not have a brother Joseph, so a son is the most likely alternative, no other documentation has been found for this Joseph as yet.

So now we have a call to others to help disprove this new hypothesis, or find additional documentation to solidify it.  What do you think?  Did “Richard” exist at all?  Does the line proposed make more sense?

By |2022-10-08T22:22:12-04:00October 8, 2022|Genealogy|2 Comments

About the Author:

Dale has been studying genealogy heavily for over 30 years, since the age of 10. Although he does not seek professional clients, he has helped a family regain property lost during the Holocaust, and has assisted to obtain historical preservation status for a building in San Francisco. He is a co-admin of the ftDNA Sheldon DNA Project. He lived most of his life in California but has recently moved to upstate New York. He works in the travel industry.


  1. Sissy Walker October 8, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    Dale this is so cool! My head was spinning as I read your analysis. But it sure makes sense to me.

  2. […] descendents (Note Richard 22 descendants have been folded into the Godfrey line. See blog post here for information on Richard). So in total we have TWENTY-SEVEN descendents of the first known Sheldon of Derbyshire!  With […]

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