Chapter 3: Isaac Controversy

Chapter 3: Isaac Controversy from "Sheldons Prior to 1700" by E. Hortense Sheldon (1961)

The identity of the first Isaac Sheldon in America has been a stumbling-block to all Sheldon genealogists and still is. Many discussions have been had, articles written, and solutions offered, and this will not be the last one. The main objective of this presentation is to bring together some of the material written on the subject for easier consideration.

It is not the purpose of this discussion to treat disparagingly any past attempts to prove the English ancestry of some of the first Sheldons in America, but to record only the facts found and then to set forth the reasoning from said facts against the lineage conclusions drawn through supposition by others. I do not wish to criticize unjustly, or to appear to treat with contempt or depreciate past efforts or belittle in any way what has previously been done to try to prove our English ancestry. They sincerely tried, as I am trying to do, to bridge the gap between England and America and connect the known Sheldons of this country to some Sheldon family or families in England.

From what I can find, I feel sure that the three brothers story eventually can be proven and that the "Phantom Isaac" really did exist. Search, so far, for the English ancestors of Isaac Sheldon has proved fruitless, though given time the correct facts will be found as many facts point that way. However, sufficient evidence has been found to prove J. Gardner Bartlett's Derbyshire Isaac ancestry not to be that of our American Isaac, and that others may have the facts to use in their search the following is submitted for their consideration and basis for further search.

In J. Gardner Bartlett's exposition establishing Isaac as the son of Ralph and he the son of Arthur he uses the following 14 words of supposition:

apparently without a doubt supposed dated of birth
probable seems likely any reasonable doubt
evidently it is apparent probably
presumably were doubtless seems probable

At no time throughout his discussion can he substantiate his facts with proof, except evidence that the particular fact is in a certain record, but with no conclusive proof that he is #5 Isaac of Windsor, Conn. and Northamnpton, Mass.

He also leaves a loop-hole in two places. On page 3 - His search in English records "revealed an Isaac Sheldon", not the. Again he concludes that Ralph Sheldon the supposed father of our #5 Isaac, was not in England at the time of the 1663 Hearth Ta, as he is not listed in his native county. County, mind you. Of course, he might have been in another of the 38 counties in England, but Ralph was the most used name in the Sheldon family, and certainly would have been hard to located that Ralph elsewhere. In fact, there were enough Ralphs, if all put together, to have sunk that ship he was supposed to have sailed on. So, for convenience sake to establish the parentage of our Isaac, J.G.B. didn't locate that Ralph, (son of Arthur, as he claims, and father of our Isaac) who married Barbara Stone, for if he had found him in another county he would have had no lineage. That is being rather tough on J.G.B., but I have found other Isaac Sheldons in England in the early 1600s, so that Isaac of Ashford has only a chance with the others of being the right one. J.G.B. didn't find a license to get Isaac to America after 1651 and as he would have been over 20 years of age, he would have needed one, unless he came on one of the Sheldon ships or worked his passage. Isaac is not a common name in the family, in fact, very rare, but there are others. Their lineage remains to be traced, and that will need be done in England.

For the sake of record, that the reader of this treatise may have the points of discussion, I'll quote from J. Gardner Bartlett, George Sheldon, and also from Holmes' Genealogy of the Stevens-Miller Family, and those questioned Windsor deeds.

The Sheldons of Derbyshire and New England by J. Gardner Bartlett

P. 3 "Extensive researchers … revealed an Isaac Sheldon of the parish of Bakewell in Derbyshire, who seemsm, beyond any reasonable doubt, to have been identical with the New England immigrant of that name. The results of these investigations are herewith presented, and disclose the probable English ancestry of Isaac Sheldon of Windsor and Northampton, the founder of the principal Sheldon family in North America."

P. 4 "The Sheldon family from which it is probable that Isaac Sheldon, the immigrant settler at Windsor, Conn., and at Northampton, Mass., was descended, is found at Monyash, in Bakewell, co. Derby, as early as the 14th century, - - - - Carry down the line of descent to the Isaac Sheldon, of the tenth generation, who was probably identical with the New England immigrant of that name."

P. 14 "Will of Arthur Sheldon of Ashford, co. Derby, yeoman, weak in body, dated 10 June 1651. To be buried in the chapel of Ashford, near William Lowe his seat there. To my son Ralph Sheldon, 2s.6d. and to his wife, Barbara, 2s.6d. My grandchild Isaac Sheldon L8. To (grandson) Samuell Sheldon L4. My grandson Solomon Sheldon is to be kept one and one-half years with meat and drink after my decease, at the cost of my executor. To my grandsons William, Thomas, and John Wright 5s each. To (daughter) Anne White, wife of Ralph White of Sheldon L20. All the residents of my good to (daughter) Elizabeth Lowe, wife of William Lowe of Ashford, and she to be sole executrix.

P. 20 Ralph Sheldon - son of Arthur. "The earliest mention made of him is the record of his marriage to Barbara Stone, 27 Apr. 1629 at Bakewell."

"On Jan. 10, 1650/1 a license was issued to Ralph Sheldon to pass beyond the seas. (State papers, Interregnum, Licenses to Leave the Country 1650-1653, 1-111, fo. 17, in the Public Record Office, London). The last mention found of him is in a will of his father, dated 10 June 1651, in which he and his wife, Barbara, were given legacies of 2s, 6d. each. This will also provides for three grandchildren, Isaac, Samuel, and Solomon Sheldon, apparently children of Ralph Sheldon, and gives the bulk of his estate to two daughters, making one of them sole executrix. From the terms of this will and the issue of the imigration license it seems likely that Ralph Sheldon had already received his share of the paternal estate, and, therefore, he and his wife were given merely nominal bequests, and that he had emigrated from England in the spring of 1651, leaving temporarily his three sons in the case of their grandfather, until he should send for them. In the emigration licenses at that period a destination on the Continent of Europe, such as Spain, France, Holland, etc. is this specified, while the term "beyond the Seas" generally refers to America. If Ralph Sheldon started in the spring of 1651 for New England, it is probable that he never arrived there, but either died on the voyage or was lost at sea; at least no mention has been found of him in New England nor did he return to Derbyshire, for his name does not appear on the rolls of the hearth tax for that county in 1663, in which every householder is named. It therefore seems probable that Ralph Sheldon died at sea in 1651. As the registers of Ashford seems probable that Ralph Sheldon died at sea in 1651. As the registers of Ashford before 1687 are missing the records of the baptisms of the children of Ralph and Barbara Sheldon are probably lost; but they were doubtless the parents of the 3 Sheldon children who were named as grandsons in the will of Arthur Sheldon."

P. 21 #17 Isaac Sheldon was born probably at Ashford, in the parish of Bakewell, co. Derby, presumably late in 1629 or early in 1630, his parents having been married on 27 Apr. 1629. As the registers of Ashford before 1687 are lost, the record of his baptism has not been found; but he was evidently the eldest child of his parents, and, as his younger brothers, Samuel and Solomon Sheldon married in 1656 and 1657 respectively, it is apparent that hew as born as early as 1630. By the will of his grandfather, Arthur Sheldon, date 10 June 1651, he was to receive a legacy of L8 and this provision in his grandfather's will is the only record of him that has been found in England. In 1663 a hearth tax was assessed on every fireplace in England; the rolls of this tax for Derbyshire are preserved at the Public Record Office in London and give the name of every householder in the county, with the number of hearths in each house. While the names of his brothers, Samuel and Solomon Sheldon appear in these rolls in 1663 as living in Ashover, c. Derby, no trace of this Isaac Sheldon is found in them, and presumably he was not living in his native county. What had become of him between 10 June 1651 and 1663? As is probable, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he was identical with the Isaac Sheldon who, as "Isaac Shelding, Sen." deposed at Northampton, Mass., 29 Apr 1679, "aged 50 years or thereabouts", regarding property there of Thomas Mason, and who first appears in New England records on 13 Sept. 1652, when at a meeting of the townsmen (or select men) of Windsor, Conn. the following order was passed:

'It is assented yt Isackes Sheldon and Samuell Rockwell shall keeps house together in ye house yt is Isackes, so (long) they cary themselves soberly and doe not intertayne Idel persones to ye evell Expenc of time by night or daye.' - (Windsor, Conn., Town Acts, 1650-1714, fo. 11)

"Isaac Sheldon of Windsor, Conn. and of Northampton, Mass., was born about 1629 …. a date which agrees with the supposed date of the birth of Isaac Sheldon, son of Ralph and Barbara (Stone) Sheldon of Ashford, in the parish of Bakewell, co. Derby, England, and died at Northampton, Mass., 27 July 1708, aged 78 years."

- End of quote.

Next we will see what Holman in the Genealogy of the Stevens-Miller family has to say about the above in connection with their Sheldon line.

Referring first to the facts in the New England Register on the Sheldon family of Derbyshire by J. Gardner Bartlett, is added:

"That there was an Isaac in this family, who presumably was born the same time as the immigrant, is undoubted, but there seems little evidence that they are identical. This account credits him as the supposed son of a Ralph Sheldon and the grandson of an Arthur Sheldon.

"In his record, Mr. Bartlett finding a license to 'pass beyond the seas' issued to a Ralph Sheldon, 10 Jan. 1650-51, assumes the latter to be the son of Arthur, named in the latters will of 10 June 1651, and since no further record of him has been found suggests that he died on the voyage.

"Against this theory is the fact that although our Isaac had 8 sons and 6 daughters, not one of them bears the name of his supposed father, mother, or grandfather. Isaac's eldest child, Mary, was undoubtedly named for his wife, and her mother; his eldest son, Isaac, for himself; the 2nd son, John, was not named for any member of his wife's family; the 3rd son, Thomas, was named for his wife's father. The only name in all 14 children that also appears in the English family is that of Samuel. The prominent names in the English tribe were Arthur, Huge, George, Richard, and Ralph and the latter's wife was named Barbara."

There is so little evidence that these Isaac's are the same man that the supposed English Ancestry is omitted from this account."

- End of Quote.

Note that J.G.B. could not find any record of Isaac's birth of baptism to know the date he was born, and that the only mention of him is in his grandfather's will.

In the will, under date of 10 June 1651, of that Arthur Sheldon of Ashford, in Bakewell, co. Derby, he leaves his "grandchild Isaac, L8." Note he is called a child. The other two are called grandsons, which would infer that Isaac was much younger than the other two, which would not make him born in 1629. If younger, maybe the grandfather's favorite and thus he received a larger portion. Furthermore, the will was not proved until 20 May 1653 for Isaac to receive his inheritance, yet our Isaac was in Windsor, Conn. as of record 13 Sept. 1652. And how far would L8 go even in those days, after paying his passage and living in New England until established, to buy all the property recorded against his name in Windsor on that questionable date of Jan. 11, 1640, which the venerable historian, George Sheldon, of Deerfield, Mass., claims was bought at a later date. Yet, even he agrees to that by saying:

"Young Isaac probably had some backers at the outset, for it is hardly probable he could have accumulated his large estate unaided at 21 years."

But to quote from George Sheldon's "History of Deerfield"

"Sheldon, Isaac, of Dorchester 1634; rem. with part of the congregation of Rev. John Warhas in Sept 1635, to found a plantation at Windsor, Conn. I copy from the original record at Windsor that: Isaac Sheldon owned there Jan. 10, 1640 a home lot of 3 acres, with house, barn and orchard "purchased of John Stiles;" another lot of 3 acres, "purchased of Richard Samwas," and another lot "purchased of Thomas Parsons." One of lots was bounded on two sides by "his own land;" which may have been given him in the original distribution. But these four lots were not original assignments, but were obtained by purchase.

"These particulars are given as evidence in a disputed case, and to prove that Isaac Sheldon was of full business age at this time. Some genealogists insist that this Isaac Sheldon was the same man who testified before a court in Northampton Mar. 25, 1679, that he was "about 50 yrs. old." If this be true, then he was but six when he went to Windsor, and but 11 when he held four places of real estate by purchase, and doubtless a larges area of assignment. It is true that land was sometimes given to minors in the original division of plantations, but who ever heard of a boy of 11 buying house lots and meadow land? While being satisfied that Isaac of Windsor was of age, I can give no further account of him or his family. I assume that the Isaac of Northampton was his son, because in 1652 he is found in possession of this land in Windsor. Not unlikely Isaac had other sons and went away to live with them; am still (1885) engaged with R. S. Sheldon of West Suffield, Ct., in an exhaustive search for the original Simon pure Isaac."

I choose to let the above stand as printed in 1886 as explanatory, and to present subsequent confusion; since 1886 it has been shown that the entries at Windsor given above as being headed, "Jan. 10, 1640," were really made at a later date to utilize a blank page; with this fact established, all evidence of the above Isaac disappears. Isaac (1) is the true head of this Sheldon family."

End of quote.

Well, I had to be proven, so I went to Windsor to see the originals and found them in the State Library at Hartford, Conn. There were 11 pages (p. 33, back of 36 to 44) each dated at the top Jan. 11, 1640. George Sheldon and others state Jan. 10th but it is really the 11th on the original book. The page on which Isaac Sheldon's transactions were recorded, was in the middle of those 11 pages on p. 40. After careful and lengthy examination of the 10 pages with the page of Isaac Sheldon's I asked a genealogist in the room at the time and the gracious librarian and we all three agreed that the date Jan. 11, 1640 should stand for the following reasons:

- The ink was the same color.
- The thickness of the quill pen used was the same.
- The style of handwriting was the same - capitals and small letters.
- The slant of the letters, and the size of the letters was the same.

The recorder of the later date had a different style, different slant, different size and form of letters, different thickness of pen, and different color of ink.

True, the recorders had gone back and utilized blank spaces at the bottom of the pages, in fact they not only went back once, but again the second time, making three entries to some pages. However, in once going back, the ink for a time was green, and in each case the size and style of writing was a distinct contrast from the early writing. One was smaller, in face very tiny writing, and the other was much larger. So that page could not have been written in at a later date. It was done on Jan. 11, 1640 to the first Isaac Sheldon.

To their next point of argument. I, too, found the order, used by all to prove their arguments, passed at a meeting by the townsmen on Sept. 13, 1652 to allow Isaac Sheldon and Samuel Rockwell to keep house, as quoted above. But all failed to find, or at least mention in their arguments, a previous ruling on single men not being allowed in town over night.

Quote of date 1637:

"The forefathers enacted: 'No master of a family shall give habitation or entertainment to any young man to sojourn in his family, but by the allowance of the inhabitants of the said town where he dwells, under the penalty of 20 shillings per week."

I wondered at such a ruling, until I found that a ship of prisoners were brought over and those jail-birds and vandils had been let loose in New England to rob, plunder, molest and attack the settlers. Then I could understand the law and the reason for its being made.

With that official order how could Isaac arrive in Windsor as late as 1652 and be allowed to stay in the town long enough for the townfolk to establish his character and worthiness and to buy property and to secure permission to keep house. That would seem to point to the fact that he had lived in the town for some years - at least prior to the ruling of 1637. In other words he had grown up in Windsor.

To return to the deed proceedings! In one deed the land on two sides was bounded by his own land. When did he acquire that land? It can not be found because the first book of records did not begin until Oct. 15, 1640 *(Note below) and even then not all were recorded as in Oct. 1660 it was necessary to pass the following ruling:

"To prevent trouble and difference in time to come for not recording some exchange made of lands in times past", etc.

Evidently, trouble had arisen over ownership, boundaries, grants, etc. or it would not have been necessary to make such a ruling; and Isaac's deeds were among the missing. There had been no record kept of the grants of land to the holders during the first five years. Thus, Isaac Sheldon, the father of #5 Isaac, could have received a grant during that time which passed to his son when he became of age, which he did in 1650/1.


Old Calendar - March was the first month
In fact the year began on March 25th.

First entry in the Windsor Book of Record was Nov. 16, 1640 (old calendar)

Goes then to
- Oct 15, 1640
- Oct 10, 1640
- Nov 28, 1640
- Oct 28, 1640 - Can not account for this going back on dates. It seems strange but it is true.
- Dec 1, 1640
- Dec 25, 1640
- Jan 11, 1640
- Feb 2, 1640
- Feb 28, 1640
- Aug 30, 1641

That the readers may have the Windsor record of the Isaac Sheldon deeds for their own study and consideration, they are quoted on the following page.

The land transactions in question are, as taken from the original book:

January 11, 1640

Isaac Sheldon hath by purchase of Richard Samways that was of Samuel Gaylords two acres of meadow, in breadth three rod and seventeen foot more or less, as it lyes bounded North by John Haes south by William Hannum east by the Great River west by the Water Corce, near the foot of the bank of the home Lotts.

Also purchased of Thomas Parsons tow acres more or less as it lies bounded south twenty rod in length by Peter Tilton and Widow Gibbs also east by Peter Tilton nine rod one Quarter and likewise east by that which was William Rockwells, fifteen rods three quarters north by Joseph Clark twenty-four rod and ends at a point in the swamp west it bounden by a way that divides it and Abraham Randal and Anthony Hawkins.

Also by purchase of Samuel Rockwell one parcel of land lying in the west side of the street being in breadth eight rod five foot and the length from the street to the west to his own land in quantity two acres and helfe more or less bounded north by the land of Susannah Grant south by Peter Tilton and his own land.

Also purchased of John Styles a dwelling house barnes orchard and home lot, being three acres more or less in breadth four rod, in length, a hundred and eighteen rods bounded by the land of Richard Olday north by the land of Robert Watson south.

In the first item it speaks of home Lotts. Could these not have been the lots in the first grant (not recorded) where the family was living in 1640. It also speaks of being bounded "east by the Great River". The early assignments all bounded the river. Later ones did not.

In the 2nd item - quote: "east by that which was William Rockwells". Now William Rockwell died in 1640 and probably no settlement had been made at the time of this transaction, Jan. 11, 1640, so they could not use the name of the new owner. Certainly by 1652, the later date on which George Sheldon claims the lots were bought, they would not have referred to land owned by a man who died 12 years previously, but would have bounded it by the present owner. In 1640, it was the only way it could be written.

In the 3rd item - "south by Peter Tilton and his own land." Now Peter Tilton was one of the first in Dorchester to be a freeman and went with the great remove to Windsor in 1635/6. The land bordering Peter Tilton's was probablyl assigned to a first settler at about the same time that all lands were distributed and Peter Tilton and others received their grants. Isaac was probably one of the first settlers who received his grant at the same time Peter Tilton and others received their grants. It was this grant that the newly acquired lot was bounded "by his own land."

Unfortunately, the 4th piece does not give the east and west boundaries. Being a dwelling house, it would be on the one street either east or west side. If on the east side, it would be on the river east and the street west. If on the west side of the street, the east boundary would be the street, and the west boundary on land not yet assigned in year 1640, which would have been assigned by the date of 1652. It might possibly by across the street from the lot in item one bounded "east by the Great River."

Those are the facts as found. Weigh them in your own scale of balance, and see what you come up with, but before you jump at a conclusion wait and read the next chapter on #1 Isaac. Then, see if you don't agree that #5 Isaac is the son of not Ralph but of the first Isaac.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License