A Sheldon Story
Deep, Tragic Interest
Deerfield, Massachusetts, was first settled in 1673. It was raided by Indians in 1674. The town was semi-abandoned from 1674 to mid-1680s. That's when John Sheldon left Northampton, Mass., and went to Deerfield.
This story is about two John Sheldons – father and son. John Sheldon Sen. (born 5 December 1658 at Northampton, Massachusetts) was the 2nd son of Isaac Sheldon and the elder brother of our Joseph Sheldon (born 1668).
When the Sheldons removed from Northampton to Deerfield’s permanent settlement, John Sheldon [Sr.] at once took a leading part in the affairs of the plantation. He was a month shy of 21 years of age when he married Hannah Stebbins on 5 November 1679. She was the daughter of John Stebbins of Northampton, and was just 15 years and 4 months old. He became a prominent citizen of Deerfield: was on the first board of selectmen; was an ensign in the first military company; captain in 1707; and was a deacon in the church. He was known as “Landlord”.
John Sr. was the builder, about 1696, of the historic “Old Indian House,” whose scarred and battered door, supported by the original door posts and flanked by great oaken brackets from the front of the house, is now a center of interest in the Memorial Hall at Deerfield. He occupied this house at the time of the desolation of the town by the French and Indians, on 29 February 1704. At that time, John Sr. and his wife had four minor children still at home. As well, his eldest child, John Jr., was living at the large home with his new wife, Hannah (Chapin) Sheldon.
JOHN SHELDON and HANNAH STEBBINS
John Sheldon Jr., born 5 December 1681 at Northampton, Mass. A notable marriage was that of John Sheldon, son of Ensign Sheldon, to Hannah Chapin, the plucky daughter of Japhet Chapin, on 3 December 1703. Their wedding journey was a winter's horseback trip from Springfield [Mass.] to the since historic “Old Indian House” in Northampton, the bride on a pillion behind the groom. What but the great love which binds a woman’s heart to her husband could have induced her to leave her secure home in Springfield, to brave with him the dangers of this doomed frontier? Hannah (Chapin) Sheldon was captured in 1704. John Sheldon Jr. died 26 June 1713, his estate was inventoried at £317, 9s, 9d. Hannah married 2d, Lieut. Timothy Childs. She died at 85 years of age in 1765.
Hannah Sheldon, born 1683. Her husband, Joseph Catlin, was one of the brave nine who fell in the Meadow fight, 1704. She remarried Nathaniel Clark of Northampton in 1705.
Mary Sheldon, born 1687. Mary was captured in 1704 (aged 16). She married Samuel Clapp of Northampton in 1707/8. There is a story that Mary was adopted by an Indian squaw, who used to visit her at Deerfield after the return of the captives. She married in 1762, Jonathan Strong of Northampton – lover before her captivity.
Abigail Sheldon, born 1689; died 1690.
Ebenezer, born 1691. Ebenezer was taken captive in 1704 (aged 12), but came back. He lived in the old “Indian House” and kept tavern. In 1735 the General Court granted to him and to his sister Mary, 300 acres of land in consideration of the cost of entertaining Caghnawaga Indians, with whom they became acquainted during their captivity on their frequent visits after the peace. In 1744, Captain Sheldon sold the old Indian House to Jonathan Hoyt, having removed elsewhere. One of Ebenezer's sons was shot by Indians; another was captured at Fort William Henry in 1757 and “carried to France”.
Remembrance, born 1693. Remembrance was captured in 1704 (aged 11). He came home with his father in 1706, and went with his father to Hartford.
Mercy, born 1701. Mercy was killed 29 February 1704 (aged 3).
Abigail, born 1710.
John, born 1718.
SHELDON'S “OLD INDIAN HOUSE”
“The ‘Old Indian House’ stood at the north end of the training field, facing the south. Its frame was largely of oak. It was 21 ft. x 42 ft., two stories with a steep pitch roof. In front the second story projected about 2 feet, the ends of the cross beams being supported by ornamental oak brackets, two of which are preserved in Memorial Hall. A lean-to 13-1/2 ft. wide ran the whole length of the north side, its roof being a continuation of that on the main building. The ground floor was thus 34-1/2 ft. x 42 ft. Near the center rose the chimney, about 10 ft. square at the base, with fire-places on the sides and rear. South of it was the front entry which, including the stairway, was 8 ft. x 12 ft. The lower floor was laid under the sill, which, projecting beyond the wall, formed a ledge around the bottom of the rooms, a tempting seat for the children. Steping over the sill into the front entry, doors on either hand opened into the front rooms; stairs on the right led by two square landings, and two turns to the left, to a passage over the entry, from which at the right and left doors led to the chambers.
“In the rear of the chimney was a small, dark room, with stairs to the garret. Including the garret, there were five rooms in the main structure, each of them lighted by two windows with diamond panes set in lead. The kitchen was in the central part of the lean-to, with windows in the rear; east of this was a bed room, and west, the buttery and back entry. The fire place was a deep cavern, the jambs and back at right angles to each other and the floor. Here, hanging on nails driven into a piece of wood built into the structure for the purpose, hung the branding-iron, the burning-iron, the pot-hook, the long-handled frying-pan, the iron peel or oven slice, the scooped fire-shovel with stout tongs standing by. In one end was the oven, its mouth flush with the back of the fire-place. In this nook, when the oven was not in use, stood a wooden bench, on which the children could sit and study the catechism and spelling book by fire-light, or watch the stars through the square tower above their heads, the view interrupted only by the black, shiny lug-pole, and its great trammels; or in the season, its burden of hams and flitches of pork or venison, hanging to be cured in the smoke. The mantel-tree was a huge beam of oak, protected from the blaze only by the current of cold air constantly ascending.”
In Mr. Sheldon’s account of the capture of Deerfield by the French and Indians under DeRouville on 29 February 1704, we read:
“The stout door of Ensign John Sheldon’s house resisted the efforts to break it down. It was cut partly through with axes, and bullets fired through the place at random, one of which killed Mrs. Sheldon Sen. as she was sitting on a bed in the east room. Tradition says, ‘shot through the neck while sitting up in bed, in the east front room.’ Entrance was finally effected at the back door, which, according to a family tradition, was left open by a lad who sought safety in flight. Most of the family were captured. Probably the Ensign [John Sheldon Sen.] was not at home.
“When the Indian attack was made upon the ‘Old Indian House’ in 1704, the enemy was so intent upon cutting through the front door, that John Jr. and his young wife, Hannah, jumped from the east chamber window unobserved. Hannah sprained her ankle and could not escape. Neither could have known the real condition of affairs, but she urged her husband to fly to Hatfield and give the alarm and bring back aid. He was barefooted but he protected his feet as he ran over the snow by tearing up a blanket and tying the strips around them [family tradition]. Hannah was taken, and ‘Mr. Adams,’ a captive then in Canada, wrote that he was greatly surprised that she escaped death on the march, ‘knowing how lame she was.’ She was redeemed in 1705 by Ensign John, her father-in-law.
“The tradition says also that the two-year old Mercy was taken to the front door and her brains dashed out on the door-stone; and further, that the house, being the largest in the town, was reserved as a depot for captives. It was set on fire when the last maurauders were driven away, but it was saved, and stood until 1849 – the widely known ‘Old Indian House’.
“It is further related that during the winter following the capture (1705), Ensign John was sent by Governor Dudley on a mission to Canada and returned in the spring with five Deerfield captives, two of whom were Hannah, his son’s wife, and Esther, oldest daughter of Parson Williams. The next winter (1706), he was again sent to Canada to negotiate the redemption of English captives. He was so successful that on 30 May 1706, he sailed from Quebec with 44, leaving 57 to be transported on the Brigantine ‘Hope’, which was dispatched for them on his arrival at Boston on 1 August. Mr. Williams came with the latter company, which arrived on 6 November. Mr. Williams speaks of Sheldon as ‘a Good man and a True Servant of the Church in Deerfield, who twice took his Tedious and Dangerous Journey in the winter from New England to Canada on these occasions.’ But still again, a third time, he was sent in 1707, returning with seven captives – 113 in all – but from different parts of New England.”
Soon after the resettlement of Mr. Williams, Captain John removed to Hartford, where he married his 2d wife on 20 April 1708, the Widow Elizabeth Pratt, with whom he had two more children: Abigail on 8 September 1710, and John, on 8 March 1718. John Sr. was prominent in Hartford also, and died there about 1733. The inventory of his estate included the following: Coffee, his wife and child, £130; boy George £80; boy Coffee £80; boy Robbin £70; and girl Sue £60. John’s 2nd wife, Elizabeth, died 4 May 1758.
This Sheldon-Deerfield narrative was brought together from three sources:
Historical Sketch of the Sheldon Family, pp. 3-4 of a paper by Harry Waters Sheldon of Yonkers, New York, read at the 2nd annual reunion of the Sheldon Family, held at Rupert, Vermont, on 8 August 1912, and available for sale from The Sheldon Family Association. Reprint by the Sheldon Family Association, Gen. Comm. 1977. Mr. Harry W. Sheldon draws heavily on George Sheldon’s History of Deerfield, below.
From 1636 - Pocumtuck - 1886. A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts: The Times When and the People by Whom It was Settled, Unsettled and Resettled: with a Special Study of the Indian Wars in the Connecticut Valley; with Genealogies, by George Sheldon (Deerfield, Mass.: 1896) Vol. II, pp. 291-293. There is much more in this volume about the Sheldons and about the house, but I do not have a copy of the book at hand. You can see dozens of selected pages of the book on the web at Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.
“The History of Ensign John Sheldon,” a paper read at the annual meeting of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, 17 Feb 1878, by Miss C. Alice Baker, also available for sale from The Sheldon Family Association.
Another interesting piece is a letter from William Whiting to Gov. Fitz-John Winthrop, written on 4 March 1703/4 , about “the mischief at Deerfield” as the massacre was commonly referred to at the time. The was featured as the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Object of the Month in January of 2004. [This William Whiting I think is not of my Whiting family.]
Historic Deerfield is a museum of New England history and art within the carefully preserved 330 year old western Massachusetts village of Deerfield. Each year thousands of visitors come to Deerfield to see a collection of 18th and 19th century houses and the Flynt Center of Early New England Life filled with some of the great decorative arts treasures of early America.
The buildings and the objects in them are set in The Old Deerfield National Historic Landmark – a thousand acres of rich farmland surrounding one of New England’s most beautiful and unspoiled villages. Deerfield is truly the New England traveller’s hope to find!
Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, Massachusetts. What a treasure trove of materials! American Centuries features a digital collection of approximately 1,800 objects and transcribed document pages from Memorial Hall Museum and Library. One section of the American Centuries site is an interactive exhibit that focuses on three past “turns of the centuries” – 1700, 1800 and 1900. Each of these “turns” was a major benchmark in American history: the Colonial period; the Federal period; and the Progressive and Colonial Revival period. In the exhibit, five themes are explored across these time periods: Native Americans, African Americans, Newcomers (settlers, and immigrants), the Land, and Family Life. Interactive “Slide-shows” and Roll-over Activities enliven each exhibit item.
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