SFA Looks at Sheldon Arms
by Rose Sheldon Newton
(This article is reprinted from the
award winning Sheldon Family Association Quarterly, January 1990, Vol. 5, No. 1, page
Sooner or later, all researchers discover
heraldry, especially when they find a coat of arms of their surname. The
question arises: "Could we use this since it is our name?"
Reading on, we learn the use of arms began in the 12th century as a way of
identification of friend or foe for heavily armed knights, during battle.
Through the years, heraldry became established as a system of hereditary
By sectioning the crest in parts, halves, quarters,
etc., various sons' and wives' lines could be visually identified by
additions and changes to the family art work. These were granted by the
crown to a particular family as theirs alone, and so registered.
Closely following the first printed books in Germany,
"bookplates" denoting book ownership are seen that often
depicted family arms. The earliest used in America were dated March 27,
1629, in the books owned by Henry Dunster .
A study of American History reveals the colonists agreed
to forever give up the right to bear arms. A closer study will show how
this included heraldry. The governments of many nations long ago abolished
heraldry and social privileges that once belonged to the upper classes,
though countries still maintain historic library collections which show
family lineages recorded through heraldry.
In the United States, anyone may create and use a coat
of arms for a trademark or logo. This type of creation and usage is called
"arms of assumption" and while several firms create and sell
such devices, few are authentic and the buyer should be aware of this.
Simply because a family name is the same does not mean one may use the
arms, further study of rules should be made before assuming this right, or
perhaps, use a logo instead. Often in modem genealogies, a well researched
and documented work will be criticized most severely, and rightly so, for
displaying such a device in the first few pages of the work, whereas, they
would have been praised for including the same as an item of interest for
further study in the appendix.
Early SFA researchers were interested in the subject of
heraldry evidenced by the file we share today. They invited Dr. Harold
Bowditch to speak about ancient English Sheldon Arms at the reunion at
Middlebury, Vermont in August 1960. He stated coats of arms usage rights
descend directly from father to son, but not collaterally, for instance,
from uncle to nephew. Hence the mere fact a Sheldon rightfully bore a coat
of arms does not mean anyone whose name is Sheldon has a right to
appropriate it. This right is limited to the direct descendants of the man
who rightfully bore the arms. The eldest son could use the design during
his father's lifetime, but was required to add a special mark called a
"label", which he would remove at his father's death. Younger
sons were required to make some permanent change in design for
Dr. Bowditch described five general types of old English
Sheldon coats of arms: 1. A fess (a broad horizontal bar) between three Sheldrakes, three varieties. 2. On a bend, three birds, two varieties. 3.
On a chevron (two diagonal stripes meeting at an angle), three Sheldrakes,
on a canton (a region of a field) a rose. 4. A bend between two crosses.
5. On a cross an annulet (a little ring).
Dr. Bowditch recommended since the American Sheldon
immigrant ancestry lines at that time, were not documented to English
families or heraldic lines, SFA would be wise to adopt a trademark or logo
reminiscent of the name, yet not invading the privacy or rights of those
of English ancestry who were. This was done by SFA and is reflected in the logo, a crest
with ducks and the Association name. (See Fig.1 & 14) The logo was
probably based on the coat of arms shown in Fig.14 which was a part of
Benjamin Olcott Sheldon's application for "The Abridged Compendium of
Leland Sheldon liked the one E. Mark Sheldon used to
illustrate his Sheldon Magazine extension in 1955. It was prepared for him
by a photo lithographer from a piece of Ruth Bradley Sheldon's engraved
stationery. (See Fig.2) Through the years, sometimes with Mark's
permission sometimes not, Leland used his drawing.
In 1988, Mark wanted a logo for the SFA Newsletter and modified his
crest by way of a computer graphics editor for use in the SFA Newsletter
banner. Fig.2 shows the top of the shield is square with a helmet on top.
The simplest edit was to erase the filigree, cut the helmet and fill in
the shield. (To those who have written to ask where the SFA logo peak
went, the point may some day return when computer art is more compatible
with curves. We have not arbitrarily changed that which you selected, but
we work in the framework of present computer capabilities to give you a
An interesting question was asked of Rose who made
badges for several reunions, when Mark asked, "Where did you get
that crest?" (See Fig.3) Though similar to his, it was researched
from the Woolworth genealogy of S1131 Mercy Sheldon Woolworth.
Since they are of the Isaac line, an "arms of assumption." It
was used for badges because it was neat, but not correctly so. Marie
Sheldon Hine has crafted a beautiful Sheldon Banner which employs the
Association logo with different flourishes which infringe upon no other
art work and is displayed at annual meetings. (See Fig.4)
If you belong to an American
Sheldon line with an English family connection, you should study to
discover if you have a rightful heraldic design. Let us know and we will
be glad to spread the news. The illustrations which follow are, for the
most part, from the files of Leland, Hortense, Betty, and Shirley, past
Genealogy Chairpersons, who either discovered them during research, or
received them from researching cousins. They represent ancient Sheldon
families of Europe and a few are assumption arms. If the correspondent or
source is known, it is listed. Should you have one you think should be in
the curiosity file after this review, please send it to Rose for "the
As you study the various coats of arms, notice
differences, similarities, and items that are alike. Become aware of
family stories that are being told in the art. The purpose of this review
is to stimulate your interest and possible further study. Hopefully it
will be another answer to the question of American Sheldons and heraldry.
It is our desire to stimulate Sheldon researchers to learn new things, and
to dig for themselves. Since our primary interest is recording and helping
members establish their lineage, time does not always permit our officers to
follow up all roads of research which open. The saying "we can do
together what we cannot do alone" invites all who are interested to
add to our research. It seemed a shame to enjoy these discoveries without
sharing them with you, our members. Though we have no proven heraldry,
Sheldons everywhere are so interesting, so enjoy!
Fig.5B is from stationery of a correspondent, an
unsigned arms report to Leland, possibly Ruth Bradley Sheldon. Notice the
similarities of Fig. 5A and 5B.
Fig.6 was sent by Helen Sheldon (Marie Hine and Clara
Gutermuth's mother,) to Leland with the following notation: ".. This
is the same arms as seen at the Quaker Street Cemetery where many of the
Quaker Sheldon descendants of Sir Edward Sheldon of England to whom the
coat of arms was given (are buried)." Notation on back of photo
"from John Sheldon Fisher see S8596 Eliza Ann Sheldon."
Note: Sheldon on right side of scarf.
Fig.7 is impaled (divided vertically) to share with
another family. It was Dr. Bowditch's opinion it belonged to a bishop.
Fig.8 is similar to the Ralph Sheldon arms. Figures 7 and 8 were sent to
Leland by Mrs. Neil Sheldon, St. Oneida Lane, Schenectady, NY . Figures 9A
and 9B are English Heraldic Book plates and are attributed to a Ralph
Sheldon, b. 1623, son of William Sheldon of Beoley, Worchestershire. Ralph
is said to have written genealogical histories now in the College of Arms
collections. Notice the Sheldon birds in the two corners with added
families in opposite corners.
Fig.l0, an old unlabeled photograph, the ducks are
different and the design is very plain. Embellishment around the edges,
called mantling, is absent.
Fig.11is the arms of Henry James Sheldon Esq. of Brailes
House, whose wife was from Dublin, heir of Ralph Charles Sheldon, 8th in
descent from William Sheldon of Beoly. This arms was sent to Leland by a
person with the initials MBL who was not sure of the source.
Fig.12 seems to be a page from an old book by Anthony 'a
Fig Wood of Oxen, attributed to the library of a Ralfe Sheldon. Arms
design labeled Ralfe Sheldon of Weston Parke in Warwickshire 1676. Notice
the different shape of the ducks, and the still different family
additions, the flying dragon with an arrow for a tongue, similar to
Fig.13 Is a drawing sent to Hortense by Edith Madsin in
1962. She was told of a marker said to have been in Boston near where the
first Sheldon landed. On the back of the drawing: " New England
Family Coat of Arms by Andrew F. Donnell." A letter to E. Hortense
Sheldon 16 Nov. 1962 from the Public Works Department stated, "a
search was made in the New England Historical Society, the Boston
Athenaeum, the New England Genealogical Register, and the Boston Art
Commission. The existence of such a marker is very doubtful."
Fig. 14 Is taken from original filing papers to Abridged
Compendium of American Genealogy for Benjamin Olcott Sheldon. The papers
were rued by Ruth Bradley Sheldon and are in the SFA files.
References: Grolier Inc. 1984, Vol 7 pg 152, Academic
American Enc, 1981 Vol. H pg 134, Bookplates in Early Americana Grolier
Vol. 4 pg 251, The Sheldons by E.A.B. Barnard Cambridge Press 1936. SFA
files. Report: Heraldry, by Betty Sheldon 10490X241, Report: Calling All
Sheldons, by Marion Sheldon Gibbons S0151x35462371 ca 1956. Report on
Sheldon, Lancaster Herald 1957 to Alice Sheldon 8169x1.
Editor's Note: Fig.15 is a reproduction of a coat of
arms found in "The Sheltons" by Kathryn Morris Brown published
by Keith Press, Inc., Knoxville, TN in 1981. It is interesting to note the
motto, Optimum pati (It is better to suffer) and the Sheldrake crest.
Throughout this publication, the name is sometimes spelled with a 'd'. Is
there a connection between the Sheldons' found in SFA records and the
Sheltons who settled in the Southeastern part of the United States?
Email the author
Revised: 17 April 2006