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Clan Shepherd

by William John Shepherd

The surname Shepherd has an ancient history in both England and Scotland. The many variations in England include Sheppard, Shephard, Shepperd, Shepard, Shipman and Shippard.  The Scots have these as well as Sheepheard, and Shippert.  There are also the English patriomics such as Sheppardson, Shepperdson, and Shepherdson.  In Germany the name exists as Schaefer, Shafer, Shaffer, and Shaver. It also exists as Berger in France, Pecora in Italy, and Vasquez or Velez in Spain. The name is generally considered as occupational. One source states that "Those who tended the sheep of the villagers as well as those of the lord in England might be Shepherd or Shipman, a functionary generally chosen by the villagers." Another states that it is an "occupational name for a shepherd, ME (Middle English) schepherde, from OE (Old English) sceap, scip  sheep + hierde herdsman."  In Scotland it is stated that the name is "from the occupation of 'shepherd.'  Latinized pastor in early charters."

However, there is a notable divergence from this explanation for the name's origin. The Hall of Names International of Canada markets very stylish parchment like surname histories that appear to be the product of very credible research. They state that "the family name Shepherd emerged as a notable English family name in the county of Dorset where they were recorded as a family of great antiquity seated with manors and estates in that shire. The name was first found in Dorset before the tenth century. In examining the Coat of Arms invariably we find battle axes, and this is not surprising since the name has little or nothing to do with sheep, and the trade of a shepherd. The ancient trade of shepherd were of those who were employed to dig sod around the embattlements of a Saxon village, a means of defense, hence the shepherd's ring, and their tools were battle axes."  Documentation for a Shepherd Coat of Arms design can be found in Burke's Grand Armory and is described in the heraldic language as follows: "Sa, a fess ar. In chief three pole axes of the second" above the shield and helmet is the Crest which is "On mount vert a stag lodged reguard ar. vulned on the shoulder gu." Family mottoes usually originated as battle cries but one is not known, or has not survived,  for Shepherd. 

"The name was almost exclusively in the south of England and by the 13th century they had branched to Surrey, Suffolk, Sussex, Keyford House in Frome, Thornton Hollow in Buckingham, Kirbydon in Norfolk, and Derbyshire. Notable among the family at this time was Alexander Shepherd of Buckingham."  Whatever the true origin of the name, there are records of its increasing proclivity in both England and Scotland.  Josse le Shepherd (Shephurde) is listed in the Hundred Rolls as being resident of County Oxford in the year 1273 and William Shepherd (Shephirde) appears in P.T. York's BOOK OF POLL TAXES as being resident of Yorkshire in 1379. 9  Henricus Scyphard held land in Elgin, Scotland, in 1363, and Thomas Schiphird or Scippart witnessed an inventory of the estate of Sir John Erskine of Dun in 1513. In 1538 the wife of Wille Schiphird was fined for brewing! Clearly one of my ancestors, in spirit if not in blood. It should also be noted that the checkered Shepherd tartan is an occupational one and not generally associated with a family or clan.

People with the surname Shepherd and other spelling variations were among the waves of  immigrants to England's American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. This immigration was sparked by many political, religious, and economic factors in the homeland. Among these were various enclosure acts in Parliament which restricted what had been common pasture lands and turned them over to the landed gentry and other ruling elites. Rising rents added to the plight of farmers as did the developments of the Industrial Revolution which would eventually force what had been primarily an agrarian population into the mines and factories, or out of the country seeking a better life. Noted historian David Hackett Fischer has chronicled English and later British immigration patterns and the contribution this flow of people made to the establishment and evolution of distinct and regional American cultures.  His general argument is that immigrants who were primarily from southern and western England, and largely Anglican and cultural elites, formed the backbone of 17th century immigration to the southern American colonies, settling in Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia. Americans like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would be examples of descendants of  these people. A second group were Puritans from East Anglica with stern dispositions and concern for democratic principles.  They settled in New England and John and Samuel Adams would be typical examples of descendants of this group. A third group were largely Quakers and other religious dissenters from the English midlands who settled the middle colonies of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Nathaniel Greene was a descendant of these people. The last group was primarily economic and political refugees from the English north country and the Celtic fringe of Scotland and Ireland. They settled in the backcountry on the frontiers of the American colonies. Andrew Jackson would be an example of a descendant of this group. People with the surname Shepherd, and its variations, were prominent in all facets of the immigration.  Among these was Edward Shepard who settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1630; Thomas Shepard in Boston in 1635; Mathew Shepherd in Barbados in 1660; John Shepperd in Virginia in 1638; Thomas Shepherd to Maryland in 1724; Jacob Shepherd to Boston in 1766; John Sheppard to Pennsylvania in 1773; and William Shepherd to Maryland in 1774. 

The culmination of this  immigration came in the fifteen years prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775.  Historian Bernard Bailyn wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book on this period and focused on the Emigrant's List prepared by a nervous British Government in 1773-1776 due to their concern at the volume of people leaving their shores.    The aforementioned Emigrant's List notes the 1774 arrival in New York of 36 year old Elizabeth Shepherd and her 4 year old daughter Molly and 2 year old son John.  This family came from Yorkshire, England's largest county, and one that supplied a high proportion of the English family groups arriving in the American colonies. Emigrants from Yorkshire were primarily disgruntled farmers and religious dissenters such as Baptists and Methodists.  Their principal destinations were Nova Scotia, New York and northeast Pennsylvania, and Georgia.




Filby, William and Meyer, N.K. (eds.) PASSENGER AND IMMIGRATION LISTS INDEX. Volume III, Detroit: Gale, 1981.

Fischer, David Hackett. ALBION'S SEED: FOUR BRITISH FOLKWAYS IN AMERICA. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Halberts of Bath, Ohio., SHEPHERD - COAT OF ARMS.

Hall of Names International, Inc., 1994, Certificate Number 943320-12.10 H-8641.

Hanks, Patrick and Hodges, Flavia. A DICTIONARY OF SURNAMES. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Smith, Elsdon C. AMERICAN SURNAMES. Philadelphia, New York, and London: Chilton Book Company, 1969.

SHEPHERD: This name may be safely claimed to be of universal origin in the English speaking world and not confined to Scotland. Thus, genealogical or geographical evidence would be required before claiming such ancestry. In the majority of cases the name has derived from the pastoral occupation of a tender of sheep and as such, until more recent times, was never a large part of the Highland economy, few would have pursued that occupation. In the Borders, Galloway and the eastern counties undoubtedly some pursued that occupation, and therein those Shepherds of Scottish ancestry will mostly trace their ancestors. They never have become a 'Clan' in thir own right but without question such dynasties that did evolve allied themselves with the major families they served or who were their neighbours. The Borders, where most shepherds pursued their occupation, were the 'cock-pit' in the wars between Scotland and England and undoubtedly many then forsook their pastoral duties and played their part as occasion demanded. Few would have been landholders in their own right and thus records of their existence are scant in national or estate archives. In early records written in Latin, the name is often found as 'pastor', but the form 'Scyphard' is appears as early as 1363 in Elgin. Here on the Moray coast, and in Aberdeen and Angus, the name enjoyed particular popularity and so it remains to this day. In the Jacobite Rising of 1745 at least three Angus 'Shepherds' served in Ogilvy's Regiment, one of whom was later transported to the Colonies. In bibliographies of Scottish families only two are indicated as having had information published on their ancestry, The 'Shepards of Braco' who are mentioned in the "Thanage of Fermartyn", and the 'Sheppards of Duchray', who appear in Burke's "Landed Gentry"(1925). It remains that much of the Shepherd story is untold, and before it is lost today's Shepherds should record their family's descent. A Shepherd check is known, and such is as old as weaving itself for it was made from the undyed wool of dark and light sheep woven in a 'dice' of small squares, often less than one half-inch. Such has latterly become the base of a check for the Haigs, Buccleuchs and Gladstones, and for the commemorative patterns for Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns.



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