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  1. Introduction

  2. The Shekell Surname in England and Wales

  3. Immigrants to America

  4. Origins in Colonial Maryland:  Thomas1.1 SHEKELL, Mary BUDD, and Their Children

  5. John2.2, Son of Thomas and Mary

  6. Richard2.4, Son of Thomas and Mary

  7. Samuel2.5, Son of Thomas and Mary

  8. John3.2 and the Move to Western New York


Chapter 1.  Introduction

The SHEKELL family in America began with the marriage of Thomas SHEKELL (c1675-c1721) and Mary BUDD on 11 December 1701 at Old Herring Creeke Parish (now St. James Parish) in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.  We, Joanne and Richard, are direct descendants of Thomas and Mary through two of their sons, John and Richard, respectively. Our aim here is to document the information that has been collected about the SHEKELL family using original documents where possible. In transcribing these documents, we have relied primarily on Palaeography: Reading Old Handwriting 1500-1800, A Practical Online Tutorial, prepared by the National Archives of the United Kingdom. Specifically,

Summary of the First Three Generations

Thomas' place of birth is unknown, but historical and Y-DNA evidence support the idea that he or his forebearers came from England. He was very poor. At his death c 1721 his estate was valued at £3 and 6 shillings, and comprised his wearing apparel, some old bedding, 4 sows, 14 shoats, an old brass kettle, an old iron pot, some old iron, and some old lumber. Records show the birth of three children: Thomas, John, and Elizabeth. Three other persons -- Richard, Samuel, and William -- probably were children of Thomas and Mary. We have little or no further information about Thomas, Elizabeth, and William. John, Richard, and Samuel became fairly prosperous planters.

John (1704-1787) married Frances Birckhead c 1735. He devised 3 properties -- Bear Ridge, Hard Bargain, and Sorry Bargain -- totalling some 270 acres to their 8 children: Abraham, Rebecca, Richard, Susanne, Mary, Deborah, Francis, and Elizabeth. Francis and Benjamin BASFORD, Elizabeth's husband, purchased the land from the other 6 children. Richard moved to Kentucky as did his sister, Susanna and her husband, Nicholas RAY.

Richard (c 1710-1770), son of Thomas and Mary, married Ruth ____ c 1739. He owned "lands" but these have not been identified. After settling all accounts his estate totaled £347. Richard and Ruth had 11 children: Ann, John, Richard, Mary, Mahalaleell, Lydia, Samuel, Rebecca, Thomas, Cephus, and Hezekiah. At least two of these children, John and Samuel moved to Clifton Springs in Western New York c 1800.

Samuel (c 1712-1794) owned Shekell's Chance, a property of about 164 acres in Anne Arundel County. He named 6 children in his will: Agnes, Richard, Ann, Durrance, Mary, and Deborah. Shekell's Chance was sold after Samuel's death and the proceeds divided among his heirs.

After a difficult beginning in the New World, the family was well established in Maryland by 1800, and some of the grandchildren had already moved to Western New York and Kentucky. Later generations moved to Indiana, Michigan, California, and elsewhere.

Spelling the Surname

Sign for Sheckells Road in MarylandSpelling of English surnames was largely unstandardized prior to 1900. People mostly wrote what they heard. We have seen our surname spelled variously in 18th and early 19th century documents, e.g., SHECKELS,SHECKLES, SHEKELS, SHECKEL, SHEKELL, SHECKELL, SHEKLES, SHEKEL, SHEEKEL, SHECKLE, SHECKELLS, and SCHECKLES. For sake of simplicity, we have in most cases used "SHEKELL" as the standard except when transcribing an original document. Documents indicate that the terminal "s" was added early on. For instance, the birth of John, son of Thomas and Mary Shekell, was recorded as "John the Son of Thomas Shekel & Mary his Wife born Jan[ua]ry the 11th 1704", but the arrival of John's son, Abraham, was recorded as "Abraham Shekels son of John and Frances Shekels b. 15 Nov 1735." We think it likely that the "s" was originally added to indicate the possessive or plural when speaking -- as in "Where is the road to Shekell's farm?" or "Where do the Shekells live?" -- and was carried over into spelling the name. 

Pronouncing the Surname

Most Americans in our experience now pronounce their family name with the accent on the first syllable, i.e., "Sheh-kell" or "Sheh-kells", like "shekel", the Israeli unit of currency. However, as described elsewhere, a SHEKELL family in England pronounce their name"Shee-kul", and we have seen a few early 18th century Maryland documents with the surname spelled phonetically as "SHEEKEL". Around 1920, Richard Shekelle's father, Paul, added a terminal "e" to the family name spelling it as SHEKELLE and pronouncing it with the accent on the second syllable, "Sheh-kell".

Origin of the SHEKELL Surname

The origin of the SHEKELL surname is obscure.

P.H. Reaney’s A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd ed, Oxford University Press, 1997) contains no entry for Shekell but does list several more-or-less similar names: Shackel, Shackell, Sackle, Shackles, Skakle. Examples cited include Robertus filius Scakel, Robert Scakel, Herbert Scakel, and William Shakelle, the latter found in the 1379 Yorkshire Poll Tax Returns. Reaney says of this surname: “Shakel is an anglicizing of Anglo-Saxon Skakel, from ON Skọkull (byname), OSw Skakli, the latter occurring in Scagglethorpe (ER, WR, Yorks).” [NB: A byname is a nickname or a surname descriptive of an office or occupation.]

The Penguin Dictionary of Names (2nd ed., reprinted 1984) has no entries for Shekell or Shackel but does list Shackleton, which it describes as a surname based on location and coming from Old English meaning “farm on a tongue of land”. A place, Scackleton, is “in North Yorks, the surname going back to the OE form before it was scandinavianized.”

I do not know whether our SHEKELL surname is related to these other surnames, e.g., Shackel, but if it is, then our surname may derive from the Anglo-Saxon language and perhaps indicated the occupation of farmer.

St James' Parish in Anne Arundel County, Maryland

St James Church exteriorSt. James Parish signSt James Church interior

Thomas was a member of Old Herring Creeke Parish, now called St. James' Parish, in Anne Arundel County, and the parish records provide us with much information about the Shekells. (See Edith Stansbury Dallam, St James Parish (Old Herring Creeke Parish): A History, 1663-1799, Including Copies of The Original Records of the Parish, Vestry Minutes, and Register of Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1978.) The parish register, as required by the Act of Establishment of the Church of England, recorded (albeit sporadically and incompletely) the births, baptisms, marriages, and burials in the parish. The  church is located at 5757 Solomons Island Rd, Lothian, MD, about 16 miles south of Annapolis (Point A on this map).

Anne Arundel Manor

The following illustration is a plat of Anne Arundel Manor in 1767 (Maryland State Archives Accession No.: 40,283-162 MSA No.: S65-61 Location: B5/10/1/). The Patuxent River forms the western boundary.  Four Shekell properties are shown in color:  Sheckel's Purchase, Bear Ridge, Hard Bargain, and Sheckle's Chance.  Click here for an enlarged image.

Plat of Ann Arundel Manor

An Archives of Maryland Publication
MSA SC 5458-58-9309


Dates: 1920 Description: 3, No. 57. AA. Anne Arundel Manor, Clement Hills Purchase, Hopkins Fancy, Aliens Purchase, Hopkins Venture, Darnalls Purchase, Gravelly Hill, Owens Purchase, Fox Hall, Brashears Purchase, Golden Rod Bottom, Richards Purchase, Sheckells Chance, Spriggs Purchase, Benjamins Choice, Simmons Purchase, Dear Bought, Greens Purchase, Nicholsons Choice, Barretts Purchase, Bear Ridge, Cowmans Purchase, Greenwick Park, Isaacs Purchase, Hard Bargain, Sarahs Purchase, Wards Prospect, Mummers Purchase, Owens Fancy, Sheckells Purchase, Billingsham, Solomons Purchase, Childs Addition, Anthonys Purchase, Steuarts Farm, Parishes Purchase, Greenock Park, Norris Purchase, Watchs Folly, Samuels Purchase, Annas Desire, Biggs Purchase, Carts Hills, Brothers Purchase, Cowleys Fancy, Greenock Farm, Sparrows Addition, Gotts Farm, His Lordships Justice, Widows Enlargement, Hopkins Choice, Force Put for Prevention, Batchelors Choice, Phillips Pillage Lot, Rumney Mede, Portland Manor. Copied from a 1767 plat and annotated. Accession No.: 40,283-162 MSA No.: S65-61 Location: B5/10/1/

Accession No.: MSA SC 5458-58-9309


The Change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752

The following material has been adapted from Time to Take Note: The 1752 Calendar Change (Ancestry Magazine 1 Nov 2000,
( and from the website of the Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture (

The Julian Calendar was replaced in Catholic countries by the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, but this change did not occur in Great Britain and its colonies until 1752.  In the Julian or Old Style (O.S.) system, New Year's Day was March 25 and March 24 was the last day of the preceding year.  March was the first month of the year, April the second, May the third, and so on. February was the 12th month of the year.  Clerks sometimes indicated a month by its ordinal position in the Julian Calendar.  For instance, the 4th month of 1646 would be June.  Similarly, the months of September, October, November, and December could be indicated by 7-ber, 8-ber, 9-ber, and 10-ber, respectively.  Records from January and February were filed following those from November and December.  Because the old year ended on March 24 and the new year began on March 25, only 1 day separated 24 March of one year from 25 March of the following year. For example, March 3, 1656 and April 3, 1657 were separated by only 30 days.

Between 1582 and 1752, double dating was used in Great Britain and British North America for dates occurring between January 1st and March 24th, e.g., January 15, 1656/7 indicated that the year was 1656 O.S. and 1657 N.S.

The following steps were taken to convert to the Gregorian or New Style (N.S.) system.

To make matters even more confusing, the colonial Chesapeake region had a diverse and multi-national population during the 17th and 18th centuries, with many individuals originating from different areas of Europe. These settlers often followed the dating conventions of their homelands, in spite of English law or local custom. For instance, Scotland counted January 1st as the first of the year after 1600, and many Scottish settlers who served the community in the role of clerks used that standard in their record keeping.

Another source of confusion can occur when an Old Style date has been changed to a New Style date without noting the change.  For instance, George Washington's birthday is commonly given as 22 February 1732 without specifying that this is a New Style date.  At the time of his birth, however, the date would have been written in the Old Style as 11 February 1731.  

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©Joanne and Richard Shekelle
Last Updated 8 October 2010