Asa Sheldon probably did not know much of his father’s role in the American Revolution. Born five years after the end of the war, he knew little of his father, who died when Asa was 15.
Jeremiah Sheldon’s name is in the Danvers list of soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War. He was a month shy of his 18th birthday in April 1775. A posting on Ancestry.com in the Towne family has him serving in Capt. Enoch Putnam’s company from April 1775 to January 1776. Putnam was captain of the Danvers Minutemen. He was stationed in Cambridge or near Boston.
In the summer and autumn of 1777, he was in Capt. Samuel Flint’s militia company, involved with action in Vermont and New York, and the capture of Redcoat General Burgoyne at Saratoga. Then he guarded Burgoyne’s Redcoat troops at Cambridge.
There may or may not have been stories of bold military action that Jeremiah could have told his sons. There also could have been stories of traveling with the likes of John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Dr. Samuel Holten.
In his autobiography, Wilmington Farmer, Asa Sheldon (1788-1870) mentioned that his father had been a clerk for Judge Houghton in Congress. He also wrote that his father was quite good-natured, but gave no indication that he knew any background.
Except there was no Judge Houghton. Asa probably did not know much about the judge or what his father did. Jeremiah Sheldon served for seven years, 1778-1785, as a aide to Dr. Samuel Holten, a member of the Second Continental Congress. Jeremiah was 21 and a military veteran when he was hired by Dr. Holten.
In a biography of Holten, Harriet S. Tapley tells of the doctor setting off in 1778 for a month-long journey to York, Pennsylvania in the company of John Hancock. Tapley wrote, imagining the scene at Dr. Sheldon’s send-off from his home in Danvers: “Here too was Jeremiah Sheldon, Dr. Holten’s personal servant, who accompanied him on his journey.”
Their mission was to assist in the framing of the Articles of Confederation of the United States. The Declaration of Independence, of course, had been signed two years earlier. The Articles were voted in November 1777, but it was not until 1781 that the last ratification occurred. They then served as the operating agreement among the states until the adoption of the Constitution in 1789.
“John Hancock was Dr. Holten’s traveling companion on this first trip,” Tapley wrote. “Jerry Sheldon rode on horseback, and as the doctor’s ‘waiter’ received 20 pounds per month in Massachusetts currency.”
There were many such trips for Sheldon, between Danvers and Philadelphia.
Dr. Holten was a physician, first in Gloucester, then for several years in Danvers. In 1768, he was elected to the state legislature, where he became a strong advocate of the colonies separating from Great Britain. Ten years later, he became a delegate to the Continental Congress.
Sheldon wrote to Holten on June 28, 1780, thanking him for everything he had done for him. He expressed regret that he did not become a master of his field of learning, but that with Holten’s assistance, he would distinguish himself. He wrote that he was distressed at leaving Holten when he was unwell. He described his troubled 21-day wagon trip to Danvers. His service with Dr. Holten, though, continued until 1785.
In 1781, he married Elizabeth Goodell, a descendant of Gen. Israel Putnam, who had designed the earthen fortifications on Breed’s Hill for the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775. Putnam was a Danvers native.
Their firstborn was named Elbridge Gerry Sheldon, named for another member of the Massachusetts delegation to the Continental Congress, who later became the fifth vice president of the United States. The term ‘gerrymandering’ came from his name after he, as governor, signed a redistricting bill. A newspaper cartoon showed the district in Essex County looking like a salamander.
A story in the Boston Globe from 1885 tells of a reporter’s visit in North Reading with a woman who would soon be 102. Mrs. Lucinda Shelden Howard was born in Danvers in the year the Revolutionary War closed, 1783. She was Jeremiah and Elizabeth’s second child, five years older than her brother Asa Sheldon.
Mrs. Howard is quoted in the article, saying, “My father went to Congress as clerk for Judge Holten.”
The story goes through several memorable events in her lifetime, like the death of George Washington, the invention of the steamboat, and seeing the first locomotive on the Lowell railroad. She didn’t specify if that had been the Salem and Lowell Railroad, near her home in North Reading, or perhaps the Boston and Lowell, which ran through Wilmington and started earlier than the S&L.
Their third child was named for the doctor, Samuel Houghton Sheldon. He also settled in North Reading. Evidently there was a long confusion about Dr. Holten’s last name.
Asa Goodell Sheldon was fourth, born in 1788. He was named for his maternal grandfather.
There were three more daughters, Harriet, 1791, Betsy, 1795 and Sophia, 1801. A fourth son, Jeremiah, Jr. was born in 1798.
On April 14, 1797, Jeremiah lent Asa to a neighboring farm as an indentured worker, the first of many such arrangements.
Ten years later, Asa came to Wilmington, to the Pearson Tavern. In 1815, he married Clarissa Eames, daughter of Ens. Nathan Eames and Susanna Harnden. The couple lived first in the Cadwallader Ford house and eventually bought a house on Woburn Street.
Jeremiah Sheldon died in 1803. His widow outlived him by 50 years. Elizabeth Goodell Sheldon died in Wilmington in 1853 at age 94. She had lived with her son Asa for some 25 years.
Asa Sheldon’s autobiography, Wilmington Farmer, was republished in 1988 under the title Yankee Drover by University Press of New England. ISBN 0-87451-439-8.