The surname Shepherdson simply means "Son of a Shepherd" and is the patronymic (son of) form of an occupational name for Shepherdson, someone employed to tend and watch over sheep.
In the early days, being a shepherd was a common occupation. In fact, Shepherding is one of the oldest professions, beginning some 6000 years ago. In early England, shepherds were an important part of the economy as wool was England's most important product after food for its people and almost every manor had its flock of sheep. It is not surprising therefore that there were many shepherds with "Shepherd" in their surname.
The suffix "son" was probably added to depict the later generation of Shepherds and to distinguish from it being a common surname.
Who were the Shepherdsons in Early England
According to Researchers at the HouseOfCommons.com, the Shepherdson surname was first found in Durham in the north east of England and that they were a family name of great antiquity. They were described as notable Englishmen in Durham where they were seated as Lords of the Manor of Bishopwearmouth and Murton.
Based on historical documents available, we know that the Shepherdsons in Durham held lands by copy of court roll in Bishop Wearmouth and of Murton since the commencement at least of the records of the Halmot Court, temp. Edward III who was king of England from 1327 to 1377.
The Shepherdson family name rose to prominence during the mid 17th century.
It is well documented that a William Shepherdson, esq. Of Bishop Wearmouth and of Murton, in County was living there in 1635. He was married to Joan (Daughter of John Goodchild, esq. of Ryhope, and sister of Robert Goodchild, esq. Of Pallyon).
The abbreviation “esq” is short for “Esquire” which was used as a term to denote social status. During those days, the social rank began with royalty continuing down through to officers of state, church dignitaries, the nobility and knights, they invariably concluded with Esquires and finally, Gentlemen, in that order. Hence, Esquire is often defined as a rank next below that of Knight.
It is documented that two of William’s three sons served in the military. Adam was a captain under Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) who was an English military and political leader best known for his involvement in making England into a republican Commonwealth and for his later role as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was one of the commanders of the New Model Army which defeated the royalists in the English Civil War.
William’s third son, Edward, esq. Of Murton which he acquired by gift from his father on 24th November, 1645, was captain of a troop of horse under General George Monk, captain general and commander-in-chief of all the forces in England. One of Edward’s descendants, also named Edward, became an acting magistrate and deputy lieutenant of the county of Durham, for which he served as high sheriff in 1843.
The Shepherdson Crest / Coat of Arms & The Royal Connection
The Coat of Arms of the Shipperdsons (as it was spelt in the 17th/18th century) of Bishopwearmouth, Monkwearmouth, Morton] can be traced to the reign of Edward III in the 14th century.
Coat of Arms: It has three lozenges (on a bend) each charged with a planetary sun in its glory .
Motto: Shippersdon Nubem eripiam meaning "I will dispel the cloud" [v]
The royal connection of the Shepherdsons is depicted in the Shepherdson Family Crest. Two Shepherdson members married descendants from the royal line of King Edward III. Captain Edward Shipperdson of Murton married Margaret Sympson, sister and sole heir of William Sympson, Pidingtonhall Garth. His son, Ralph, married Margaret Mugrave, the only child and heir to Thomas Musgrave, the sixth son of Sir William Musgrave, Edenball, Bart. Both Margaret Sympson and Margaret Musgrave have their royal lineage to King Edward III documented in the book "Royal Descents and Pedigrees of Founders' Kin", Bernard Burke, Published by Harrison, 1858, Oxford University.
So who was King Edward III. Edward III (13 November 1312 – 21 June 1377) was one of the most successful English monarchs of the Middle Ages. His achievements included transformation of the Kingdom of England into the most efficient military power in Europe, including introducing changes in vital legislature and government—in particular the evolution of the English parliament—as well as the ravages of the Black Death. He remained on the throne for 50 years.
Source: Heraldic illustrations, by J. and J. B. Burke, By John Burke, John Bernard Burke, 1844 (plate XXIV),
Shepherdson Families and their distribution in England
Besides the United Kingdom, today, there are Shepherdsons around the world, residing in the US, Australia, Canada and even in Singapore and Malaysia. These families are thought to have migrated from early England.
If we use the International Genealogy Index (IGI) to study possible migration patterns within England (where records are available only from 1500), majority of the Shepherdson families (60%) in the 16th century were living in either Durham or Hertford, although there were a small number recorded in Nottingham, Bedford Leicester, Kent, London, Lincoln and Yorkshire.
In the 17th century, there was a strong presence of Shepherdsons in Durham (37%) with pockets of families recorded in more than 10 other counties. While majority of the Shepherdson families were in Durham in the 1600s, this was not the case in the 1700s. In fact, the 18th century saw Yorkshire as the country that recorded the most presence of Shepherdson (32%) and this increased to more than half (53%) in the 19th century.
Source: International Genealogical Index
One of the first few names recorded in early England was: John Schephirdson in the year 1332[i] within the Subsidy Rolls. Subsidy Rolls are records of taxation in England made between the 12th and 17th century. The 1332 subsidy was the first and was primary confined to wealthy householders. John Schephirdson’s name was recorded in the subsidy rolls of Cumberland, one of the 39 historic counties of England.
A search of the The Patent Rolls (Calendarium Rotulorum Patentium, Rotuli litterarum patentium) which are primary records of the King of England's correspondence starting in 1202 also revealed a few early Shepherdsons:
Another name was Ralph Schiperdson (“Son of a Shepherd”) whose name was found in the Register of the Guild of Corpus Christie dated 1509[ii]. This was a religious guild established at York in the year 1409 by "chaplains and other worthy parsons, both secular and regular," and dedicated to promote the decorous observance of the religious festival of Corpus Christi". The register contained more than 16,850 members made up of individuals of the highest rank, both ecclesiastical and civil. Among these were the archbishop of York, the bishops of Carlisle, Durham, Exeter and Hereford,etc.
[i] A Dictionary of English Surnames, By Percy Hide Reaney, Richard Middlewood, Wilson, Contributor Richard Middlewood Wilson, Published by Routledge, 1991. P405
[ii] Robert H. Skaife, ed. (1872) The Register of the Guild of Corpus Christi in the City of York, Publications of the Surtees Society, pg 169
Throughout the course of history, there have been many variants of the surname Shepherdson. An analysis[i] of close to 3,000 birth, christening and marriage records (1500 to 1900) in the British Isles available from the International Genealogical Index (IGI) reveals that there are 135 variants in spelling. Among the more popular ones are:
For example, in the early days, Shepherdson surname was spelled as “Shipperdson” or “Schephirdson” .Although there were various spellings, it should be noted that today, the two most common spellings are Shepherdson (predominantly in UK) and Shepardson (US).