GaspeeVirtual Archives
Research Notes on Captain Christopher Sheldon (1732-1799)

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the 1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating Christopher Sheldon:

In the John Sheldon of Providence (and Records of His Descendants) by Keith M. Sheldon, 1984, Whippoorwill Publishing, Evansville, IN, a genealogical reference, in the Footnotes on page 771 (and referring to the Christopher) entry, we find the following:
[11], p28  Christopher Sheldon, #1423, owner of the Sheldon Wharf in Providence, participated in rebellious action of June 10, 1772 which captured and burned the British revenue boat "Gaspee" at Gaspee point in Narragansett Bay.

From Sheldon Family Association  Quarterly VIII:1, January 1993, p. 263 by Irving Sheldon:
One of the first violent affairs that presaged the Revolution was the attack on, and the burning of the British ship, the “Gaspee,” grounded on the point now known as Gaspee Point on the Providence River one evening in June of 1772. Our late cousin, Hazard Knowles, has told us in the past of the tradition in his branch of our family that Christopher (Sheldon) was in charge of one of the longboats which rowed down from Providence that night. 
'Hap' Knowles was a revered founding member of the Gaspee Days Committee. In the June 7-8, 1978 Gaspee Days special supplement to the Warwick Beacon, p23, he was interviewed:
Knowles' own great great grandfather, Christopher Sheldon, was a skipper on one of John Brown's long boats, he said.  His ancestry dates back to the original commander of the Pawtuxet Rangers, Samuel Aborn, whose sword Knowles carries as a member of today's Rangers.
Note that one doesn't proclaim that one was 'skipper' of a simple longboat, unless that longboat is involved in attacking the Gaspee.

The following brief passage is excerpted from the website of the late psychologist William Sheldon:  <>.  The passage (speaking of his boyhood and upbringing) reads:
And all over the pre-Revolutionary war homestead where he grew up he saw the evidence of where he had come from.

On the night of June 10th, 1772 Christopher Sheldon had joined 8 rowboats full of Providence men who made their way with muffled oars to his majesty's ship Gaspee, sent to enforce the stamp act, and burned her.

Biographical Notes:
by Joe E. Sheldon , a decendant-relative

Most of the source material for the following article comes from Sheldon Family Association  Quarterly VIII:1, January 1993, p. 263 by Irving Sheldon, and from John Sheldon of Providence (and Records of His Descendants) by Keith M. Sheldon, 1984, Whippoorwill Publishing, Evansville, IN.

Christopher Sheldon was born in Providence Rhode Island on February 18, 1732. Four days later on February 22 a notable gentleman named George Washington was born in a different locale. Both were to be involved in the events of the time but especially the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War.

Christopher Sheldon died in the city of his birth on November 14, 1799 (and is buried in the Old North Burial Ground in Providence) and a bit over 5 weeks later George Washington also died - but at his home in Mount Vernon. These contemporaries both played their parts in American history; one a small part and the other an exceedingly large one. We will leave the larger part to be notated by the many authors who have done so already and will continue to do so. This tale, though, is about the player in the smaller part of the history - Captain Christopher Sheldon.

As a youth and young man Christopher was born into a family intertwined with many of the other area families by marriage since Providence was a town of about 4,000 individuals. At least two of these were the Tillinghast and the Fenner families, both well known locally. His father was Town Treasurer for many years and, according to Chase, Providence houses, 1779, had built a sizable house near the still standing warehouse on South Main Street.

Left:  Christopher Sheldon House c1735-c1908 at 357 South Main Street.  Descendant Joe E. Sheldon feels, however this may not have been Christopher Sheldon's house as it was located too far north of Sheldon property on South Main Street.

Christopher Sheldon married his cousin, Rosanna Arnold, before he was 21, and they had two sons and three daughters (all born in Providence) before she died in 1766:

  1. (Captain) Remington, b 22 Aug 1753; d 1829 Pawtuxet, RI (m Hulda Green)
  2. (Captain) Israel, b 7 Sep 1755; 5 Mar 1792 Cape Tubeworm, Hispaniola, West Indies, served in the Revolution (m Amy Spaulding).
  3. Lydia Sheldon b 11 Sep 1757; d1792 (m Daniel Stillwell)
  4. Mary Sheldon b 4 Mar 1761 d1790; (m James W.  Remington)
  5. Rosanna Sheldon b 2 May 1763; d 1789 (m Jesse Cooke 26 Aug 1783, the son of Gov. Nicholas Cooke)  Later on in 1795, Christopher Sheldon was made guardian for grandson, Joseph Cooke, son of his daughter, Rosanna, when both parents had died.

Further genealogy is available in Wayne G. Tillinghast, The Tillinghasts in America: The First Four Generations (2006). 

Sometime prior to the French and Indian War time period he began working for the Brown family mercantile interests and served as a Master on several of their ships which career he continued for much of the rest of his time as a seaman. During the French and Indian War, he functioned as a privateer on two Brown ships, both of which were captured in 1764, the snow, Dolphin and the schooner, Rosanna.  After that time he worked with the Brown family in more “normal” maritime efforts as master of the brig, George, ( 1767-1771) which sailed between Providence and Paramaribo, Surinam for Nicholas Brown & Co.  One record that Irving Sheldon discovered was a bill for carrying a French captain to Antigua. A Rhode Island privateer had captured this gentleman, and this was a step in returning the captain to French territory.  For his services, Christopher billed the  Colony.  Another is a letter from Sheldon to his bosses, the Brown brothers:

Paramaribo, December 13th, 1767
Gentlemen: After my respects to you, these may serve to inform you of my safe arrival here on the 28th November after 37 days passage (to a bad market). Brought all my horses in, but some of them in bad order. Met with loss of eight sheep only.

That one very hard gale of wind which began with me on the 29th of October in Latitude 34 40 Longitude 62 (650 miles or so northwest of Bermuda) from the SSW to the WNW but the height of the gale was from WSW to WbyS  which continued to blow hard for about sixty hours in which time scudding made several days difference in the length of my voyage by falling to windward further than I had expected. I think we had very great luck in saving our stock through such a gale; I‘ve not had so hard a one for several voyages past, and must give the “George” the praise of being the best vessel for scudding that ever I sailed in. She proved much the same for tightness in the gale as at other times, making about the same water as she did when left home, but now makes very little I judge then  occasioned by some open pace in her upper works.” etc.

The Gaspee raid is well documented both in the Gaspee Virtual Archives and in the Bucklin Society websites which between them give many wonderful insights into the life and times of the Gaspee Affair. It is left to the reader to thoroughly investigate both websites for very extensive information.

In mid 1772 at the time of the Gaspee raid, Captain Christopher Sheldon was 40 years old and Captain Joseph Tillinghast (a known Gaspee Raider and longboat captain) was 38. Probably both would have known John Mawney, the “physician” on the Gaspee raid since Tillinghast eventually married Mawney’s sister. As we shall see from later events, Christopher was both well known and well respected by his contemporaries and was heavily involved in the First Baptist Church in Providence.

In addition (and since I mentioned earlier that the Sheldon and Tillinghast lines were intertwined by marriage) as some additional food for thought, the Fenners and Sheldons were likewise intertwined since Richard Fenner married Abigail Sheldon in 1716. This would further strengthen the possibility of Christopher's involvement in the raid.

Since John Brown had seen to it that ship captains known to him were to command the longboats, it seems to be quite likely that Captain Christopher Sheldon was in charge of one of the longboats being of an age (40) to have some mature judgment and with experience in privateering as well as then working for the Browns. In addition, the Browns were involved in the Baptist Church as was not only Christopher but his family before him.

Shortly after the Gaspee Affair, in 1774, Christopher was one of 12 signatories urging a lottery for fund raising to build a Baptist church.
According to Bayles, Richard M. History of Providence County, Rhode Island, New York, 1891, p182, a bit later in 1775 at a town meeting appointing a group of worthies to defend the town against possible invasion by the British (who were then occupying Newport and might just proceed up the bay to Providence), two officers were named and Christopher was named as gunner for the Fox Hills battery which had a complement of at least 6 18 pound cannons as well as a complement of debris laden scows and a series of chains across the channel. All in all it was not an appointive position the town meeting would be likely to entrust to an unknown quantity in view of the fact that the British attack might be imminent. This would seen to further indicate community regard for Christopher.

In 1777, Captain Christopher was put in charge of the captured British ship Aurora until August of 1778 when he became a member of the Providence Town Council where he served until 1781. He then was named 5th Justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace in and for the County of Providence. It is doubtful, given his past experience, that Christopher had ever actually received formal training as a lawyer.

SheldonHse.jpgLeft: Christopher Sheldon warehouse at 369 South Main Street in Providence, currently used as a law office.

In 1784 Christopher built a warehouse building (which still stands and is used as the law offices of Homonoff, Levine & Pulner) at 369 South Main Street. The structure is one of the very few in the vicinity that survived the devastating fire just about a year after Christopher’s death in 1799. It is today a very gracious and charmingly restored example of a building constructed in 1784 as attested to by its cornerstone and as may be seen in the Library of Congress website dealing with the Historic American Building Registry. The building was mislabeled by a local society as to who built it and when but perhaps that will now be corrected.

And then there’s this, appearing in the Saturday, Nov. 16, 1799 Providence Gazette:

Died: On Thursday morning, very suddenly, Cap't Christopher Sheldon, in the 68th year of his age, much and deservedly lamented. He was for many years an able and experienced nautical commander, and he sustained many offices of trust, the duties of which he discharged with that integrity and benevolence which marked his character through his life. He was universally esteemed as an honest man, a sincere Christian, and a highly valuable and useful citizen. His funeral will be attended tomorrow afternoon, immediately after divine service, when the friends of the deceased, and citizens in general, are invited to attend.

His etate was adminsiered by fellow Gaspee raider Capt. Joseph Tillinghast. To sum it all up, Christopher was a man of his times active in civic and religious affairs of the town and was well regarded by his peers. It also seems likely he was indeed a Gaspee raider and was one of the many of them that were, out of respect, protected from any possible British intrusions. Even at the time of his death it was probably too close to the actual event to speak publicly about such things due to concern about reprisals. Many people are not aware of the fact that those loyal to the Crown persisted in various forms of agitation and mischief until almost the Civil War.


We also note that Captain Christopher Sheldon and fellow Gaspee raider Captain Pardon Sheldon were first cousins, sharing the same grandparents, Nicholas and Anne (Tillinghast) Sheldon.  This is proved out in Wayne G. Tillinghast's The Tillinghasts in America: The First Four Generations (2006).

Land issues:

An issue of the Saturday Evening Post of August 22, 1829 has a narrative that says the Gaspee raid was launched from the Sheldon Wharf but this location is not as widely accepted as the one normally cited - Fenner’s Wharf.. The 1829 narrative, it should be noted (which some think might have had Ephraim Bowen as the source), was some 10 years closer to the actual event than that of the 1839 Bowen account whose primary source then was his 86 year old memory.

Left: Map of Providence land divisions, late 18th century by E. Hortense Sheldon. Click image to view entire map. 

Christopher’s father was “Deacon” (active in the Baptist church) Joseph Sheldon, a grandson of Pardon Tillinghast and the Sheldon family owned a goodly amount of land in the southern part of Providence (all of the general locale of where Sheldon Street still stands). The Sheldon area of land was mostly just south of the Tillinghast land, but another Sheldon parcel to the north extended to the river and that was land upon which the good Deacon had built a 144-foot wharf. In those times having a waterfront outlet was very helpful to conducting trade of any sort. This land was also the location where a building at 369 South Main Street is now located which is only two blocks south of the Sabin Tavern location as well as Fenner’s wharf, locations where the plot to attack the Gaspee was formulated and from where they departed on their mission.

Christopher Sheldon, appears at IB2 and IB3 grids on the map of 1770 Providence taxpayers, as well as a Pardon Sheldon at IB2, and a Land? Sheldon at ID3.  I believe the mystery of "Land Sheldon" can be easily clarified.  I have consulted some hand sketched maps from family sources (again, not sure of origin, etc.) about this mystery since there WAS no Land Sheldon per the 932 page John Sheldon of Providence ... genealogical book by Keith M. Sheldon.  Instead, these casual maps show what would also be called a "Land Tillinghast" and I would doubt there were such a Tillinghast at the time.  Instead, in the case of both "Lands", this map shows them to be "Sheldon land" and "Tillinghast land" with the Sheldon land being contiguous and to the south of the Tillinghast land.  The "Sheldon land" was contiguous to the north of Mile End Cove - Fox Point - John Brown Wharf - William Wickenden land and went further north to Transit Street where it met the Tillinghast land (which stretched east to west from The Ridge (now Hope Street, I believe) to the river on the west encompassing Pardon Tillinghast's burial site.  At the west terminus on this "T. land" was the Tillinghast Wharf and to the north of that wharf was the adjacent Sheldon Wharf (on the land where 369 South Main still stands).
For his role in the attack and burning of the HMS Gaspee in 1772, the Gaspee Days Committee recognizes Captain Christopher Sheldon as a true American patriot.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 7/2004    Last Revised 5/2009    ChristopherSheldon.html