SHEPARD, Ralph & Thankslord (Perkins)

Cliff McCarthy, 2016

Ralph Shepard was born in England in either 1603 (age in death record) or 1606 (age in shipping list). On the 21st of May in 1632, he married at St. Bride Fleet Street, London, Thankslord Perkins (sometimes Thanks-ye-Lord or simply Thanks), who was born in England about 1612. The couple had a child, Sara, who was baptized on 9 August 1633. The entry reads: “Sara daughter of Ralph Sheperd of Limehouse tailor and Thankslord, ux 3.” The “3” in a right-hand column indicates the age in days of the child at the time of baptism. This record is “the very earliest contemporary reference” to Ralph Shepard that has been found.

Ralph was a tailor and a citizen of London. On April 24, 1634, when Bishop Laud was persecuting the non-conformists, Ralph was summoned before the Court of High Commissions. This was an ecclesiastical court, “for the peace and dignity of the church, by reforming, ordering and correcting the ecclesiastical state and persons, and all manner of errors, heresies, schisms, abuses, offenses, contempts and enormities.” The sentence pronounced against “Ralph Shepard of Limehouse, Middlesex” is not given, but he probably left England on account of the sentence of the Court.

On 30 June 1635, Ralph Sheppard, aged 29, with his wife Thankes, 23, and daughter Sara, 2, took passage for New England on the Abigail, Robert Hackwell master. Their last port of departure was Plymouth, Eng., about August 1st, with 220 passengers aboard and many cattle. The ship arrived in Boston about October 8th, carrying smallpox. This was the same voyage that brought William and Frances Potter and their young son Joseph to America. Also aboard the ship was Sir Henry Vane, travelling incognito, who later was to be Governor of Massachusetts.

This comment appears in The Great Migration Begins:

“Thomas Shepard, the second child of this immigrant, gave his age on 24 November 1683 as “about forty-eight years,” which would place his birth about 1635. Since he was not included in the passenger list when his parents and older sister sailed for New England in June 1635, he would have been born soon after arrival, suggesting that Thankslord (Perkins) Shepard was pregnant when she crossed theAtlantic.” 

Ralph had a certificate from the minister of Stepney parish. Family tradition says he came from Stepney, near London. Limehouse then was a hamlet in Stepney parish — St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East. In 1730 Limehouse became the separate parish of St. Anne-Limehouse, now a densely populated part of the East End of London.

Ralph & Thankslord Shepard were among the founders of Dedham, Mass.

Ralph & Thankslord Shepard were among the founders of Dedham, Mass.

The family first settled in Dedham, Mass., where “Ralph Shepheard” was one of the 18 original signers of the Covenant and where he attended the first town meetings on 18 August 1636, which was actually held in Watertown. He was granted twelve acres of land at that meeting and was granted additional land in 1638. He sold most of his Dedham lands on 21 August 1639 to Mr. John Allin.

They next lived at Weymouth, where the births of two children were recorded in 1639 and 1641. He owned land in that town by 1642.

Ralph was an original purchaser of land and a proprietor at Rehoboth, Mass., then a part of Plymouth Colony, but he probably never settled there.  A Compact was made in Weymouth, with Ralph’s signature on it, and there was a migration to Rehoboth in the spring of 1644-45. The first division of land was granted by the Court of Plymouth to “the inhabitants of Seaconck, alias Rehoboth” about the year 1643. However, the records indicate that Ralph Shepard forfeited his lands in Rehoboth for lack of improvements.

Instead, the Shepards appear in Malden, Mass., where on 19 March 1650/1, Richard Palgrave of Charlestown, physician, with the consent of his wife Anne, sold to Ralph Shepheard of Malden, taylor, “my lot of upland lying by the north spring on Mistik syde, containing five acres” and “four cow Lotts.”  The Mystic River runs on the west side of town. The births of two children were recorded at Malden in 1651 and 1653.

Middlesex County records show Ralph took oath of a Freeman in April 1651. Ralph Shepard of Malden, tailor, bought and sold various parcels of land in Malden. He was a ruling elder, sometimes referred to as Deacon, in the Malden Church by 1655. He also was concerned in the ordination of Rev. Marmaduke Mathews in 1650, as appears from a petition presented to the Court May 16, 1655. Thanklord Shepard also signed a petition to the General Court favoring Rev. Mr. Mathews in Oct. 1651. Ralph was fined as a result of “the offense they gave to the court & several churches” and was required to formally apologize.

Ralph seems to have removed the family to Concord, Mass., in 1665 or ’66. On July 7, 1666, Ralph, with his wife’s consent, sold to Mr. Benjamin Bunker “all that my dwelling house in Mauldon with all the outhouses, barns, stables, orchards, yards, gardens, and land thereto adjoining containing by estimation about fourteen acres…also a fifteen acre lot of swamp land lying in the great swamp…” plus several more parcels of land lying within the boundaries of Charlestowne.  He bought a large farm containing by estimation 610 acres of upland, swamp, and meadow land in Concord from Lt. Joseph Wheeler at that time, but it was not until 1678 that the deed was recorded, perhaps because it was not all paid up until then. This land was in the so-called New Grant (made in 1655, laid out in 1666) which included present-day Acton, and parts of Carlisle and Littleton, abutting Chelmsford, southeast of Nagog Pond.

Describing himself as a tailor from Concord, Ralph, with the consent of his wife Thankslord, conveyed to their son-in-law Walter Power of Concord, planter, 60 acres in Concord on March 25, 1666. This was part of the large tract which Ralph had purchased from Lt. Joseph Wheeler. Walter Powers had married their daughter Tryal and this deed was witnessed by Isaac Shepard and Jacob Shepard.

On May 29, 1681, Ralph executed two deeds: one to his son, Abraham, for a house, lot, part of a meadow, and a swamp; the other to his son Isaac’s two sons and a daughter. Isaac had been killed by Indians on Feb. 12, 1676. By this time Ralph was an old man, 79, and as there was no release of dower rights, his wife must have died before this. Isaac’s children lived near him, also daughters Triall and Thanks and his son Abraham. He seems to have been surrounded by kinfolk in his later years.

For many years, proof was lacking to show that Thomas Shepard of Charlestown and Malden was a son of Ralph Shepard. Circumstantial evidence pointing to this conclusion relied on the administration of the estate of Peter Dill, the husband of Ralph’s daughter Thanks, recorded 3 May 1693. The widow and eldest son put up bond as administrators and their sureties were Walter Power and “Thomas Shepard Senr of Charlestown.” Power was brother-in-law of Thanks, husband of Trial Shepard; and it would be reasonable to suppose that the other surety, Thomas Shepard, was her brother. Also, Thomas Shepard named sons Ralph, Jacob, and Isaac; the first could be for his father Ralph, the other two for brothers, known sons of Ralph.

Nevertheless, documentary proof was lacking until such proof was found by Mr. Thomas A. Burke of Cambridge, Mass., in the Middlesex County, Mass. land records, Book 14, pp. 562-64, at Cambridge, and published by Mr. Charles Shepard of Rochester, N.Y. A partition deed made 30 March 1808 between William Power and Walter Power, who were sons of Trial (Shepard) Power and grandsons of Ralph Shepard, states that they “have purchased a Certain Tract of Land of theire Two Cousins vizt. Ralph Shepard and Jacob Shepard” by a deed dated the previous 23 January (i.e., 23 Jan. 1707/8); this purchase deed has not been found recorded. Since these proved grandsons of Ralph Shepard called Ralph and Jacob Shepard their cousins, and since the only Shepard men of those names known to have been living at that time were Thomas’s sons Ralph and Jacob, it follows that Thomas was a son of Ralph Shepard. The record of Ralph’s daughter Sarah was also supplied by Mr. Charles Shepard, who points out that Ralph of Malden was not the London draper of that name, with whom he has been erroneously identified in some printed works, as the draper died in London leaving a will dated 17 July 1652, proved 2 May 1653.

Ralph died 20 August 1693, aged 90, according to Charlestown, Mass. vital records. Malden vital records record his death as 11 September 1693. His gravestone, in Bell Rock Cemetery, Malden, carries the later date. As the death was recorded first in Charlestown, where his son Thomas Shepard lived, perhaps he was away from Concord on a visit when death caught him unawares.


Children of Ralph & Thankslord (Perkins) SHEPARD

RALPH SHEPARD was born Abt. 1606 in England, and died 20 August 1693 in Charlestown, MA.  He married THANKSLORD “THANKS” PERKINS 21 May 1632 in London, Middlesex Co., England.  She was born Abt. 1612 in England. The Children of RALPH SHEPARD and THANKSLORD PERKINS are:

i.    SARA SHEPARD, b. 6 August 1633, bp. 9 Aug. 1633, Stepney, Middlesex Co., England.
ii.    THOMAS SHEPARD, b. Abt. 1636, prob. Dedham, MA; d. 29 September 1719, Milton, MA; m. (1) HANNAH ENSIGN, 19 November 1658, Malden, MA; b. Abt. 1640, prob. Hingham, MA; d. 14 March 1697/98, Charlestown, MA; m. (2) JOANNA, Abt. 1699.
iii.    poss. JOHN SHEPARD, b. Abt. 1637, prob. Dedham, MA; d. 15 December 1699; m. SARAH GOBLE.
iv.    ISAAC SHEPARD, b. 20 June 1639, Weymouth, MA; d. 12 February 1675/76, killed by Indians at Concord; m. MARY SMEDLEY.
v.    TRIAL SHEPARD, b. 19 December 1641, Weymouth, MA; m. WALTER POWER, 11 March 1660/61.
vi.    ABRAHAM SHEPARD, b. 7 March 1642/43; d. 22 February 1715/16; m. JUDITH PHILBROOK.
vii.    THANKS SHEPARD, b. 10 February 1650/51, Malden, MA; m. PETER DILL.
viii.    JACOB SHEPARD, b. 7 June 1653, Malden, MA.
ix.    poss. WALTER SHEPARD

In regard to John and Walter Shepard, The Great Migration Begins states the following:

“There was a John Shepard of Concord who was the right age to have been a son of Ralph, but no record connects him with Ralph. Jacobus treats this John Shepard in a separate section and does not suggest any connection. A Walter Shepard does appear in a few records. On 28 November 1661, ‘Walter Shepheard, apprentice to the within named William Low,’ agreed to become the apprentice of John Cromwell. William Low was of London and John Cromwell was perhaps the man of that name residing in Boston. On 5 March 1668/9, the selectmen of Sudbury reported to the court about ‘Walter Shepard and James Tailer,’ ‘some young persons being complained of to us for some miscarriage.’  Walter Shepard apparently came directly from England in 1661 or shortly before; no connection with Ralph Shepard is seen.”



  • Anderson, Robert Charles, Great Migration Begins, (New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, 1995, as republished on CD-ROM by MyFamily.Com Inc., 2000.).
  • Johnson, Stanley F., Shepard Family, The, (Oakland, CA, 1966), “Electronic.”
  • Shepard, Gerald Faulkner, compiler, Jacobus, Donald Lines, ed., Shepard Families of New England, Vol. 1, (New Haven Colony Historical Society, New Haven, CT, 1971).
  • Tepper, Michael, New World Immigrants, (Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, MD, 1980).
  • “Thankslord Perkins, Wife of Ralph Shepard of Dedham, Massachusetts,” The American Genealogist, Vol. 67: 29.

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