James Otis Sheldon was the son of Henry and Martha Thompson Aldus Sheldon and the grandson of Timothy Sheldon. He must have been very proud of his grandfather, Timothy. Timothy had been born in 1788 in Pawtucket, R.I. and came to Gouverneur in 1808. He took up a farm three miles from the Village of Gouverneur on the Richville Road. The farm today is owned and run by the Parent Family. This farm was once owned by Judge Paul Graves, son of Rhoda Fox Graves. James' uncle John is also credited with being one of the very first settlers in the Gouverneur area.
According to the "Centennial Souvenir History of Gouverneur dated 1905:
In 1808 also came Timothy Sheldon, from Pawtucket, RI, the first from that state, Reuben Noble, Wm. W. Rhodes, Richard Kimball and the famous builder and millwright, Capt. Rockwell Barnes."
Timothy Sheldon, coming from RI at an early day, 1808-1810 took up a farm three miles from the village on the Richville Road. He built the house now occupied by his son, Gray B. Sheldon in 1823, moving to the village later as advancing years came on. An original character, quaint, humorous, incisive in speech; he could condense in a word the salient characteristics of those he knew by a change in their names, or a title or prefix derived from some peculiarity. He had opinions and expressed them; he was latterly, much interested in reading for information, and he could remember and repeat in new words what attracted him most.
Once he became a convert to O.S. Fowler's system of concrete building and always wanted to construct an octagon house of cement and gravel. Probably he was the only farmer in town who bought a complete set of Appleton's Cyclopedia, at the current price of $80, and he became familiar with much of the information it contained. His younger manhood was marked by a trip to Alabama with a relative after coming to Gouverneur. They went to Olean, NY, built a flat-boat and with their belongings reached their destination by way of the Allegheny, OH and Tennessee Rivers. He was not attracted by what he found in Alabama and he came back to Gouverneur on horseback, riding the entire distance, swimming and fording rivers, the first bridge on the journey home being one near Buffalo. This journey was characteristic of the spirit which actuated the man. He enlisted in the war of 1812 and went to the frontier.
In 1812, James' grandfather, Timothy, enlisted in the War of 1812 and went to the frontier. He returned to Gouverneur after the war. He built a house on the property in 1823. An "original character, quaint, humorous, incisive in speech." Reading was a favorite pastime and he was interested in learning new words. You can imagine him reading to his grandson, James. That is, if he had time... his Grandfather and Grandmother, the former Nancy Bowen, of Pawtucket, R.I. had twelve children. James' father, Henry, had eleven brothers and sisters. Henry Sheldon's diaries from 1861-1873 were transcribed by
The story of James' grandparents (Timothy and Nancy) speaks to their early role in the settlement of Gouverneur. They came on horseback to Cambray, (Now Gouverneur) with their first child on August 1, 1829. Ann Carey Morris, executrix of her late husband, Gouverneur Morris, gave Nancy Sheldon, a deed of 50 acres, where the house stands. Later, Timothy, purchased more parcels. Using ox teams, he cleared the trees and built a log cabin, predecessor to the house that still stands today. He also had his own blacksmith shop, sawmill and private creamery for manufacturing butter and cream.
After Nancy and Timothy died, the farm went to Sheldon descendents. The last Sheldon who owned the farm was LeRoy Sheldon, who operated the farm until 1935, when he sold it to Perle and Rhoda Fox Graves.
James Otis Sheldon went on to do very well for himself. He was the Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Gouverneur, had been the Postmaster and the organist for the Presbyterian Church. James' sister, Julia Sheldon Neary, was instrumental in the founding of the Gouverneur Reading Room. Her portrait hangs in the Women's Room to commemorate her work.
Read James O. Sheldon's complete obituary.
Read Henry Sheldon's (Son of Timothy and Nancy Sheldon) diaries 1861-1873.