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Esther grew up on her father's farm in Framingham, Massachusetts. She and her husband-to-be James Shafter published their marriage intentions just four months before their first child was born. Oral history in the Shafter family says James was adopted by a farmer in Framingham and that he was a minor when they married. For more about this history, see James' biography page. Esther was 27. It was very unusual for a woman to be that much older than her husband in the 18th century, especially for a first marriage, but regardless of their ages, this was a "shotgun" marriage.
     This also supports my idea that James was adopted by the Mellens, athough Esther and James could have been neighbors. The Shafter lore also says they lived with Esther's father after they married, which further suggests they were both already living there. There's an apparent conflict with this, though, in that James and Esther were "of Oxford" when they had their intentions published. Oxford isn't a neighboring town of Framingham, but Esther's brother David and several maternal aunts and uncles lived in Oxford. Although I'm speculating, it may be that James and Esther moved to Oxford to live with family when she realized she was pregnant and to avoid stigma in Framingham. James was a minor, so he couldn't set up his own household until he came of age, and when he did, they were in Oxford.
     James and Esther had three, maybe four children in Oxford. There's no evidence they had their own property, so they may have continued to live with family while these children were born. The Shafters moved to Dudley, Massachusetts, by July of 1758, when they "warned out" of town. This usually means someone was at risk of needing support from the town, but they were there long enough for two more children to be baptized. The last reference found to this family in Massachusetts was in May of 1762. James was abated the tax on residents to repair the meeting house, confirming the idea that he was very poor. A Richmond, New Hampshire, history says James had property in the northwest part of town. He wasn't among the freeholders in Richmond who voted at the town's first municipal meeting in 1765, although this could mean he simply didn't attend the meeting. There are no deeds involving him, but it's possible they were unrecorded. This suggests he rented a farm, but Esther was among many other Richmond residents who bought land in 1773 that may have been intended for commons.1 It's very doubtful she would be involved unless she was already a "freeholder" who had a right to use common land, which would surely mean she owned property herself. If she did (or James), I've found no record of it. More Shafter oral history says she and James were buried in Winchester, which is next to Richmond. There are no gravestones for them.
     Eventually the name "McMellen" made it's way into the family history, including William Shafter's account, and it was used for the middle name of at least one descendant. From there it's been repeated in some publications and now the internet. The Mellens never went by McMellen, which must be a confusion with the more familiar Scottish name McMillin and its various spellings. In fact, the name, phonetically, was more like Maylin or Meelin, which I discuss on Richard Mellen's page.

children of Esther Mellen and James Shafter:

i. Simon b. 29 January 1751/1752 (Oxford vrs)
ii. Lois b. 13 April 1753 (")
iii. Mary b. 16 April 1755 (")
iv Esther b. abt. 1756/57
v. James bap. 29 April 1759 (Dudley vrs, from Congregational Church records)
vi. Lydia bap. 31 August 1760 (same)
vii. Prudence b. abt. 1763
viii. Charity b. abt 1765

vital records sources: her birth is in Vital Records of Framingham, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Boston:1911), 138. Her marriage intentions are in Vital Records of Oxford Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Worcester:1905), 205.

1. Cheshire Co., NH, deed 6:264.

all text and photographs © 1998-2021 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted