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One of James and Esther's great grandsons wrote what he knew of his Shafter ancestors. Being about 100 to 120 years after the earliest events, allowance should be made for the shifts in truth that always occur in oral history, either for benign reasons or by embellishment. The writer was William R. Shafter of Townshend, Connecticut, in 1857, and what follows is a synopsis of his account.1
     The Shafters originated in western England. The mother of James was Welsh. They sailed to Boston and died when their two children were young. They had used all their money to come to Massachusetts and had no estate to pass on when they died. The children were sent to an almshouse, where a Framingham farmer asked for James for farm labor. The siblings were distraught at being separated and the farmer agreed to take them both. James and Molly Shafter lived with the farmer until they married, James at about 19 or 20 years old. Molly married a man named Chubb and moved to Vermont. James and his wife stayed in the household until he was 21, then moved to his own farm. He had his first five children before moving to Richmond, New Hampshire. There he had three more. "He was a man of medium height, closely knit together, of high temper and indomitable perseverance." About 7 or 8 years later he was killed by a falling tree. "The eldest girls were then put out to places where they could support themselves, and Simon remained at home and took care of his mother and some of the younger children." James was sent to live with Mr. Dodge, but abuse led to him being taken away and placed with Deacon Jewett. Eventually he was in a third home (John Alexander of Winchester). Lois, the oldest daughter, married John White and settled in Weathersfield. They had three sons and several daughters, one of whom married a Mr. Haskel. The other children married as follows: Mollie to Ellis Thayer, settled in Brookline, Vermont. Esther married to Benjamin Thrasher and settled in Athens, Vermont. Lydia married Enoch "Phylips" and settled in Essex, New York. Prudence married Jeremiah Bowers and remained in Richmond. Charity married Jabez Whipple and settled in Athens. Simon was a soldier in the Revolution and died at Valley Forge of smallpox. James, Jr., was also in the Revolution. He married and settled in Athens. James, Sr., and Esther were buried in Winchester, New Hampshire.
     Much of what William Shafter wrote is either verifiable or can be supported by circumstancial evidence. Shafter was surely a made-up name, perhaps the children's interpretation of their real name. It doesn't appear in any other records researched in the US or Europe before 1751, when James married. There is a German surname Schafter/Schaefter, but James is an unlikely first name for the child of a German couple. Edmund Slafter suggested that James was a son of John Slafter of Lynn, Massachusetts, and Willington, Connecticut.2 John's son Benjamin left his property at his death to his nine brothers and sisters, and only nine children are ascribed to John. That suggests a tenth and otherwise unknown child. The similarity of the names was undoubtedly what led to this speculation, but the theory is very far-fetched, and there's no credible evidence to support it. Besides that, James was very likely born in the early 1730s, leaving no possibility that he was a son of John Slafter.
     William Shafter says the farmer took both children out of charity, despite his limited means. No record has been found of an almshouse in Framingham. James and Molly's parents may have lived in Framingham, and the farmer took the children in directly after the elder Shafters died. There would have been no official guardianship record unless the parents owned real estate or the children inherited something of value in their parents' or someone else's estate. If the story is true, James was the ward of the farmer up to and after his marriage. James was supposedly a minor when he married, but his wife Esther Mellen was 27. It was unusual for a woman to be that much older than her husband in the 18th century, especially for a first marriage. The space between the marriage intentions of James and Esther3 and the birth of their first child was only 4 months, so regardless of their background, we have a "shotgun" marriage.
     The most logical conclusion is that Esther's father was the adoptive farmer. The Mellens lived in Framingham, but James and Esther were "of Oxford" when they had their intentions published. Oxford isn't a neighboring town to Framingham, but Esther's brother David was in Oxford by August 1750, when the town started recording the births of his children. Although pure speculation, it may be that James and Esther moved to Oxford to live with David's family when she realized she was pregnant to avoid stigma in Framingham. If James was a minor he couldn't set up his own household until he came of age, so the oral history may shift again away from truth, and the couple stayed in David's household until he was of age.
     James and Esther began their own family in Oxford and had three, maybe four children there. There's no evidence they had their own property, so they may have lived with David Mellen and his family while these children were born. The Shafters moved to Dudley, Massachusetts, by July of 1758, when the family was warned out of town. This usually indicates 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.4 It seems unlikely he had the means to buy real estate, but Esther is among the townspeople who bought a lot of land in Richmond from Maturin Ballou in 1773.5 She surely wouldn't have been involved if she wasn't also a landowner in town. James 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. No probate exists for the family to cover a transfer of property rights. If Esther bought land, there's no record of that either, or of her family selling it. The first documented date of the Shafter's being in Richmond is the above deed, followed by the marriage of Mary Shafter in 1774.      Winchester is next to Richmond, making James and Esther's burial there reasonable, especially if they lived near the border of the two towns and the Winchester cemetery was the closest to them. Apparently there are no stones there to confirm this.

children of James Shafter and Esther Mellen (children i-iii) 6; v & vi 7

i. Simon b. 29 January 1751/1752 (Oxford vrs)
ii. Lois b. 13 April 1753 (same)
iii. Mary b. 16 April 1755 (same)
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: his marriage intentions are in Vital Records of Oxford Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Worcester:1905), 205.

1. Vermont Historical Gazetteer (Brandon, VT:1891), article on Athens by Frederick C. Robbins, 357-376.
2. Edmund F. Slafter, Memorial of John Slafter : with a genealogical account of his descendants, including eight generations (1869), 4.
3. Vital Records of Oxford, Massachusetts to the end of the Year 1849 (Worcester:1905), 231.
4. William Bassett, History of the Town of Richmond, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, from its First Settlement to 1882 (Boston:1884), 31, 301, 482 and 502, confirmed in images of the original town records at
5. Cheshire Co., NH, deed record 6:264.
6. Vital Records of Oxford Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Worcester:1905), 99.
7. Vital records of Dudley, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1849 (Worcester:1905), 104.

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