was born on the eve of the Revolution in Germantown, Pennsylvania, son of
Moses Sheppard and Hannah Fletcher. They were Quakers, descended from 17th-century
immigrants to Salem, New Jersey, who had gone to Pennsylvania after that
colony was founded as a refuge for their coreligionists. By 1774, when Morris
F. Sheppard was born, they were prosperous farmers, not unlike their neighbors
the Wageners, Supplees, Castners and others.
At the age of 26, Sheppard
set out with some friends on horseback to explore the area to which so many
people in his part of Pennsylvania had gone. Arriving in the not-yet-named
and very raw settlement where Penn Yan now stands, Sheppard evidently saw
something there that he liked. Perhaps opportunity to practice his trade,
perhaps the young daughter of Mrs. Susannah Clanford (the name was anglicized
from Clumberge; Mrs. Clanford was the widow of Philip Clumberge, and she
had two young children she was raising in the wilderness. Her first husband
was Peter Supplee, killed at the battle of the Brandywine during the Revolution,
and she had a daughter by him as well. Her brother was David Wagener, who
had just died leaving his elder son Abraham the owner of all the land on
which the heart of Penn Yan now stands).
In any case, Sheppard
returned the following year with his effects in a one-horse cart. He married
Susannah Clanford's daughter Rachel Supplee on 22 October 1801 and set up
housekeeping in a double log cabin between Main Street (then a river of
mud or dust, depending on the season) and Jacob's Brook. He built a tannery
down by the creek, and used one of the two rooms in the cabin for doing
the finish work on the hides. He and Rachel raised five children in the
In 1812 Sheppard and
a number of his neighbors, who belonged to an independent military company
called the "Silver Grays" marched off to Sodus to fight the British.
He had evidently shed his Quaker inhibitions about fighting, as had many
of his father's generation in Pennsylvania; and he apparently never returned
to the religious faith of his childhood. He was regarded in the village
as an "advanced thinker," believing that living a good life was
the most important confession of faith. He always said that to live uprightly
and to deal justly with others were the essential aspects of true religion.
In a day of quite narrow sectarian belief and much intolerance, this was
an attitude worthy of notice.
Soon after the War
of 1812 ended, Sheppard moved his family to a small frame house across Main
Street referred to afterwards as the "yellow house," presumably
from the color of its paint. John Dorman's house downstreet was the "red
house;" two of the stores on the east side of Main Street were called
the "red building" and the "white building," respectively.
Next door to the yellow
house, Sheppard built Mechanics' Hall, an enormous warren of stores and
shops that towered five stories over the one-story houses and low wooden
stores of the time (to be fair, the white building mentioned above was three
stories). This was yet another string to the Sheppard bow, as he still had
his tanyard by Jacob's Brook, and in 1818 he had added a gristmill on Sucker
Brook, near its source in what is now usually called Cornwell's Gully west
of Liberty Street at the base of the hill. He was in partnership with Nathaniel
Higley and Elijah Haskill in a fulling mill (where woven cloth was cleaned
and finished) on Jacob's Brook (above the tannery, apparently), and he also
owned much of the land on both sides of Main Street below Head Street.
He became well known
for his fair-mindedness, and was often approached by his neighbors to settle
disputes. He represented the new Yates County in the Assembly from 1828
through 1830, and did his best to promote the interests of the part of Penn
Yan at "the head of the street." For a while, at about the time
it was felt the place really ought to have a name, Penn Yan was referred
to as "Morrisville," a name that appears on some of the deeds
executed then; but it was discovered that the name was already taken, and
Sheppard's name only appears on the modern map on a street that was driven
through his lands about 1840.
He built the beautiful
stone house that still stands east of Main Street in 1830, on the site of
Mechanics' Hall, which had burned a couple of years earlier. The house was
considered very extravagant, though he used stone from the gully on his
own land to build it. It's the only one of his three homes in Penn Yan that
He died 19 November,
1846, aged 72. He is buried near his wife's relatives, the Wageners, in
the oldest part of what is now Lake View Cemetery.