Where Did the Name “SHELLNUT” Come From?

Mariah is our first introduction to the surname SHELLNUT.  Mariah was born Oct 2nd 1829 in North Carolina and was married to George Washington COCHRAN at age 21.

Head Stone of Mariah SHELLNUT in Bethlehem Baptist Church Cemetery, Campbell County GA

Head Stone of Mariah SHELLNUT in Bethlehem Baptist Church Cemetery, Campbell County GA

In the past, speculation tagged Mariah as an American Indian based on her surname that appears as a combination of two seemingly simple words Shell + Nut.  There is no evidence that confirms this guess.  Actually, the records reveal a different and interesting story.

Mariah’s father was John G. SHELNUT and his grandfather appears to have immigrated to the U.S. from Germany changing his name from SCHILDKNECHT to SHELNUT.

According to findagrave.com researcher J. Clark Howard,  John “. . . is the son of Andrew Shelnut and Elizabeth Gentry. His grandfather, Johann Georg Schildknecht, claimed German Descent, and anglicized the name to “John George Shelnut” after arriving in America.” 

The  SCHILDKNECHT  name comes from German, meaning:  occupational name for the page or squire of a knight, who was responsible for his armor and his horse, from Middle High German schilt ‘shield’ + knecht ‘boy’, ‘servant’ (from ancestry.com).

English and German Knights picture from The Library of Congress

English and German Knights – picture from The Library of Congress

From genforum.com, Wayne Shellnut writes about the origin of the families:

“Most of the Germans who immigrated to SC in Dec 1764 appear to have been Palatines and Evangelist by religion. There were many Evangelist Schildknechts living in the Alsace/Lorraine area in the 16th,17th and 18th centuries, particularly near Dossenhiem sur Zinsel (NW of Strasbourg about 80kms). A recent check of French telephone directories indicates that about 180 Schildknecht families live in France, most within 100km of Strasbourg. Most of Alsace/Lorraine was “German” in the 16th,17th,and 18th centuries.

Many Schildknechts also lived in the Baden-Wurtembrg area of Germany in the 18th,19th,20th centuries and at present (less so than in earlier centuries). The Schildknechts living in the north (Germany) in the 16, 17, 18th centuries seem to have been Catholic, again indicating that the Schildknechts of interest, most likely came from the south of Germany. A recent telephone list check indicates that about 280 Schildknecht families are living in Germany today (mostly in the Nortwest and Southwest). In the North there seem to be concentrated within 100kms of Hamburg. In the the Southwest near Stuttgard and Ulm and along the Rhine. It may have been that the Schildknechts migrated from Lorraine to Baden Wurtemburg in the early 1700s. Males with the name Johann Georg Schildknecht seemed to have lived at Rottenacher am Donau (near Ulm) during the 1700-1764 period. There were also some Schildknecht families living just northeast of Kaiserslautern near Goettheim.”


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