John Heppell was born at Fawns in Kirkwhelpington, Northumberland, baptised on 13th July 1760. He was the youngest son of William Hepple, a joiner, and his second wife, Isabell White.

After the deaths of his parents, Isabell in 1771 and William in 1784, John made his way with the cattle drive to York. He married Mary Thursk, the daughter of James Thursk, a staymaker, in Pocklington on 8th February 1785. John and Mary Heppell had a son, William, born 18th May 1786 in Pocklington and soon after they made their home in York. John became a shoemaker at Thursday Market. Their second son James was born in York on 20th March 1788. Sadly their first born son William died shortly afterwards, on 12th June 1788, soon to be followed by John, who died on 30th Oct 1788 aged only 28.

Mary remarried the following year, to David Proctor, and went on to have four further children, half siblings to James.