Sellwood, born in England, was brought up and educated by his mother after the death of his father in 1808. In 1853, he, his mother, and his only brother, James R.W. Sellwood, emigrated to the U.S., settling first in Cincinnati, Ohio, and later in Illinois, where he briefly served as a minister. Emigrating to Oregon in 1856, he was badly wounded during a riot in Panama, where the Sellwoods stayed during part of their journey west. He never fully recovered from his injuries.
Sellwood and his brother, who was also a minister, went to Oregon to assist Thomas Fielding Scott, the Episcopal missionary bishop of Oregon and Washington. Scott, who had arrived in Oregon in the early 1850s, founded a boys' school in Oswego and a girls' school in Milwaukie, both relatively near the Sellwood property.
John Sellwood sold his property in 1882 to the Sellwood Real Estate Company, which began development of the land into the town of Sellwood. Henry Pittock, owner of The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, was the majority stockholder in the real estate company. Incorporated in 1887, the town became part of Portland in 1893 after the state legislature extended the Multnomah County border a bit south and east to allow Portland to assimilate all of Sellwood. The Sellwood post office was established in October 1893 and became the Sellwood-Moreland post office in 1950.
- Snyder, Eugene E. (1979). Portland Names and Neighborhoods: Their Historic Origin. Portland, Oregon: Binford & Mort. p. 202. ISBN 0-8323-0351-8.
- Native Sons of Oregon (1899). Oregon Native Son and Historical Magazine, Volume 1. Portland, Oregon: Native Son Publishing Company. p. 610. Retrieved July 30, 2010.
- Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1888). The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume XXX: History of Oregon, Vol. II, 1848–1888. San Francisco: The History Company, Publishers. p. 685. Retrieved July 30, 2010.
- Gaston, Joseph (1912). The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811–1912, Volume I. Chicago, Illinois: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. p. 582. Retrieved July 30, 2010.
- MacColl, E. Kimbark (1976). The Shaping of a City: Business and Politics in Portland, Oregon 1885 to 1915. Portland, Oregon: The Georgian Press Company. p. 122.
- "Historic Sellwood". PdxHistory.com. September 28, 2009. Retrieved July 30, 2010.
- Lansing, Jewel (2005) . Portland: People, Politics, and Power: 1851–2001. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press. p. 511. ISBN 0-87071-559-3.
- McArthur, Lewis A.; Lewis L. McArthur (2003) . Oregon Geographic Names (7th ed.). Portland, Oregon, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press. p. 860. ISBN 0-87595-277-1.