I mentioned James Shaw in a previous post in regards to his son Franklin being killed during the civil war, but recently while doing some newspaper research I found this great obituary for James in the Galveston Daily News, so I thought I would spend a little time researching his life. The obituary did bring to light the fact that most online trees have his death date wrong. James Shaw died February 10, 1880, his obituary was in the paper Friday of the same week. Everyone else on-line has February 24, 1879, probably taken from his headstone. [Note to researchers, headstones can be wrong.] James Shaw is my 4x great uncle.
According to one of his biographies written by a descendant, James was a surveyor and a teacher who left Ohio in 1833 taking passage on a steamboat heading to New Orleans, his intent was to go to Texas. However, he stopped in Mississippi and taught school for a few years. In 1835 he headed to Texas through the Robertson Colony on the Brazos. He served in the military until 1836, at which point he started his homestead at String Prairie, on land he received as a reward for his military service. Which is also the location of a historical marker in Texas [#8157 Indian Camp Branch which is located on an old buffalo trail. It was named by James to honor the hospitality of a band of friendly Tonkawa he encountered near the site in 1837.] He is also said to have been appointed to treat with the local Indians because he could speak all the dialects.
After establishing his new home, James headed to Missouri to marry his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Ann Riggs. And when they returned to Texas he opened the first school in the area. He was appointed postmaster in 1849, where their home also served as the first post office in the area. He surveyed and laid out the town of Lexington and was instrumental in helping to get the name changed in 1850 from String Prairie to Lexington, after the town in Massachusetts.
I thought I would transcribe his obituary where they also included a letter that James had written correcting errors from a published history of Texas.
Hon. James Shaw.
This veteran hero and statesman of Texas died at his home, near Lexington, Lee County, on Tuesday, of pneumonia, at the ripe age of 72. He was among the volunteers who came to the aid of the people of Texas in their struggle against the Mexican tyrant Santa Anna in November, 1835, and participated in the battle of San Jacinto, which ended in the overthrow and capture of the tyrant, and the destruction of one-half and the capture of the other half of his army. He came from Ohio by steamboat to Natchitoches, and from thence on horseback to San Felipe. Falling in on the road with several other Texas volunteers, they thought it advisable to go to headquarters before joining any company, and accordingly came to San Felipe, where the consultation was in session. The night they arrived there news was received of the capture of San Antonio by Col. “Frank” Johnson. Of subsequent events, Mr. Shaw himself wrote in a letter to the NEWS (in correcting some errors in Thrall’s History of Texas) on the 8th of December, 1879:
“A good many of the citizens looked upon the war as being over, and that we had come too late, which rather hurt our feelings, and some of our number intended to return forthwith without “immortal honors.” Gen. Houston, however, who was a member of the “consultation” hearing that we intended to return, came out and gave us a talk. He told us to remain in the country; that there would be plenty of agitating to do by spring; that Santa Anna would not give up Texas for that little fight at San Antonio, and advised us to go up into Robertson’s colony, above the old San Antonio road, on a buffalo hunt. Three or four of our number took his advice and came up into Robertson’s colony, and joined Capt. Thos. A. Graves (Robertson’s colony surveyor) and went out on Little river, San Gabriel and Brushy creeks on a surveying and buffalo hunting expedition. After having been in the woods some five or six weeks, the Indians, who had been watching us all the time, came upon us in large force just before day, killed two of our number, and severely wounded two, I and M. B. Shackleford being the wounded, and a Mr. Drake from North Carolina, and a negro man belonging to Maj. Holtzclaw, of Tennessee, the killed. There were then eight of our crowd left– two wounded; four of the crowd deserted us and scattered. Maj. Holtzclaw and Lemuel Moore (to who’s now departed spirits I shall always feel grateful for my life,) remained faithful to the wounded, and helped us into New Nashville, a fort on the Brazos, where the International railroad now crosses the river. After our arrival into the settlements all was confusion and excitement– the rumor was that Santa Ana was advancing with 30,000 soldiers. After a remarkably dry winter the flood gates of heaven has been opened, and every stream was overflowed. The Brazos River was 6 miles wide from Hilton Hill. After having rafted all the families over the Brazos, it was rumored that Gen. Houston had left Groce’s Retreat (where he had been encamped for some time), to intercept Santa Anna, across the Brazos River below with some 800 troops. I, Ben McCulloch, Tom Dunham and Tom Greer, (a brother of old Elick, once vice president), rafted the Brazos, and made our way for Gen. Houston’s army. We overtook him in the boggy prairie, the evening he arrived at Harrisburg, 18 April; my three comrades joined the artillery company and I, a cavalry company commanded by Capt. William H. Smith, not being able for foot service from my Indian wound. I was in two skirmishes on the 20th, commanded by Col. Sherman, and on the 21st first by Col. M.B. Lamar. After the battle, and treaty made, I was one of the 80 men commanded by Col. Ed. Burleson, who was detailed to follow the Mexican forces across the Nueces to see that the treaty made and agreed-upon was faithfully carried out; from thence we were ordered up to San Antonio, where our command remained until discharged in the winter of 1836. I served five years in the Congress of the Republic– two regular sessions in the House and three in the Senate, from 1838 up to 1844–and in the state legislature every session (with the exception of one, 1850-51 years), from 1846 up to 1856.”
Mr. Shaw was not only a man greatly esteemed and trusted by his constituents, but an intelligent and honest legislator, above all the intrigues of trafficking politicians, and following his own convictions, without regard to party. He closes the long though hasty letter quoted above in the following characteristic way:
“I am now in my 72nd year, and will soon be an old man. I always go to the Jackson Democratic ticket up to the late disastrous war. I voted an open ticket against the secession in 1861, believing that it would finally end in our subjugation and the freedom of the “n****r.”[sorry, but I will edit this word because I refuse to write it, let’s say slaves] Since which time, when the fire-eating Calhoun democracy got in the lead in Texas, I have taken but little interest in politics except in voting for what I thought to be the best man without regard to parties. I am not a radical, neither am I a greenbacker, but I am waiting patiently for”something to turn up.” I am now satisfied that it would be sometime before the president will be elected under the name Democrat. Had not the fire-eating portion of the democracy, at the last call session of Congress played h–ll with the democracy, a conservative Democrat, such as Gen. Hancock, Bayard or Seymour might have stood some chance of election, but now, I fear there is none.”
The surviving family of the deceased consists of his son, Hon. Travis Shaw, of Lee County; Mrs. Sophronia Douglas, wife of Isaac Douglas; his (Mr. Shaw’s) second wife, and her young son. Deceased had accumulated a large number of valuable papers connected with the early history of Texas, the use of which the NEWS expects to enjoy in collating facts in regard to the policy and events connected with the rise and progress of Texas as a Republic and state of the American union.1
It certainly appears from James’ letter that he considered himself a southerner, and, was apparently also a proponent of slavery and its continued existence.
Later in the year that he died, 1880, the paper published James letter that he had written in regards to the Thrall History of Texas, with other details:
Thrall’s History of Texas.
The following letter is written by that well-known Texas soldier and Legislature, Hon. James Shaw, but a short time before his death:
“Lexington, Lee County, December 8, 1870. –in reviewing the lead history of Texas, by Mr. H. S. Thrall, I find the most correct history of Texas now extant. Some few inaccuracies, however, occur, particularly in relation to myself. In his biographical sketches he says: “James Shaw came to Texas, in Schooner Hope, in 1831; he was in the Texas Congress in 1841 – 42, and the legislature in 1853, and now lives in Burleson County.” For the purpose of correcting history, and not for any egoism in relation to myself, I will give you a correct statement of my advent into Texas.
Mr. thralls gives a very accurate account of the battle of San Jacinto, and Gen. Houston’s conversation with Santa Ana. I think I ought to know, as I heard every word spoken between them. He, however, in his history of the Somervell campaign, in 1842, does, in my opinion, Gen. Houston great injustice. He says: “It has been conjectured that Pres. Houston never intended an aggressive movement against Mexico, and the Somervell acted under secret orders in disbanding his men,” etc. I enter emphatically that Pres. Houston never did intend an “aggressive movement against Mexico”; neither did the Congress of the Republic intend it. When Houston was inaugurated second term, on 13 December, 1841, I was Sen., representing the Counties of Milam, Robertson and Leon. After our adjournment at Austin, in the spring of 1842, present Houston went to Alabama and married. When he returns to Texas, with his worthy prize, “the Mexican raids under Vasquez and Wall had awaken the martial spirit in Texas.” The country was highly excited, and appeared to be strongly in favor of carrying the war into Mexico. Houston, however, would not shoulder the responsibility of so dangerous a movement; but called Congress to meet in Houston in the summer of 1842 to deliberate on the matter.
Accordingly, a bill was introduced into the house, and passed by some 10 majority for an aggressive movement against Mexico. It also passed the Senate by one majority. Houston vetoed the bill, and after his veto message was read in the House, his argument against the measure were so overpowering that many members who voted for the bill voted against it, and instead of having a two thirds majority to pass the bill they scarcely had a majority. After the bill was defeated Houston ordered Somervell to fall back from the Rio Grand. Somervell obeyed orders, and most of these law-abiding men– such as John Hemphill, William G. Cook, J.H. Herndon, M. Austin Bryant, J.D. Robertson, Tom Green, Ben McCulloch, and many others–obeyed their general, and marched back in accordance with the president’s orders.
Some two or three hundred discontented spirits thought it best not to obey orders, called for volunteers and elected William S. Fisher commander, and started to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico to gain “immortal honors” before they returned to Texas. Accordingly a few days thereafter, they met with a disastrous defeat at Mier, had some 16 killed 20 wounded; the balance, some 200, surrendered, were chained together, and started for Mexico, and on their way they need made attempt to regain their liberty. They overpowered their guards and started for home, but 173 were recaptured and every 10th man shot (which was 17 out of the 173), by order of Santa Ana; and everyone of them would have shared the same fate if Santa Anna had known that they crossed the Rio Grande, contrary to the orders of our president. To save the lives of these poor prisoners, although they had crossed the Rio Grande contrary to orders, Pres. Houston magnanimously held out the idea to Santa Anna that they had crossed in obedience to orders, and finally, through his great influence with Santa Anna, after nearly 2 years confinement, they were released and sent home.”
Another newspaper article from 1860 indicates that James and Sam Houston didn’t always agree politically:
We see that James Shaw, of Burleson County, is hoisted by the “Organ” here for treasurer…a respectable planter in Burleson County. It is the same Capt. James Shaw who ran for state senator last year, prepared a circular which was intended to be printed at the State Gazette office taking strong political ground against Sam Houston. It is the same Capt. James Shaw, of Burleson, who relates that while in the state of Ohio in 1857, when the news of the election of H. R. Runnels, to the office of governor, reached there, amid the rejoicing of Democrats and the disappointment of the Black Republicans, the latter had prepared to make a grand demonstration in favor of Sam Houston, had he been elected.
It is the same Capt. James Shaw of Burleson County, whom the “Organ” here presents to the Houston party for their support, who was a fellow soldier with Sam Houston at San Jacinto, but who it is said, never endorsed his course on that battlefield. It is evident that either Capt. Shaw or Gov. Houston has in quite a short period changed very much in their views of each other.3
James was heavily involved in the early days of Texas becoming a state and his politics appear to have been that of conservative Democrat. Which today would be a conservative Republican.
SHAW, James, San Jacinto hero, was born in Clermont County, Ohio, August 8, 1808…In 1838, James Shaw began is career as a Congressman. Representing Milam County in the House of the Third (1838-1839) and Fifth (1840-1841) Congresses, he returned to the Sixth as Senator from Milam and Robertson. In the Seventh and eighth, 1842-44, he held the same office. After Annexation, Shaw served one term in the legislature, the Second, 1847-1848, as Representative from Milam…4
More can be found on James in Alvy Ray Smith’s publication Elder Bethuel Riggs of Morris County, New Jersey, and His Family.
- The Galveston Daily News. (Galveston, Tex.), Vol. 38, No. 281, Ed. 1 Friday, February 13, 1880, newspaper, February 13, 1880; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth465187/m1/2/: accessed February 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu
- Thursday, November 11, 1880 Paper: Galveston Weekly News (Galveston, Texas) Page: 5
- Date: Saturday, July 14, 1860 Paper: Texas State Gazette (Austin, Texas) Page: 2
- Biographical Directory of the Texan conventions and Congresses, 1832-1845, p170