Fact check: Col. shaw

Daniel Boone

Princeton Historical Society members received the following notice last week regarding their monthly meeting June 21st:

“Colonel John Shaw (1783-1871) will be the subject of a special presentation by his descendants at our general membership meeting. Shaw was the founder in the early 1840s of St. Marie which was considered the best crossing place on the Fox River at that time. He was a Veteran of the War of 1812, recruited by Governor William Clark & served under Daniel Boone.”

I don’t know who generated the note, but there is at least one important error.

Shaw did not serve under Daniel Boone. Again, according to multiple history sources online, Daniel Boone volunteered to serve in the War of 1812 but was rejected because he was too old (78). His sons served.

CORRECTION: I previously reported that Shaw was not an uppercase Veteran, which is generally reserved for those who served in the U.S. armed forces. I was wrong. I knew Shaw had worked as a scout and spy along the Missouri border prior to and during the War of 1812, but I did not think he was in the real Army. I said, in today’s terms, he would have been a private security contractor. Toward the end of the war he was elected colonel of a militia group that disbanded before seeing action. Although there are no records indicating a Col. John Shaw served, I subsequently did find enlistment records for Private John C. Shaw, with a regiment of Louisiana militia and a U.S. Rangers unit on the Missouri border.

I pine for the days when accuracy mattered.

Nevertheless, let’s not get distracted. The visit by Shaw’s descendants is noteworthy because John Shaw and the St. Marie community he helped found played a brief but important role in the development of Princeton.

I was not aware of the historical society’s plans when I received an email June 9th from Richard Shaw, of Austin, Texas, who explained he was the third great nephew of the John Shaw. Richard had read the chapter about Shaw’s Landing in my book and said it “closed some loops for me on his Wisconsin history.”

I was thrilled! Unfortunately, he also was looking for photo or picture of Col. Shaw, and I could not help him. I had looked and come up empty-handed as well.

Richard has done extensive research on his ancestor. I told him I thought John Shaw was worthy of a book and had found a wealth of information for my chapter while only scratching the surface of the Shaw story. I referred Richard to a couple of local St. Marie experts, who know that area much better than I do, not realizing until last week he had already reached out to them.

Richard told me he has been to St. Marie before. He was traveling this time with his wife, Ellen, and son, John Alexander Shaw, on a weeklong trip to visit and learn more about Col. Shaw.

Before coming to Princeton, the Shaws also planned to visit John Shaw’s cabin in Hamburg, Illinois, and Derry Township, Illinois, to see the Shaw school and cemetery. They still have relatives there, where John Shaw’s brother, Daniel, and his descendants lived and died.

This sounds like such a cool educational and entertaining trip. What a great way to spend a week as a family.

In addition to addressing the local historical society tonight, the Shaws will participate in a program about early days on the Fox River and the fur trade at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Markesan library.

If you have the time, check it out!

And thanks for caring and reading about local history.

UPDATE JULY 20, 2021: I received a followup email from Richard Shaw following the family trip. “We are back from our visit and we enjoyed every bit!” he said. “… We had a wonderful visit in Princeton and St. Marie.  Still no picture, but the word is out for one.”

Richard also said his son, Alex, is preparing a website about John Shaw to help future researchers: Coloneljohnshaw.com.

Thanks for caring and reading about local history.

If you want to view the memorial in the Princeton City Park honoring Father Marquette’s journey up the Fox River through the future St. Marie and Princeton townships in 1673, don’t go on Saturdays when it becomes a prop for flea market vendors.

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