John W. Shaw was born on March 21, 1840, in Newcastle or Norfolkshire, England, the son of Thomas Sr. (b. 1813) and Nicola (Stott, b. 1811).
According to one source, Thomas was born in Manchester, England and married Nicola Stott (she was born in Northumberlandshire) in January of 1835. According to John, his father came to America around 1848, leaving his wife and children behind in Newcastle, England, where they resided on Churchill Street near the cattle market. John and his mother and four siblings joined Thomas in October of 1850, settling on Sargent Street on Prospect Hill in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Anothere source reported that the family to America in 1851, landing in Boston, and moving to Lynne where Thomas worked at his trade of decorating paper hangings. Thomas then moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts where he worked for several years.
In 1855 John’s father and older brother James went to Michigan; John joining them the following year, the family having settled in Mecosta County. According to Thomas’ biography, he settled on a quarter section of land in Green Township.
In the spring of 1857 John, who was knowns as "Jack," was left with a hunter-trapper by the name of John McBride, while his father and brother returned to Lawrence. John remained with McBride until October of 1857 he too returned to Lawrence. He worked in the Pemberton Mills until mid-January, 1859, when the mill collapsed. The following month John returned to Mecosta where he was employed in the “lumber woods” and in farming, living with his family. By 1860 John was working as a farm laborer along with his brothers James and Thomas and living on the family farm in Green, Mecosta County.
[Thomas Sr.’s] experiences differed in no material sense from the oft repeated but never wearisome history of the average pioneer settler, until the clouds of war hung like a pall over the land and disunion seemed imminent. The promptness with which foreign-born citizens flocked to the Union standard was significant of two things: first, the sense of obligation awakened by the privileges they enter upon once under the regulations of this Government; and, secondly, the value of discipline in early training. Mr. Shaw felt that the emergency demanded his aid, and himself and two sons enlisted at Big Rapids. He enrolled in August, 1863, in Co. A, Tenth Mich. Cav., and was assigned to the position of Hospital Steward, and afterward was promoted to the post of Assistant Surgeon.
John stood 5’10” with black eyes and hair and a dark complexion and was 21 years old and probably still living in Mecosta County when he enlisted in Company K on May 13, 1861. During the movement of the regiment between Yorktown and Williamsburg, in May of 1862, John apparently contracted a varicocele. He claimed in 1886, that “while marching through the mud I had something of a pain in my scrotum but didn’t pay much attention to it until after the Williamsburg fight [May 12] which was on the next day after leaving Yorktown. The night before the fight I had a dull heavy sensation in my scrotum but I did not examine it.. After coming out of the Williamsburg fight, within a day or so” he was examined by Dr. Bliss “and he furnished me with a suspensory bandage.”
John was taken prisoner probably on June 29, 1862, at Baltimore Cross Roads, Virginia, while the regiment was engaged in action near Savage Station. On July 10 he was paroled at Cumberland Landing, near Richmond, Virginia. According to one report he arrived at Old Point, Virginia, near Fortress Monroe, on the John Tucker, on the afternoon of July 11, and by late August he was at Camp Parole, Annapolis, Maryland when he was listed as missing in action on August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run. He returned to the Regiment on December 21 at Camp Pitcher, Virginia, and was discharged for epilepsy on January 9, 1863. Specifically, his discharge paper noted that he was “subject to fits.” It was further declared that the disease was “the result of injury received before enlistment.”
John eventually returned to Mecosta County where for many years he worked as a lumberman and laborer, as well as a painter. On July 4, 1865, he married New York native Eudora Anna Stout (1843-1893), in Big Rapids, and they had at least 4 children: Howard D. (b. 1866), Mattie Adelle (b. 1867), Lizzie Eleanor (b. 1869) and Arthur James or James A (b. 1871).
By 1870 he was working as farmer (he owned $2000 worth of real estate) and was living with his wife and children in Big Rapids, Green Township, Mecosta County; his parents lived on a large farm next door and his brother Thomas Jr., lived nearby as well. (Another brother, James Stotts Shaw was a physician in Boston, Massachusetts, while one of john’s sisters, Annie Howard Shaw was an ordained Methodist minister, preaching in East Dennis, Cape Cod, while studying medicine in anticipation of becoming a medical missionary.)
John was residing in Big Rapids in December of 1877 when he became a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association. He was in charge of the Mecosta County jail in 1877, in Big Rapids in 1879 and the County jailer and living on Stewart Avenue in Big Rapids with his wife and children in 1880. He was still living in Big Rapids in 1882, and by 1884 he was working as a watchman and living at the northeast corner of First Avenue and Washington Streets. He served as sheriff of Big Rapids in the early 1880s, and was living in Big Rapids from 1888 to 1890. (His father had served some eight years as a deputy sheriff in the 1860s and 1870s.) Two years later John was living in Woodville (Mecosta or Newaygo County).
Suffering from ovarian cancer, in early February of 1893 Eudora took the train from White Cloud to Detroit to undergo surgery. She died in Harper hospital in Detroit in late February of 1893, and her remains were sent back to Big Rapids for burial.
During 1894 and through early 1895 John was back and forth between Big Rapids and Woodville, but by the spring of 1895 he had moved to Washburn, Wisconsin, to work in the lumber industry there. In mid-May of 1896 he wrote the editor of the Big Rapids Pioneer to tell him about his new home.
Thought you might like to know a little bit about the town I am living in out here. Washburn in the County seat of Bayfield County, and is situated on the north shore of Chaquamegon Bay, with a population of about 5,000. The famous brownstone monolith is quarried but three miles east of Washburn, at Houghton Point, and three of the largest saw mills on Chaquamegon Bay are located at this place, where is found the largest grain elevator on Lake Superior east of the city of Superior, which annually ships 2,500,000 bushels of grain. The Northwestern Fuel Company’s docks and he large Commercial dock are also here. Nearly ten millions of bushels of grain, including wheat, corn, oats, rye, flax and barley, were received by rail last season and shipped by water to Buffalo and other lake ports. The shipments of the three saw mills for one season are about 116,000,000 feet of lumber, 18,000,000 lath and 14,800,000 shingles.
We have a fine view of the bay and Ashland from the mill where I work. Ashland is situated on the south shore of the bay, seven miles across from Washburn. But this country is not Michigan. In the first place the soil is poor, and the seasons are short, both for farming and the laboring man. The mills run from six to eight months in the year and the rest of the time the laboring man has to do the best he can to make a living of it until the mills start up on the spring. I get blue sometimes, and wish for a sight of my Big Rapids friends. When I receive the Pioneer, then is when I have a good visit with the home friends.
He was back in Big Rapids by early 1896 when he reportedly left to spend some time with a son then living in Chicago, after which he was to go to North Carolina to join the staff of the West Michigan Lumber company -- which he had for for while it was located in Woodville, Mecosta County -- but has since moved to southern North Carolina. By the end of 1896 he was apparently residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
John eventually returned to Big Rapids and, being a staunch and loyal Republican, worked for the election of President McKinley in 1896, a consequence of which he was probably given a job in the federal government in Washington. In any case, he was invited to the inauguration ceremonies in in March of 1897 and then reportedly on to Boston where he was to remain for some time (possibly visiting his brother Dr. J. S. Shaw).
In fact sometime in 1897 John became foreman of laborers in the state, war and navy building in Washington, DC, a position he held until he resigned in May of 1914. John was living in Washington, DC, when he married a widow by the name of Mary Elizabeth Harleston (1863-1947), on September 12, 1899, at the Immaculate Conception Church in Washington, DC. John may have had another child, this time by Mary, whose name was Thomas. He was still living in Washington, DC, in 1910, and by 1915 he was residing in Colonial Beach, Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was also reportedly living with his son Arthur in Minneapolis in 1914.
John transferred to the Grand Army of the Republic Kearny post no. 7 in Muskegon, Muskegon County in June of 1895 from the French post no. 28 in Bad Axe, Huron County, and then transferred out in January of 1897; he was also a member of Custer post no. 5 in Grand Rapids, a Protestant (although he was married in a Catholic church in 1899) and in 1886 he received pension no. 324,977, drawing $27.00 per month by 1915 and by 1917.
John was probably living at his brother Thomas’s home in Big Rapids when he was admitted to the Michigan Soldiers’ Home (no. 6908) on November 4, 1915, was discharged at his own request on March 14, 1917 and readmitted for the last time on November 8, 1917.
Sometime late in 1917 John became seriously ill and in late December his brother Tom was telephoned. “I found him quite bad off,” Tom wrote to John’s wife, “ and as soon as I could I brought him jome where I could care for him. We are doing all we can for his comfort -- and hope for the best. I will see that everything is all right so far as he is considered and I will keep you posted. He says tell you that he would write but he can’t at present but will as soon as he is able. He sends to you and all the folks, please answer as soon as you can. Let us all hope for the best.”
John died of chronic myocarditis while on furlough from the Home, at his brother Thomas’s home at 105 Woodward Avenue in Big Rapids, at 1:30 p.m. on February 6, 1918. John was buried next to Eudora in Big Rapids cemetery: block L, lot no. 3, grave 1.
His widow was living at 1221 E Street, N.E., in Washington, DC, in February of 1918; she received pension no. 853,643, drawing $40.00 per month by 1933 when she was living at 1009 8th Street N.E., Washington, DC.