Page images


Annals : of: a : Ulseful : Tife


OHN KNOX SHAW was born at the town

of Newton-Hamilton, in the south of County

Armagh, Ireland, on the 10th of April, 1800. His name, the place and period of his nativity, and some family traditions concerning these, are suggestive of elements which conjoined to fashion his character and career.

His ancestors, at least on the father's side, were not of the ancient Irish race amid which he first drew breath, but of Scottish blood.

At some period, now unknown, perhaps during the migration of the “plantators” of Ulster, they crossed into that northern province of Ireland, and in the fruitful plains of Armagh found a home.


It is a part of their genealogy, cherished by them with proper pride, and embodied in Mr. Shaw's name, that a descendant of that sturdy old patriot and Puritan, John Knox, had intermarried with a Shaw of earlier generations. They had his spirit as well as blood, for they were Presbyterians of the “straightest sect."

Yet, these earlier fathers of the family also formed Irish alliances, so that the strong and sober sense of the Scotch was tempered by the vivacity, humor, and eloquence of the Celt. And thus, while his name, and blood for the most part, was Scotch, and his life, from earliest infancy, grew in America, yet he may be classed by his birth with that great number of Erin's sons who have enriched our age, our country, and, above all, the Church with which his name is indissolubly associated.

His life, derived from such sources, began with this century, that, destined to mark most glorious advances in civilization, opened, however, gloomily enough; for all Europe was then engaged in wars, which, beginning ten years before, did not cease until the Peace of 1815. In all lands the lamentable waste of war induced evils which no country suffered more than Ireland, that had also special grievances of her own. She was then emerging from one of the many crises of her chronic discontent with English rule, and the insurrection of 1797, in which seventy thousand men perished, had just been smothered in the ashes of burned hovels and the graves of slaughtered victims.

In the very year of Mr. SHAW's birth the “Union” was accomplished. Martial law prevailed throughout the kingdom ; oppressive rents and taxes were levied upon agriculture, while manufacture was almost legislated out of existence. Universal distress, and vague dread of worse fate yet to come, oppressed the people, and it is no wonder that migration to the free, prosperous, young Republic across the seas, began even among the comparatively fortunate Protestant farmers of Ulster. Then, and thus, arose one of those great periodic waves of population that so mightily affect the course of history. This one bore the infant Join, in his mother's arms, across the Atlantic, even as an earlier carried his ancestor from Scotland to Ireland.

His father was a pioneer in the great army of emigrants that has added millions of souls to the vital currents of our national existence. To have thus carried the fortunes of his family from the land which, even yet after all the mitigations of this age, remains the poorest, saddest, and most hopeless in all Christendom; to the far-off and little known States of the West; and through a long, perilous, and painful voyage, evidences in him qualities of foresight, enterprise, and courage. For there is now on earth no space so wide to be traversed as the Atlantic then; no clime so distant as America from Ireland then; no change of residence involving such uncertainties, and requiring such fortitude, as that pilgrimage, which was therefore assumed only by the bravest and hardiest. Mr. Shaw, the elder, was, without question, sustained in his purpose by his good wife, who was a woman of deep piety, and would be likely to consecrate their plan by prayer, and then turn away from home and friends and native land, in the faith that they were led by the hand of God.

Thus it was when the babe, JOHX, was less than a year old, that the family took ship, and, after a stormy voyage of six weeks, landed at Portsmouth, N. H. They came, as did usually the emigrants of that day, with some substance, the proceeds of a sale of considerable property in the old country. Thus Mr. Shaw was able to purchase a good farm in Washington, Cambridge ('o., X. Y., to stock it and to begin its tillage with sufficient capital to warrant his expectation of suitably providing for his family. There were five children: three daughters and two sons — JOn, the youngest, and ALEXANDER, who went West, and died in Parly manhood at the city of New Orleans. They were trained in a happy home, and educated so far as the opportunities of the time and place afforded. These consisted of the studies in the country schools, supplemented by private tutoring from the teachers who were employed by Mr. Shaw. He was specially solicitous on behalf of JOHN, whom he destined for College and a profession; but, unfortunately, as it then appeared, his plan was thwarted by the serious embarrassment of his affairs. Either through lack of business capability or ignorance of the avocation he had chosen, he gradually parted with his money, then mortgaged his farm, and finally lost the whole of his property. Thus Jour's attention was turned from his books to a search for some work by which he might earn his own living and aid his parents in the support of his sisters.

He was now, in his sixteenth year, so far advanced toward the energy, ambition, and discretion of manhood that he left home-as he said to

... seek his fortune." His first efforts were modest enough. He engaged in selling, through the country, books—“Pilgrim's Progress," and such like works. Yet he achieved more than moderate suc.

« PreviousContinue »