Biography of Dr. John Shaw

In 1805 John Shaw wrote a letter to President Jefferson in which he expressed his admiration for the President’s politics and introduced himself as “a native of North Carolina, descended from European parents.” He had been in the Natchez District and active in politics as early as 1797 when he served on a Citizen’s Committee whose duty it was to keep order until the Spanish struck their colors and pulled out of Natchez. Andrew Ellicott, surveyor general and government representative who was present for the occasion , noted Shaw as “an itinerant attorney of some education and abilities.”

Shaw was a dedicated Republican who supported Jeffersonian policies completely, an avid member of the Mississippi Republican Society, along with friends such as Thomas M. Green, Cato West , Judge David Ker and Edward Turner. He was never shy about his stand and was constantly in one political battle or another. He and Judge Thomas Rodney had a disagreement about the qualification of territorial judges which led Judge Rodney to attack him as “a quandam pillmaker from the frogponds of North Carolina.”

He was the first settler of Clifton, also named Hayes City, which he called Lowenburg.In addition, he was the first postmaster of Greenville in Jefferson County, MS, and a practicing physician there. In 1804-1805, he served as a representative from Jefferson County to the Mississippi Territorial Legislature. He was one of the founding members of the Franklin Society in Greenville in Jefferson County in 1806. Also that year, he was commissioned by the governor as an attorney in that county.

During the 1807-1811 era, he was involved in may activities, including editing for a time, the Mississippi Messenger , one of the first newspapers in the territory and printing the Acts of the Territorial Legislature. For several years, he served a member of the Natchez Mechanical Society which was a city council of sorts, and in 1810 became its president, similar to a mayor of today. During this time his life was never dull. The Attorney General of the Mississippi Territory, Seth Lewis, even brought suit against him and other prominent Republicans who were giving Governor Williams a very difficult time.

By 1815, he moved to Franklin County, Mississippi where he continued as a doctor, lawyer, and postmaster. He and the Baptist minister, Bailey Chaney, were arch political rivals. Shaw wanted the Mississippi Territory divided into the two states of Alabama and Mississippi; Chaney did not.

Shaw ran successfully against Chaney for the legislature seat from Franklin County in 1817, and in July was a member of the State Constitutional Convention. Unfortunately, he died during the session on August 1 at the home of Anthony Campbell near Natchez. For the remainder of the convention all delegates wore black crepe armbands in his memory and honor. Judge Edward Turner said of him, ”He was a man of wit and honor, an ardent politician, and a caustic writer, well educated and a respectable poet.”

Partridge in Debow’s Review in 1860 said of him, “His style was rough, rasping, and vigorous, and his power of ridicule and satire were of the highest order. He was also a poet of the Hudibrastic school, and was famous for epigrams and pasquinades. He belonged to the Jeffersonian party and, for the reason mentioned, was greatly dreaded by his adversaries. He lived at Natchez, and afterwards at Greenville, in Jefferson County, once a gay, refined and thriving village, but now entirely extinct. Dr. Shaw was for a longtime a member of the Territorial legislature, and was also a member of the convention which framed the first constitution of the State of Mississippi.” Known descendants of John Shaw were Thomas Breckinridge Shaw, Elizabeth Shaw, Mary Shaw, and Saxton Shaw. I descend through Elizabeth who married Robert Griffing April 4, 1807, in Jefferson County, Mississippi.

Contributed by: Sue Burns Moore

1 thought on “Biography of Dr. John Shaw”

  1. Thank you for sharing this information. I was surprised to see my relative Judge David Ker mentioned and found it interesting to learn more about the formation of MS and AL.

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