Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Extortion Trial of 1861, Introducing the Shaw Family: Part 1

Great Extortion Case--
The Memphis papers just now are redolent with the perfumes of a rich case of an attempt to extort money by extortion.  The plaintiff is one Dr. Gilbert, a man of money, who loans his means for interest.  The defendants are Mrs. Ellen Shaw, wife of Captain A.B. Shaw, and Chas. Martin, who it appears was once a butcher, but of late has been chiefly occupied as the chaperon of Mrs. Shaw, her husband being an invalid.
Originally posted in The Daily Dispatch August 16 1861 Richmond

Family Vault of Captain A.B. Shaw
Elmwood Cemetery
Nashville Daily Union Jan 14 1853

Who was Captain Abel. B. Shaw? The paper trail tells us he was born in New Hampshire anywhere from 1808 to 1820.  Some family trees list his parents as Smith Leavitt and Polly Sanborn with no explanation as to why he has a different last name from the parents.  Interestingly enough in the 1860 Census the Lawrence Leavitt family resides next door to the Shaws.  Coincidence?  

Shaw was a wealthy merchant (1860 Census lists his wealth at $105,000), riverboat captain and slave owner.  The 1850 Slave Census records his ownership of 14 slaves ranging in age from 2 to 70.   The 1854 List of Deaths in the City of Memphis records the following: 
#2187 February 13, Negro Woman of A.B. Shaw, 80 years old, cause of death: old age.

Shaw was the owner of A.B. Shaw and Co, wharf-boat owner in Memphis.  He had a large home on Union Ave. and he was active in local politics serving as a Memphis Alderman from 1850-1853 and 1855-1857. 

An interesting article appeared in the Memphis Enquirer in 1845 regarding the thwarted escape of a slave by Captain Shaw:

Something New in Thieving
John Bennett, Louisville, Ky., was deposted on the wharf-boat of Messrs. A.B. Shaw & Co., to be shipped by the first boat.  It was left by a free black who was very particular in directing it to be handled with care.  An hour or two after, a gentleman happened to approach when a voice from the interior was heard to call out "open the door."  Much consternation followed, and the spectators thought his Satanic Majesty had taken temporary lodgings in the inside of the box. After due deliberation, Mr. Shaw the owner of the boat, ripped off the top with a butcher's cleaver, when out jumped a strapping negro fellow nearly dead with suffocation and steaming like the escape pipe of a steamboat.  he was greatly exhausted, but was revived by the fresh air and the application of stimulants, when he gave the following account of his singular incarceration:

It appears that he belongs to Mr. John Lewis of Germantown, and has been hired here in town. He states that the scheme which had well nigh cost him his life, was concocted some months ago by John Bennett, a free black rascal, well known to many of our citizens.  The intention was to ship him, in the manner attempted, to Cincinnati, from whence he was to be conveyed by the Abolitionists to Canada.  In the box was a quantity of moss, a number of plates, and few dozen water crackers.  Air holes bored in the ends of the box.  They forgot, however, to put a supply of water.  He states that he would inevitably have died in a very short time while, if he had not been extricated, and his condition when taken out of the box confirms the opinion.

Bennett has since been arrested.

Shaw's private life was filled with his wife and many children.  In 1845 he married Eleanor Jane "Ellen" McLean who was from Ohio. It will be seen in later newspaper reports that she was viewed as a woman of low birth, low morals and had been living in a bawdy house prior to her marriage and that since her marriage she had been keeping bad company.  Her mother, simply known as Mrs. McLean, is also interred in the Shaw family vault.  As with two of the Shaw children she had previously been interred at Morris Cemetery but was moved to Elmwood on Jan. 1, 1856.

Shelby County Marriage

Ellen and Captain Shaw had a large family but many of the children died young from accidents and disease.
These are the children that I have confirmed.  All but two are interred in the family vault at Elmwood.

Andrew Byron Shaw 1844-1855, died from Scarlet Fever.

Mary Shaw, 1847 - ca. 1861, cause of death unknown.

Memphis Daily Appeal July 15 1859
John J., ca 1848 - 1859, John fell down the staircase at their home on Union Ave.  He broke his neck and died instantly.

Samuella Shaw, ca 1850 - ca 1930, After the death of her parents Samuella was sent to a school in Philadelphia.  She became a nun and spent some time in Europe.  She returned to the United States and ended up in Providence at the Convent of the Sacred Heart until she moved to the convent at Newton City Massachusetts.   She last appears in the 1930 Census at the age of 80.

Samuel Shaw, ca 1849 - 1855, He was originally interred in Morris Cemetery but was moved to the Shaw family Vault at Elmwood on January 1, 1856.

Mary G. Shaw, 1852- 1855, Three years old at the time of her death from Scarlet Fever.  She was moved from Morris Cemetery to Elmwood January 1, 1856.

Abel B. Shaw Jr, 1855-1856, 10 months old at the time of his death from Cholera.

Ellen Bessie Shaw, ca 1859 - ca 1937, like Samuella, Ellen also was sent to school in Philadelphia after the death of her parents.  She married John D. Farley.

As early as May 1858 notices  like the one below began appearing in the Daily Appeal regarding the dissolution of the firm Whipple and Shaw.

On September 23 1858 a large advertisement appeared in the Daily Appeal for an estate sale.   Capt. A.B. Shaw was liquidating his assets with the intention of moving to Louisiana.

$100,000 Worth of Smal (sic) Estate and Negroes at Auction--Louisiana My Future Home--Sugar Must Be Made

   Our much esteemed fellow citizen, Capt. A.B. Shaw, having determined to make Louisiana his, we proceed to close out for him his entire interests in Memphis, Stock, Lock and Barrel, which will include some of the most desirable and valuable property in the city.  1st, His well know family residence on Union street, two stores, fourteen rooms, well built and conveniently arranged, large kitchen, four neat negro houses, carriage, house, stables, cribs shed for wagons and cow house, &d, including the entire household and kitchen furniture, which consists in a large amount of the best quality.  Lot 85 feet front, 250 deep to an alley.  Fine garden, and choice fruit and flowers in abundance.  Lot no 9, 50 feet front on Union, south side, 200 feet deep.  Lot NO. 5, 30 feet on Union, north side, 1561/2 feet deep to an alley, with a neat fram dwelling of four rooms, with necessary out houses, nicely set with shrubber, &c. Lot No. 6, on Union, north side, 50 feet front, 1561/2 feet deep to an alley; Lot No. 7, 50 feet front on Union, 1561/2 feet deep to an alley; Lot No. 8, 50 feet front on Union, 156 1/2 feet to an alley, with a neat dwelling of four rooms, brick kitchen, out houses, &c.
    Monroe Street next: One block, subdivided into four lots, 50 feet each, 160 deep-southside.  All fine bulding lots.
    Now for Gayoso, east of the Bayou; Two lots, north side, 60 feet front each, 120 feet deep.
    Now comes Madison street: One block on the north side, near the bayou. All of the above property is too well to need commetn.  All central and near the trade.
   Negroes.--Two families of valuable house servants; one extra horse and rockaway, milch cows, stock hogs, farming and garden utensils, &c.
    Any or all of the above property can be purchased at low figures, but if not all will be closed out at auction, commenting WEDNESDAY, the 20th of October, and continue from day to day until all is sold. 
    Terms--One-third cash, balance one and two years, with interest.
    Call on Capt. A.B. Shaw, or your obedient servants,
    M.C. Cayce & Son,
Auctioneers and Real Estate Brokers.
Sale on the Premises.  Look sharp Sep8-ids

In January 1859 Captain Shaw had advertised that he has a house and lot for sale on Union.  He was willing to have it sold "on long time."  There is no mention of any other items to sell.

Then on May 14, 1859, a rather interesting notice appeared stating "Notice to all whom it may concern.  On and after this date I will not pay any debts contracted by any one without my written order or my lawful agents, which I will announce in the papers when duly authorized.   A.B.Shaw."   It's been a year since he dissolved his partnership and more than six months since he announced he would move to Louisiana, yet he is still living in Memphis.

July 1859 had a high note and a very low note for the Shaw family.  Mrs. Shaw made a flag for the Memphis Light Guards and was reported in the Daily Appeal as did a thank you from the Guards.
Memphis Daily Appel  

"Light Guards--We are requested by Captain Saffarrans to say that the Memphis Light Guards will assemble at the drill room to-day at one o'clock and march to the house of Captain A.B. Shaw, on Union street, to be presented with a flag for the company by Mrs. A.B. Shaw."
Posted in the Daily Appeal July 2, 1859

And on July 13, 1859, the Light Guard issued it's thank you.

Light Guard Armory,
Memphis, July 11, 1859

At a meeting of the company, held this evening, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:
  Resolved, That the thanks of the Light Guard be tendered to Mrs. Capt. A.B.Shaw, for the magnificent flag presented to the company at our parade 2d July inst.  Also to Miss Mary Shaw for the beautiful and chaste address on presenting the flag in behalf of her mother.  We pledge ourselves never to give her cause to regret her noble generosity and disinterested kindness to the Memphis Light Guards.  And in the event our country should require our service in the maintenance of her institutions or repelling a foreign foe from her soil, the Light Guards' banner will be found unfurled to the breeze in defense of the glorious cause of American Independence, fighting her attles manfully and nobly to victory or to death.
  Resolved, That the thanks of the Light Guards be tendered to Capt. A.B. Shaw and lady for the elegant and bountiful collation prepared for us on the occasion above referred to.  And also to Gen. J.W.S.Brown for a similar demonstration of kindness.  And we hope by strict duty as soldiers and citizens always to merit the approbation of the numerous and kind friends of the Memphis Light Guard.
  Resolved, That these resolutions be published in the morning and evening papers, and a copy be presented to the donors of the flag and to Gen. J.W.S. Brown
  J.M.L. Karr
  M.T. Ryan
  T.L. Skiggs,

A dark cloud fell over the home on July 14, 1859 as their son John J. Shaw fell down the second story steps, breaking his neck.  It was reported that the death was instantaneous. 

The Shaw family appear in the 1860 Census for Memphis and the Captain's worth is estimated at $105,000.  In addition to the family there are five other individuals living in the household: Charles W. Martin, Martha Ramsey, Kate Quincy, Margaret Egan, and William Munove.  I would posit that this 21 year old Charles is the same Charles Martin mentioned at the beginning of this post as the "chaperon" of Ellen Shaw and her cohort in crime.  It's worth mentioning that he was 21,  13 years younger than Ellen.

This brings a close to the first post about Captain A.B. Shaw and family.  The next time we see the Shaw's  is in 1861 at the scandalous extortion trial of Ellen Shaw and Charles Martin.


  1. Very, very interesting. Your attention to detail in laying out this story is fantastic!

  2. Apparently Mr. Schaefer has figured out how to follow this blog, but I cannot. Can you tell me how?
    Karenjcasey at bell south.

    Many Thanks.

  3. I've added a feature to the blog so you can get notified via email whenever a new entry is posted. You'll find it at the top of the left hand column.