A Little Boy’s Shoes

Amid all the great and terrible things of history, parents have to put shoes on their children.  On the frontier, there was no Wal-Mart, no local store to provide any size and style of shoe a person wanted.  Other arrangements had to be made.

John Shaw's signature (although this is from another document, it is identical to the one at the bottom of the shoe order).

A few years ago, I was doing some research in the archives of the Ohio Historical Society and I found an order for shoes.  What was fascinating about this particular request was that it actually had a drawing along the left side of the paper to show the size of the foot of the child who would receive the shoes.  Next to a line that was five and three-quarters inches long is written: “Length of the shoe, not the foot.  This is full length.”

My four-times-great grandfather John Shaw was one of a generation of pioneers.  He went westward from Pennsylvania to make a new life in the Ohio Country.  He settled in Cincinnati in 1805 and began studying to become a physician.  He also entered into partnership with Jonathan Wright, Jr. and David Holloway in a venture involving two general stores–one in Cincinnati and one in nearby Waynesville.

It was Shaw’s responsibility to attend to the outside trading and make two trips each season by keelboat up the Kanawa River, taking groceries, clothing, boots and shoes to the Kanawa Salt Works and bringing down salt, venison and skins to be sold in Ohio.

He continued in this business until 1809, when he entered the Indian Service and became an assistant Indian Agent at Fort Wayne.  When the War of 1812 broke out, Shaw resigned from the Indian Agency.  He declined an invitation from William Henry Harrison to join in the military action, but instead he served as an assistant surgeon at Fort Wayne and Fort Greenville during the war.  Afterward, he returned to Cincinnati where he married his business partner’s sister, Elizabeth Wright, on April 7, 1814.  Theirs was the first marriage at the newly established Quaker Meeting in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati in 1812 (population approximately 2,000)

John and Elizabeth owned a two-story frame house and stable on the southwest corner of Fourth and Plum Streets in Cincinnati.  John began practicing medicine and probably entered into the mercantile business.  Two sons were born–Edward in 1815 and Thomas in 1818.

Then, in 1820 came another appointment to the Indian Service.  This time John was appointed assistant Indian Agent to the Wyandot Indians in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, fifty miles north of Columbus.  Upon hearing Shaw was being considered for the post, Lewis Cass (then Territorial Governor of Michigan) wrote of Shaw:  “I believe Mr. Shaw to be an honest, zealous and intelligent man every way qualified to discharge the duties of such an appointment.”

In June 1820, Secretary of War John Calhoun approved Shaw to be the assistant Indian Agent to the Wyandot. That fall, John moved with his wife and two boys into a double log cabin three miles north of Fort Ferree and a mile upriver from the mill along the Sandusky River.

Historical marker for Fort Ferree

The following spring, John had a large two-story hewed log house built in the fort, with a private room for Elizabeth adjoining and a front porch the entire length of both and shingle roof over all of it.  He had a room finished at the north end of the porch for the post office, as he was also appointed postmaster.

Lump-on-the-head and his squaw, who lived across the stage road, could not speak a word of English. They wanted to imitate the whites. Elizabeth would take a cup and saucer, go to the door and make motions as though she were pouring tea.  She would motion with her hand for them to come over and take tea. The squaw would dress her child in clean clothes, come over and take supper. The women could not converse but would make each other understood by motions. This squaw had lost two or three children while teething. Elizabeth told her to get some strained honey and dip a linen rag in the honey and rub the gums several times each day. She had to inform her by signs.

John spent four years managing relations between the Wyandot and the US government.  One of his primary jobs was to oversee the operation of a mill that the government had built for the Wyandot in return for their loyalty during the War of 1812.  The original one-story mill was built in 1820.  In 1861 it was replaced by a three-story structure that still stands today.

In the fall of 1821, a daughter was born to John and Elizabeth.  The following spring, Elizabeth’s father, Jonathan Wright, Sr., came to visit.  John and Elizabeth sent their older boy, Edward, home to live with his grandparents.  Edward later wrote that his father sent him away “to keep me from turning Indian, as I was a great admirer of them in their gay costumes and stately carriage.”

The home of John Johnston, Shaw's boss during his years in the Indian Agency

In addition to overseeing the mill, John also distributed the annuities that came from the US government for the Wyandot, met with the leaders of the tribe in council, watched over the trade of whites with the Wyandot and generally managed the relations between the Wyandot and those whites who settled in the area.

Shaw’s four years with the Wyandot were filled with tribulations due to drought, lack of sufficient government funds to relieve distress among the Indians, and other difficulties.  A Methodist minister named James B. Finley tried to supercede Shaw in the agency and become the head of the mission, but the arrangement did not suit a portion of the Wyandot.   They preferred Shaw and were not in favor of the change, but Finley and his adherents used their influence to have Shaw removed.  August 17, 1824 was his last day as an Indian Agent.

Those four years with the Wyandot must have been intense, exciting and challenging.  John Shaw had to balance the needs of the US government, the white settlers who were moving into the Ohio Country and the Wyandot.  And in the midst of it all, on April 21, 1823, he had to order his five-year-old son new shoes.

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8 Responses to A Little Boy’s Shoes

  1. pokedpotato says:

    Neat! John Shaw sure did a lot of different stuff. I wonder how Elizabeth felt about moving from a nice frame house “downtown” to a log cabin out in the wilderness…

    • John Shaw had quite the interesting life. I’ve got more to tell. I’m not sure how Elizabeth felt about it, but it seems like a lot of these pioneer women were pretty stoic about their lives.

      I’m just reminded once again how wonderful it is to live in the twenty-first century!

  2. bronxboy55 says:

    Do you ever wonder what John Shaw and the other pioneers in your family would think about all of us today, complaining about our petty problems? I’m just trying to imagine how much they could accomplish if they were alive now and could enjoy the amount of free time we have (or would have if we didn’t spend it in such ridiculous ways).

    Also, I can’t wait to see what Julia is going to say about Lump-on-the-head.

    • I do wonder sometimes what the pioneers would think about today’s world. Our modern-day world is hopelessly complex, much more so than theirs. Although theirs was harder in many ways, it was certainly simpler. I go back and forth about which would be better. I suppose the proper response is to simplify life today, but somehow I never get around to doing it.

      And as far as waiting to see what Julia will say…I am always waiting for the next funny, witty, intelligent comment that comes from her mouth. Even after all these years, she still surprises me.

  3. Julia says:

    Goodness, a person could feel a bit of pressure here to be witty, intelligent and funny. I was, indeed, captivated by the name “Lump-on-the-head” and wonder what the poor sap looked like. His deformity must have been compelling indeed for it to become his identity. Perhaps in today’s parlance, he might be called “Cranio-facially Challenged” or “Big-head-means-deep-thoughts.”

    I was rather intrigued at why Elizabeth got her own room. Marital disharmony? Poker games with the ladies? Scrapbooking fun? I also think it somewhat suckish that a minister was responsible for driving John Shaw off. People like him give clergy a bad name.

    And, finally: Sending away the oldest boy because he liked “gay” costumes. Kevin, I find this hilarious on a variety of levels. Wondering what excuses we might come up with for sending Alex to live with your parents.

  4. Pingback: A Father’s Concern for his Daughter | Arbor Familiae

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