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SHAW, WILLIAM, army officer and local official; b. probably in Scotland; m. Jane, daughter of Thomas Wood, probably in 1764 at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia; they had “a pretty large family”; fl. 1759–89.

In 1759 William Shaw served as a volunteer with the 42nd Foot at the siege of Guadeloupe; he may also have been present at the British capture of Montreal in 1760. He purchased a commission in the 43rd Foot in October 1761 and participated in the sieges of Martinique and Havana, Cuba. Having acquitted himself well at Havana, he was promoted lieutenant in the 40th Foot. In 1763 he accompanied his regiment to Nova Scotia and two years later went with it to Ireland, where he and his wife lived for several years. Originally educated for holy orders, he applied while in Ireland to be ordained a missionary for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, but despite his father-in-law’s support, his request was refused. Although his regiment continued to be stationed in Ireland, Shaw was granted 500 acres in Granville Township, near Annapolis Royal, in July 1767, and he is listed as head of a household in Granville Township in 1770. In 1772 he exchanged into the 47th Foot and served with it in New Jersey and Boston. While in the army he acted at various times as adjutant, paymaster, and deputy judge advocate. In 1774 he left the army “thro’ necessity not choice.” Family responsibilities may have weighed heavily in the face of active service, but whatever the reasons Shaw returned to Nova Scotia and engaged in “commerce.”

In 1775 Shaw was elected to the House of Assembly from Annapolis County. When he was commissioned in the Loyal Nova Scotia Volunteers by Governor Francis Legge that year, he left his commercial activities, but he later lost his commission through the influence of Sir William Howe, a former commander. In 1775 the inhabitants of Annapolis County petitioned Major-General Eyre Massey, commander of the troops in Nova Scotia, to ask Shaw to raise a company of militia for the defence of the district. Commissioned a major in the militia in January 1776, Shaw raised the company by July and requested Massey that the men be furnished with pay, provisions, and equipment since they had only what Shaw had supplied. In November, now a colonel, he called out his company to face a threatened attack by American rebels and kept it on duty until the danger was past. It was charged, however, that Shaw’s men had not performed the duties he had reported and that Shaw was keeping money forwarded by the government as payment for his company. Affidavits from the men cleared him of the first charge, but after a review of the second the assembly ordered him to return some money.

In January 1777 Shaw was appointed a justice of the peace and in April succeeded in being recommissioned in the Loyal Nova Scotia Volunteers. Shortly afterwards, however, he was asked to return his commission; in spite of his efforts, Shaw remained out of favour in military circles.

By 1781 Shaw had obtained the office of sheriff of Halifax County. Two years later an investigation in the assembly revealed that the sheriffs were not transmitting money collected from fines to the provincial treasury. A bill regulating their office and appointment was therefore considered; one of its stipulations was that the sheriff of Halifax County own at least a £1,000 freehold in the county. By November 1783 Shaw had lost his office. One year later, for “having refused to attend and produce vouchers to his accounts as a public accountant, having been Sheriff of Halifax County,” he was pronounced in contempt of the assembly, his seat was declared vacant, and he was ordered taken into custody. He managed to avoid arrest, however, and early the following year Major-General John Campbell appointed him provost marshal of the British forces in Nova Scotia, describing him as “an Officer of long service and respectable Character.” Shaw subsequently claimed that he saved the government “to the amount of £20,000” in his work of “Mustering the Loyalists &ca.” How long he held the position is not clear, but by 1786 he had returned to England, where he petitioned Lord Sydney, secretary of state for the Home Department, for half pay as a provincial colonel, citing his services and complaining that he “found himself without either Appointment or Provision whatever.” It is not known whether he was successful in his claim. By 1789 Shaw had once again returned to Granville, but no further record of him remains.

Catherine Pross

PANS, RG 1, 168, no.492; 222, nos.56–63; 369, no.213; 443, nos.2–17. PRO, CO 217/26; 217/36; 217/37, ff.42–43. USPG, B, 25, no.80. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal, 23 Sept., 28 Oct. 1780; 25 Oct., 18 Nov., 2 Dec. 1783; 29 Nov. 1784. Directory of N.SMLAs, 315. Service of British regiments (Stewart). Calnek, History of Annapolis (Savary), 162, 184, 207–10, 338. H. M. Chichester and George Burges-Short, The records and badges of every regiment and corps in the British army (2nd ed., London, 1900), 523ff., 558ff., 591ff. A. W. Savary, French and Anglican churches at Annapolis Royal (Annapolis Royal, N. S., 1910).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Catherine Pross, “SHAW, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shaw_william_4E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shaw_william_4E.html
Author of Article:   Catherine Pross
Title of Article:   SHAW, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   October 2, 2023