William Alexander Shaw & Agnes Dunn



William Alexander Shaw was born 22 October 1798 at Doune, Kilmadock, Perthshire (although his gravestone gives  1800 as his date of birth).

William Alexander Shaw was the son of Alexander Shaw,  also born in Kilmadock Parish, Doune, Perthshire sometime between 1740 and 1765, and Margaret McKillop born 24 Apr 1763 at Kincardine by Doune, Perthshire. Margaret was the daughter of William McKillop and Agnes Ferguson but Alexander’s parents can not be identified with any certainty.

William is said to have been fair-haired and was blind in one eye as the result of smallpox suffered when he was a child.

The 1882 Gazetteer of Scotland described Kilmadock as;

… a parish containing Doune town, and Deanston, Buchany, Drumvaich, and Delvorich villges on the southern border of Perthshire. Its length is 10 miles, its breadth from two to eight miles, its area 24,521 acres. Population in 1880-81 was 3,012. The Forth runs in serpentine folds along its southern boundary, and the Teith runs east-south-eastward through the center. A flat tract of considerable breadth lies along the Forth; a valley flanked on each side by a hill-ridge, is traversed by the Teith; and an upland tract, part of the Braes of Doune, ascends to the lofty summit of Uaighmore on the northern boundary.

By 1819, when William was aged 21, he was probably living in Deanston, a Kilmadock village close by Doune. Among the few personal items belonging to William which have survived is a book entitled “A Selection Of Valuable Religious Letters”. On one side of the flyleaf William has written his name and “Deanston, 1819” and on the other side, his name and “Deanston, 16th Nov 1820”.

Among surviving records for a Kilmadock Church of Scotland “Chapel of Ease” are some records of “Young Communicants” including those of;

1818 – William Shaw, son of Alexander Shaw at Deanston,
1815 – Margaret Shaw, daughter of Alexander Shaw at Deanston,
1814 – John Shaw, gardener at Lanrick.

Although not fully proven, there is every possibility that the recorded William (age 20) and Margaret (age 22) are the Shaws who came to Canada in 1832 and that gardener John Shaw may be William’s brother John Buchanan Shaw (b. 1795).

Deanston was also the location of one of the first cotton spinning mills in Scotland and, as we know William’s trade was that of cotton spinner, he may have been employed at this time in the Deanston mill.
When William married Agnes Dunn (1805-1890), he was a cotton spinner residing at Duntocher, Dunbartonshire. Duntocher village is now essentially a part of greater Glasgow (the Clydeside industrial area), but in Alexander’s time was described as lying nine miles northwest of Glasgow. The 1882 Gazetteer of Scotland describes Duntocher, birthplace of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, as a;

… town, on rivulet amid opening of Kilpatrick Hills, nine miles north-west of Glasgow. It is modern, but contains an ancient bridge, believed to be Roman, and adjoins a hill on which Roman relics were found. It has a post office under Glasgow, four factories, Established, Free, United Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches and a public school. Population 1,572.

In 1854 a Glasgow newspaper editor, describing Duntocher, wrote;

The population are, in general, either directly or indirectly connected with the extensive factories of Messrs. Dunn & Co. In 1808, when the works at Duntocher first came into the hands of the late William Dun, Esq., the village was almost deserted. The former proprietors had lost heart, and everything was in a languishing condition. Mr. Dunn, a man of indomitable energy and perseverance, who had raised himself from a humble rank in society by his industry and shrewdness, speedily infused new life into the concern. The works were gradually extended and improved under his vigilant and enlightened superintendence, until at length they attained a high state of efficiency; and the working population increased from 150 to upwards of 1,500. By the almost unprecedented success of his manufacturing operations, Mr. Dunn at length achieved a splendid fortune, and died in the possession of one of the finest estates in the west of Scotland. At his decease, a few years ago, the bulk of the property thus accumulated passed into the hands of his surviving brother, Alexander Dunn, Esq., the present proprietor.

It may be safely assumed that William Shaw practiced his trade of cotton spinner in the mills of William Dunn. In “Glasgow, A Shining Harvest Of History”, David Daiches provides some context as regards the cotton industry of the time;

In the last years of the 18th and early years of 19th centuries, Glasgow became the center of a cotton spinning region; the number of cotton-mills within a radius of 25 miles of Glasgow rose from 19 to 134 between 1787 and 1834. The new communities established in the open countryside near the mills were at first integrated social units in which the mill owner took a close personal interest. But the introduction of the power-loom, invented in 1804, gradually changed the picture. Improvements to the machine and the increasing use of steam-engines in succeeding years altered the nature of the industry and the social conditions of its workers who, since the mills no longer needed to be by the sides of streams, could now be herded into the city.

In 1820 Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Formerly obliged to seek the sides of rapid streams for driving their machinery, manufacturers established themselves in sequestered spots and lodged their working people in villages around them. Hence arose a mutual dependence on each other between the employer and employed, for in bad times the Master had to provide these people sustenance, else he could not have their service in good; and the little establishment naturally looked up to him as their head. But this has ceased since manufacturers have been transferred to great towns where a Master calls together 100 workmen this week and pays them off the next with far less interest in their future than in that of as many worn-out shuttles”.

As the industrial revolution advanced, the falling wages and insecurity of employment in the Clydeside cotton spinning industry (as described above) probably provides the most likely explanation for William’s decision to emigrate to Canada.

William was married to Agnes Dunn by Christopher Greig on 19 June 1832 at St. Ninians, Old Kilpatrick Parish, which included the Duntocher area of Dunbartonshire. An extract of their marriage certificate reads;

William Shaw & Agnes Dunn residing at Duntocher Parish of Old Kilpatrick, having produced certificate of proclamation of banns – were married at St. Ninian’s this 19th day of June 1832, by me Christopher Greig  Min. of St. Ninians

It has been suggested that William Shaw’s bride, Agnes Dunn, could have been a relative of mill owner William Dunn but, more likely, this is a mere coincidence of names. If William married the daughter or niece of such a wealthy mill owner it seems unlikely the couple would have chosen to endure the hardships of emigrating to the backwoods of Upper Canada.

Agnes Dunn was born in 1805 at Dunblane, Dunkeld, Perthshire, the daughter of James Dunn (b.1770) and Margaret Gow (b.c1770).

Within a short time of their wedding, no more than a few weeks and probably a few days, William and Agnes set sail for Canada. They sailed from Greenock, at the mouth of the Clyde, aboard the vessel “Crown”, the last emigrant ship of the 1832 season.

William’s sister Margaret (1793-1882) also came to Canada, and lived with William and Agnes her whole life, but it is not completely clear whether she traveled with William and Agnes on the “Crown” or joined them later.

Although it is difficult to identify the “Crown” with complete certainty it appears she was a 330 ton Brig (square rigged on two masts) built in 1824 by Coburn Cummings at Deer Island, New Brunswick, Canada and originally owned by Charles Hathaway of Charlotte County, New Brunswick. In 1825 she was sold to an unkown buyer at Greenock, Scotland.

Considering her origin it is most likely she was built for the timber trade carrying balks of timer from Canada to the UK and returning with immigrants. Most immigrant ships of the era were primarily engaged in the Canadian timber trade and immigrants were carried on the outbound voyage only because living ballast was more profitable than brick.

Conditions aboard a 19th century immigrant ship are infamous, although William and Agnes traveled at a time when the British Government had begun to make some attempt, through a Passenger Act passed in 1827, to improve those circumstance. Even under the new law, however, the allowable ratio was three passengers for every four tons displacement which worked out to no more than two square feet of space for every adult passenger. More over, enforcement of the new law was lax to non-existent.

Unless William and Agnes and could afford a deck cabin, which is most unlikely, they would have traveled steerage which was described by the Times Of London as;

No more than 25 feet wide and 50 or 60 feet long on the brigs. A noisome dungeon, airless and lightless, in which several hundred persons of both sexes and all ages are stowed away on shelves two feet one inch above the other, three feet wide and six feet long, still reeking from the inevitable stench left by emigrants of the last voyage.

Other sources compared steerage conditions to dog kennels or the Black Hole of Calcutta. Most often there were tiers of berths on both sides and a row down the center which left hardly any passage way and what little space remained was filled with luggage and barrels. Passengers generally had to eat in their berths. In good weather the hatches could remain open, providing some light and air, but in foul weather (of which there was plenty) the hatches were sealed leaving the passengers locked in a dark, unventilated hold fouled by the vomit of the sea-sick and human waste slopping from the latrine tubs.

The Shaw party would have planned on a landing at Quebec City or Montreal (on her 1832 voyage the “Crown” sailed to both ports) but almost certainly found their ship putting in to the hastily established quarantine station at Gross Isle, located thirty miles down the St. Lawrence from Quebec City and just off the south-shore village of Montmagny. Although there is no record of the “Crown” being quarantined at Gross Isle, arriving in July or August of 1832 the Shaws would have found themselves at the epicenter of the worst Cholera epidemic ever to strike Canada. According to “Flight From Famine” by Donald MacKay;

Early in 1832 newspapers of British North America carried fearful accounts of the new disease sweeping through Europe. The opening of the emigration season was awaited with a dread.

Doctors knew of no cure, nor did they know what caused the disease. Some blamed the weather and recommended burning barrels of tar and firing off cannon to change atmospheric pressure. Others, somewhat closer to the mark, believed that cholera came from the miasma thrown off by rotting garbage. In Quebec, a doctor who had served in India and knew of cholera’s extreme contagion said the first line of defense must be cordon sanitaire to stop the cholera before it could get in among the population. On 25 February 1832 the Assembly of Lower Canada created an “Act to establish Boards of Health within the Province to enforce an effectual system of Quarantine”.

The site chosen was the hilly, wooded Grosse Isle. To discourage ships seeking to evade quarantine, three cannon were mounted overlooking the anchorage. No vessel was to pass upstream without a certificate of health, and those with illness aboard were to be quarantined for a month. (But) inspections were sketchy because of lack of staff and some vessels ignored the quarantine station and went right up to Quebec City.

On June 3 (1832) Captain James Hudson brought his brig “Carricks” to anchor at Grosse Isle after a harrowing voyage from Dublin in which 42 of this 133 passengers had died from “some unknown disease”. Despite the danger signs, the survivors were given a clean bill of health and allowed to proceed. On June 7 the survivors of the “Carricks”, reached Quebec City and those who did not go on to Montreal dispersed to their lodgings in the city. Next day a man died in a waterfront boarding house, and two others died within twenty four hours. “Only then”, recalled a doctor, “did the truth flash on our minds”. The disease the authorities had worked so hard to contain had broken out of quarantine.

Within the next few days the cholera exploded into a major epidemic in the hot, spring weather. The hospital in Quebec City, like the half-built station at Grosse Isle, was overwhelmed. By the last week of June, 700 cases of cholera had been reported, 420 of them fatal and by early July there were 1,000 dead in Montreal which, with a population of 27,000, was the largest city in Canada.

When boatmen began refusing to take emigrants on to Upper Canada, thousands were stranded in Montreal, described by a journalist as an “immense army, much exposed, and ill equipped.” Some set out for Upper Canada in wagons and on foot and others spread the disease into New England and upper New York state. The first cases in Upper Canada were reported June 17 at Prescott on the St. Lawrence, seven days by boat from Montreal, and threw the town into a “dreadful state of consternation.” On June 20 cholera was reported at York (Toronto), then a town of 6,000 people. It spread among the Irish shanties by the Rideau Canal at Bytown (Ottawa), where there were 32 deaths in the first week of July.

Only with the coming of cold weather in November did the authorities feel safe in declaring the epidemic at an end. An estimated 10,000 people had caught the disease, on ship or ashore, and the death toll figures varied wildly depending on the source. (Grosse Isle officials) estimated 2,350 had died on the ships or in quarantine. The available figures from health boards, burial records and the like suggest a total of upwards of 6,000 deaths, or half the people estimated to have contracted the disease. In Montreal close to 2,000 died, followed by Quebec City with 1,500 deaths. In York the Board of Health put the death toll at 273, and that for all of Upper Canada at 500.

A few cases of cholera were reported the following year and in 1834 there was a new flare-up of the disease, but nothing on the scale of the epidemic of 1832.

As far as we know William and Agnes escaped the scourge of Cholera and made their way, from Quebec or Montreal, probably by river transport up the St. Lawrence, to land near Brockville some time late in that dangerous summer. They then made their way “over rough trails” to Perth.

William purchased 100 acres of land, being Lot 14 (NE) Concession 7 of Drummond Township (now at Drummond Center), for the sum of 100 pounds. This land had been originally patented on 02 October 1821 in the name of Mathew Cullen. It was sold by John Cullen, by instrument number D-23, a QuitClaim Deed, dated 24 Aug 1833 (and registered 01 Nov 1866) to William Alexander Shaw. That land is still in the Shaw family, currently (2003) owned by Robert Douglas Shaw.

In 1839 William purchased adjoining Lot 15(SW) from Edward Crookshanks Malloch (originally patented to Edward C. Mallock in 1824) for the sum of 80 pounds with E.C. Malloch holding a 60 pound mortgage. This land is also still in the Shaw family, currently (2003) owned by Douglas James Shaw.

William Shaw had been a cotton spinner in Scotland, and there is no evidence that he had any prior agricultural experience (although he may well have), but in Canada he would be a farmer.

As noted above William Alexander Shaw purchased the first 100 acres of the Shaw Farm at Drummond Center, Lot-14(E), Drummond Concession 7, on 24 August 1833. He and wife Agnes (and perhaps sister Margaret) would have arrived in Canada in the late summer or early autumn of 1832, and it is unknown where they spent their first winter (1832/33) … possibly at Quebec, Montreal, Brockville, or Perth, or even at Drummond Center (the actual purchase date does not necessarily prove they only arrived there the following summer). In any case, they were installing themselves on their land no later than the summer of 1833.

According to notes made by Hazel Haig-Shaw;

“ On a knoll (Agnes called it a Brae) a small log house was constructed with sleeping quarters on the second floor.”

That original log cabin, now serving as a machinery shed, still stands (2005).

These circumstances imply that William and Agnes arrived in Canada with some (cash and other) resources. A payment on the Drummond Center farm seems to have been made immediately (although there may have been a mortgage, as the deed was not finally registered until 1866). They must also have had funds to purchase some of their food and other supplies for at least that first year as they would not have qualified for government aid as did some earlier settlers.

There are few personal items in existence today which once belonged to William and Agnes. There is William’s book of “Valuable Religious Letters” (dated Deanston 1819/20) and an 1860 King James version of the Bible signed by William. There is also an 1871 version of the New Testament signed by Agnes Dunn-Shaw and a set of brass candlesticks which, family oral history says, came from Scotland with Agnes (a part of her trousseau). These are in the collection of Ron W. Shaw (b.1951), the books having been passed down through his father and the candle sticks given to him by Helen Smith, grand-daughter of Janet Shaw and Donald Robertson (g.granddaughter of William and Agnes).

Hazel Haig-Shaw refers, in her notes, to a grain scythe-cradle still in her possession in 1977 (at the Drummond Center farm), which may also have come with William from Scotland.

No record has been found that William Shaw was involved in elected public/political affairs, as were several of his descendents. Local government did not exist in Drummond Township (or anywhere in Ontario) until the Municipal Institutions Act of 1849 created the first local councils in 1850, but in that year William would still have been only 52 and could have had involvement. Never the less the only record found to date is that, in 1858, William was appointed by Township Council as "librarian and caretaker” at the Township Hall at an annual salary of five pounds … slightly more than the annual salary of 4 pounds, 2 shilling, 6 pence paid to Township Councilors.

William was an Elder in the Free (later Knox) Presbyterian Church at Perth, Ontario. Genealogy notes by Hugh Robertson (1862-1956) record;

“Before a horse and buggy was owned he and members of the family who were old enough walked the seven miles to church service (in Perth) on Sunday mornings when weather permitted. William’s hospitable home was always open to the intinerant preachers of the early days and the visiting ministers of later times. Daily family worship was conducted regularly in his home during his lifetime.”

According to genealogical notes by Hazel Audrey Haig-Shaw, apparently drawing on the letters of Ethel Elizabeth Shaw-MacRae;

“Later they bought a French pony and a democrat (four seated buggy). McCumisky’s (neighbor) had one horse, so they went to church together, early enough for McKumiskeys to attend Mass and they then waited for the Shaw’s to attend service”.

The Free/Knox Presbyterian Church later became St. Paul’s United Church.

According to Ethel Elizabeth Shaw (1872-1969) her grandmother (Agnes Dunn) told her that William;
“was stooking in the wheat field, drank too much cold water and took inflammation and died very soon” (24 August 1866).

His Drummond Center property was divided with Lot-14(E) going to John and Lot-15(W) going to James.

William and Agnes are buried in the Drummond Center Community Cemetery (Concession-8 Drummond Township).

William and Agnes Shaw had seven children; Alexander/Sandy (1834-186?), Margaret (1835-1924), Jane (b.1837-1924), James (1839-1922), Janet (1840-1919, John (1842-1926) and Sarah (b.1843),

- Ron W. Shaw (2004)


The surname ‘Dunn’ is common in the eastern lowland regions of Scotland, and is said to be derived from the land of Dun, a fort in Angus not far from Montrose.

The Gaelic word ‘donn’, meaning ‘brown’ was and is a common nickname in the highlands of Scotland as it is in several countries (in their respective languages) in the world. ‘Brown’ eventually became a Scottish surname in its own right and so did ‘Donn’ or ‘Dunn’, with ‘Dunn’ becoming the more prominent spelling. ‘Dunn’ was an early form of the word, meaning in English ‘dark’  or ‘swarthy’.

The name ‘Dunn’ is also a very common surname in Ireland.

The limited information available on the family of Agnes Dunn (1805-1890), wife of William Alexander Shaw (1798-1866), is thanks to research assembled and provided by Sarah Moore a descendent through William & Agnes’ daughter Sarah.

Walter Dunn (b.c1670) & Wife Unknown

Walter Dunn and a wife unknown had at least one son James, born c.1696 at Dunblane, Dunkeld, Perthshire, Scotland.

James Dunn (b.c1696) & Wife Unknown

James Dunn and wife unknown had four children; James Jr. (b.c1726/32 at Dunblane, Dunkeld, Perthshire), James (b. c.1742), Walter (b.????) and William (b. c1729)

William Dunn (b.c1729) & Mary Sharp (b.c1725)

William Dunn and wife Mary Sharp had at least three children; James (b.1754 at Doune, Kilmadock, Perthshire), William (b.1762) and James (b.1770).

James Dunn (b.1770) & Margaret Gow (?) (b.c1770)

James Dunn and wife Margaret Gow (?) had nine children; Margaret (b.1790), Mary (b.1792), Helen (b.1794), William (b.1796), James (b.1798), Janet (b.1801), John (b.1803), Agnes (b.1805) and Betty (b.1810).

Agnes Dunn (1805-1890) & William Alexander Shaw (1798-1866).

Agnes Dunn was born 22 March, and baptised 26 March, 1805 at Dunblane, Dunkeld, Perthshire, Scotland.

It should be noted that Agnes Dunn’s gravestone in Drummond Community Cemetery, family tradition, and some LDS entries, record that Agnes was born at Dundee, whereas the above genealogy places her birth at Dunblane, Dunkeld, Perthshire, a village near Doune and about  50 kilometers west and north of Dundee town.

The only alternate candidate, born at Dundee, would be an Agnes Dunn born 17 July 1806, daughter of James Don and Margaret Blyth. As neither the day, month or year of this child’s birth match those of Anges Dunn, wife of William Alexander Shaw, it is most likely that her gravestone is in error (perhaps the result of confusion between two place names beginning with “Dun”, Dunblane and Dundee, the latter being a more prominent town).

Agnes Dunn married William Alexander Shaw (1798-1866) in 1832 and they emigrated to Canada in the same year.

William Shaw & Agnes Dunn, residing at Duntocher Parish of Old Kilpatrick, having produced certificate of proclamation of banns – were married at St. Ninians this 19th day of June 1832, by me, Christopher Greig, Min. of St. Ninians

According to notes left by Hazel Audrey Haig-Shaw (1897-1984);

“Agnes Dunn’s family were Puritans. She was born in Dundee. She was extra good looking with dark brown hair and dark blue eyes.”

Strictly speaking, Agnes was probably not a member of a “Puritan” group, but more likely an Old Kirk Presbyterian adherent.

Ethel Elizabeth Shaw-MacRae (1872-1969) describes her grandmother Agnes Dunn as; “dark, with dark brown hair, dark blue eyes and dark skin. She would tell me, joking, ‘you musn’t drink tea, see how dark it made me’. Granny was very nice looking.”

Family history notes, by Agnes’ grandson, Hugh Robertson  (1862-1956), mention one brother, John (b.1803), a cousin Sarah, and a relationship to the Kemp and McLaren families;

“Grandmother Shaw (Agnes Dunn) had a brother, John, who was a schoolmate of the noted Scotch preacher Rev. Murray McCheyne, a memoir of whom she had among her books. He may be the John who went to London and (is said to have) done well. I have a letter written by a daughter of Mrs. Margaret McLaren which says that her mother received a letter in 1867 from a cousin Sarah Shaw. None of her relatives seem to have come to this country, though the Kemp family in Beckwith had some relationship. A family of McLaren’s in Scotland were cousins.”    

In the 1960s, Helen Smith (1885-1999). g.grandaughter of Agnes Dunn-Shaw, gave Ronald W. Shaw (1951-       ) a set of brass candlesticks which family tradition holds came to Canada as part of Agnes’ trousseau. The trunk in which they had been stored also contained linens (tablecloth, napkins, etc.) which were also said to be part of that trousseau. The whereabouts of that trunk was unknown by 2000. When John Shaw purchased the Drummond Center farm his mother, Agnes Dunn-Shaw, moved to live with her daughter Janet and son-in-law Donald Robertson and died in their home in the town of Perth. It is assumed the trunk (with its contents of trousseau items, books and letters) went with her and eventually passed into the possession of Helen Robertson-Smith. It disappeared around the time of her death in 1999 but may be in the possession of a member of the Smith family.

The only other surviving possession of Agnes Dunn is a King James version of the New Testament, published 1860, which she signed and dated 11 March 1876. That item is also in the collection of Ron W. Shaw.

According to Hazel Audrey Haig-Shaw (1897-1984) when Agnes’ husband, William Alexander, died in 1866 their son James (1839-1922) realized that no photograph had ever been taken of his father. This prompted him to take his mother, Agnes, to a photo studio to have a photograph taken. It would seem that original copies of that photo may have been given to each of her children and one of these originals was located (in 2004) in the possession of the Burnette family of Billings Montana, descendents of Margaret Shaw (1835-1882). The back of the photo is marked “From E. Morrison’s Photography Gallery, Gore Street, Perth, C.W.”.

Although the photograph is not dated, according to Gus Quattrocchi’s “The Merchants, Professionals & Tradespeople of Perth (1998)” the second floor of a shop located on the east side of Gore Street, Block-4 (where the Crain Building and former Post Office now stands opposite Perth Town Hall) was occupied by the E. Morrison Daguerreotype Gallery from 1857 to 1862 and then by E. Morrison Photographer from 1862-1870. The dates of operation for “E. Morrison Photographer” confirm that Agnes’ photo was taken at about the time of William Alexander’s death in 1866 and that she would have been about 61 years of age at the time.

When Agnes died in 1890 the Almonte Gazette published the following obituary;

“Agnes Dunn, relict of the late William Shaw of Drummond, and mother of Mr. Alexander Shaw, who kept a drug store here some years ago, died last Wednesday week (29 December 1890) at the residence of her son-in-law Mr. D. M. Robertson of Perth. The deceased, who reached the ripe age of 85 years, was a native of Scotland, coming to Canada in 1826 (sic) and settling then in the township of Drummond. Her husband was at the time of his death an elder in Knox Church, Perth, and her son is Mr. James Shaw, deputy-reeve of the township of Drummond.”

Agnes was buried beside William in the Drummond Center Community Cemetery (Concession-8, Drummond Township).

- Ron W. Shaw (2004)