William Alexander Shaw & Agnes
WILLIAM ALEXANDER SHAW
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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’
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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,
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)