By Jared L. Olar
July 2007-February 2015
MY MOTHER'S family, the Shaws, are traditionally of Scottish origin, though culturally have been English for as long as we have record. But while our family tradition and our later cultural and ethnic identity could accurately indicate that we are either of English or Scottish origins (or both), thanks to DNA testing we have learned of a possibility that our Shaws may rather have been of Irish descent -- a branch of the O'Sheas or Shees of County Tipperary, Munster, and County Kilkenny, Leinster.
Our Shaws have long taken a strong interest in the investigation and preservation of their genealogy, and it is due to the happy influence of my mother and my mother's mother that I pretty early on inherited a desire to learn about our ancestry and to write it down for posterity. (If you wish, you may proceed immediately to my mother's Shaw genealogy: Ten Generations of the Shaw Family.) I was just a child when my mother first informed me that her Shaw line traced back to Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts and that her ancestry included several Mayflower Pilgrims. Later, as a young teenager I wished to find out just how much we knew about my mother's genealogy, so my grandmother Frances (Miller) Shaw (1917-1993) began to share her genealogical information with me. Thanks to her many years of research, and to the prior work of her sister-in-law, Eleanor (Shaw) Baylor (1909-1974), a large quantity of precious information about my mother's ancestors, along with old family photos and papers, eventually came into my possession after my grandmother's death. Adding to the information and family traditions she had received from her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, my great-aunt Eleanor also gathered information from our numerous cousins in Lee County, Illinois, who were related to us on the Shaw side. Aunt Eleanor's daughter Ardath (Baylor) Chapman, my mother's cousin, has also been immeasurably generous in sharing copies of items and information from her mother's collected genealogical materials and mementos. Our Shaw family in Illinois has always been aware that a branch of our Shaws had become Mormons and had migrated to Utah by way of Illinois, so Aunt Eleanor also made contact with our Mormon cousins in Ogden, Utah, who supplied her with information on their families and the results of their own Shaw genealogical research. From our late cousin Verda May (Shaw) Tullis (1909-1985) of Ogden, Utah, Aunt Eleanor and my grandmother received pages and pages of information on our Shaw ancestors in New England and our Shaw cousins in Utah. Taken together, all of these family records, notes, photographs, and papers form the basis of this account of the Shaw genealogy, but our records have also been greatly augmented and extended from other sources -- chiefly from an earlier, much more extensive version of John Shaw of Plymouth Plantation in Progress, the database of my distant cousin Kenneth L. Shaw III of Taunton, Massachusetts (whose database today is greatly curtailed in its extent). Probably the most important source that Kenneth and I have relied upon is an important genealogical study prepared by Kenneth's cousin Jonathan Allen Shaw, "John Shaw of Plymouth Colony, Purchaser and Canal Builder," published in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (1997) 151:259-285, 417-437, which is the definitive study on this Shaw family's first three generations in the New World. Several other cousins have supplied their assistance as well, including my mother's first cousin Ardath (Baylor) Chapman of California; Darlene (Noble) Hinkle of Amboy, Illinois, a descendant of the Amboy Shaws; Sherman M. Shaw of La Moille, Illinois, a descendant of the Shaw Station Shaws; Nancy Pratt of Wisconsin, whose husband belongs to the Thornton branch of the Lee Center Shaws; Jay Irvin Hadley of Oregon, whose mother was one of our Mormon Shaw cousins from Ogden, Utah; Scott M. Flood of New York, a great-great-grandson of Frances J. (Shaw) Woodworth, one of our New York Shaw cousins; and Paul H. Shaw of Tennessee, who may be a distant Shaw cousin whose ancestors left Massachusetts and settled in Mississippi in the early 1800s. (Paul had his Y chromosome tested and analyzed in the summer of 2012, and the results and implications of his y-DNA tests are discussed below.)
The surname of Shaw originated in Britain and is not at all rare in England and Scotland, spreading from Britain to Ireland. Most families who bear this name are not related to each other. The surname arose in three different ways: in England and the Scottish Lowlands, it originated as a placename, but in the Scottish Highlands it was a given name that became a patronymic, while in Ireland, or in families of male-line Irish descent, it sometimes stands for Shea or O'Shea (or Shee or O'Shee). We shall first survey Shaw families of English or Scottish Lowland origin, and then review the history of the Scottish Highland Clan Shaw before turning to the Shaw surname in Ireland. Among the sources for the following survey is The Shaw Family (The American Genealogical Research Institute, Arlington, Virginia, 1972), a short volume which my maternal grandmother had acquired in Dec. 1973, which names a few of our Shaw ancestors on pages 33 and 55.
Shaws of English or Lowland Scots descent derive their surname from the Anglo-Saxon word sceage, meaning a small wood or a copse or grove of trees (cf. the related Anglo-Saxon word sceacga, "rough matted hair or wool," which was cognate with the Old Norse skegg, "beard"), and thus are not connected to the Highland Clan Shaw. In Middle English the word was often spelled "schage," "schaghe," or "schawe." The family of a man who lived at or near a "shaw" might become known by a surname such as Shaw, Shawe, Shay, Shaye, Shayes, Shave, Shaves or Shafe. Similar surnames are Upshaw (the family that lives up past the shaw), Bradshaw (the family that lives at or near the broad forest), or simply Asshaw. It's also noteworthy that there is a place named "Shawbury" in Shropshire, England.
English families surnamed Shaw have historically been especially common in the midlands and northern parts of England, including the West Riding in Cheshire and Lancashire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and Nottinghamshire. Being more common in northern England, unsurprisingly the form of the Shaw surname that originated as a placename is also found in the Lowlands of Scotland, which historically have long felt English cultural and linguistic influence and for a considerable period of time were partly under the control of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Bernicia and Northumbria. The first known English bearer of a "Shaw" surname was Simon de Schage mentioned in the Berkshire Pipe Rolls in A.D. 1191, during the reign of King Richard the Lionheart. Other early English "Shaws" include Johannes at Schaghe, mentioned in Somersetshire in 1273, Richard de la Schawe, mentioned in Worcestershire in 1275; John ate Shaw, who lived in Essex in 1295; John at Shawe and William bithe Shaghe, both of Somersetshire, the former named in 1307 and the latter in 1333; Robertus del Shaghe in 1379; and Anthonie Shawe in 1399.
One family of English Shaws came from Halifax, Yorkshire, and settled in Massachusetts during the 1630s. Their ancestor was Christopher Shaw of Halifax, born probably around 1540, whose son was Thomas Shaw of Halifax, husband of Elizabeth Longbottom, also of Halifax. Their son Abraham Shaw was born in 1585 in Halifax. In 1616, Abraham married Bridget Best, daughter of Henry Best and Grace Boithes. Abraham and Bridget had children named Joseph, John, Mary, and Martha. Abraham and his family left England and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts, around 1636, moving soon after to Watertown, Massachusetts. Abraham's son John Shaw, born 1630 in Halifax, married Alice Phillips of Weymouth, Massachusetts, daughter of Deacon Nicholas Phillips and Elizabeth Jepson (or Jewson). Genealogists sometimes confuse Abraham's son John with my Shaw immigrant ancestor JOHN SHAW, who like Abraham's son also had a wife named ALICE. They are clearly different Johns and Alices, however -- Abraham's son was about a whole generation too young to be our John, who was a married adult with children when he came to Massachusetts by 1630, the year Abraham's son was born in Yorkshire. Not only are my Shaws NOT descendants of Abraham's son John, but we have no genealogical or genetic connection to the Abraham Shaw family whatsoever. In the absence of genealogical records, the only way one could have proven or disproven a link between these two Shaw families was by testing the Y chromosomes of male-line descendants of the Abraham Shaw family and of our Shaw family. The y-DNA of the Abraham Shaw family has already been tested -- this family is Haplogroup I Lineage IV in the WorldFamilies.net Shaw DNA Project, and their y-DNA is the I1 haplogroup. It should be noted that this shows the Abraham Shaw family is not related to the Scottish Highland Clan Shaw. Shaw families with the I1 haplogroup have been identified in both England and Scotland.
The y-DNA of my Shaws, however, appears to belong to the R1b1a2 haplogroup. This is based on the y-DNA of three Shaw males: Jonathan A. Shaw of Massachusetts, Jerry Walter Shaw, and Paul Hardy Shaw of Tennessee. Jonathan Shaw, who currently has his y-DNA tested out to 37 markers, is the author of "John Shaw of Plymouth Colony, Purchaser and Canal Builder," published in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (1997) 151:259-285, 417-437, and his genealogical research traces his Shaw lineage back to John Shaw of Plymouth Colony. The lineage of Jerry W. Shaw also has been traced back to John Shaw of Plymouth by a different branch. Similarly, Paul Shaw's research also traces his Shaw lineage back to John Shaw of Plymouth by yet another branch of this family. Curiously, however, while the y-DNA results of Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw match perfectly, the y-DNA results of Paul Shaw do not match those of Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw at all, which indicates a likely error in one or more of their genealogies, or perhaps there was an unrecorded adoption or instance of adultery somewhere along one of the lineages. Jonathan Shaw's test results are Kit No. N64745 ("JA Shaw") in the Shaw DNA Project, while Paul Shaw's results are Kit No. 242499 ("John Shaw b abt 1597 d. 1663/66 Plymouth, MA"). Whatever the explanation of their divergent DNA results, all three of these Shaw lineages belong to the R1b1a2 haplogroup, not the I1 haplogroup. The y-DNA test results of Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw place them in a small group of Shaws who appear to be of English origin, Haplogroup R1b Lineage IV in the Shaw DNA Project. As for Paul Shaw, he has tested his Y chromosome out to 111 markers, which has placed him solidly in the R1b1a2a1a1b4 haplogroup and has revealed that his DNA is remarkably close to the y-DNA of the O'Sheas of Counties Kilkenny and Tipperary in Ireland. In contrast, the test results of Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw suggest that their Shaws were an English family -- the Shaw DNA Project includes the y-DNA results of a family that descends from a Thomas Shaw who was born in 1775 in Westhoughton, Lancashire, England (Kit No. N30731), and Thomas' male descendants show a close match at 12 markers with the Shaws of Haplogroup R1b Lineage IV. Until Thomas' family tests out beyond 12 markers, however, it cannot be determined conclusively whether or not Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw belong to the same Shaw family as the Thomas Shaws in Lancashire. Thus, considering our current state of knowledge of Shaw y-DNa, further DNA testing will be required to determine whether our Shaws were of English origin (and/or Scottish origin), or rather were ultimately of Irish origin. (The possible implications of Paul Shaw's DNA results are discussed in greater detail here.)
Lowland Scottish Shaws
Shaws in the Scottish Lowlands -- not to be confused with the Highland Clan Shaw -- first appear on record in the late 1200s. Hypothetically, Lowland Scottish Shaws could be of native origin, perhaps ultimately Britons or Picts (for the original inhabitants of the Lowlands in far ancient times were Britons), or they could be families that were originally English or Anglo-Norman who moved north to Scotland in the 1100s or 1200s. "The Shaws, like the Cathcarts, Wallaces, and others, were originally vassals of the Stewarts, and so grouped around Paisley Abbey and are recorded in its Register. In 1284 John de Shaw is mentioned." (David Marshall's Genealogical notes anent some ancient Scottish families, page 102) He is mentioned that year because he was a witness to a land grant: "In 1284 John 'de Schau' witnessed a document which bestowed lands upon the monks of Paisley, and there are several similar examples of this kind." (Scottish Clans and Tartans (1973), Ian Grimble, page 247) Then in 1296, three Lowland Shaws in Lanarkshire are named in the Ragman Roll, a list of Scottish nobles who paid homage that year to Edward I Longshanks, King of England, as their feudal overlord. The Shaws named in the Ragman Roll are Fergus del Shawe, Symund del Shawe, and William de Schaw. William was "ancestor of the Shaws of Hailly and Sauchie. Their original charter of Hailly before 1309 was extant in Nisbet's time." (David Marshall's Genealogical notes anent some ancient Scottish families, ibid.) "In 1331, on the other side of Lowland Scotland, a John of Shaw became burgess of Dundee." (Grimble's Scottish Clans and Tartans (1973), page 247) This John of Dundee may or may not have been related to William de Schaw of Hailly and Sauchie.
Although the Shaws of Hailly and Sauchie, also known as the Shaws of Greenock and Sauchie but more usually known simply as the Shaws of Sauchie, have long been extinct in the senior male line, at one time they were a prominent family of Scottish nobility of relatively high status. Earlier Scots peerage writers and genealogists had suggested that the Shaws of Sauchie were a branch of the Highland Shaws, but the evidence mentioned above shows that "Shaw" was a topographical surname in the Lowlands, not a patronymic. In addition, the Lowland and Highland Shaws bore entirely different coat armor. Whereas the arms of the Highland Shaws feature a galley and the Lyon Rampant, the heraldic blazon of the Shaws of Sauchie was "Azure three covered cups, Or." Sir James Balfour Paul's Ordinary of Arms (1893) includes descriptions of three other blazons of Scottish Shaws that are similar to the arms of the Shaws of Sauchie, indicating descent or kinship. The arms of the Shaws of Elmwood, for example, registered with the Lord Lyon King of Arms in 1871, are "Azure on a chevron argent between three covered cups or as many crosses moline round-pierced gules" (Balfour Paul, page 47), while the Shaw of Sornbeg arms are "Azure three mullets in fess between as many covered cups argent" (Balfour Paul, pages 180-181). In 1804, a certain Sir James Shaw registered the following arms with the Lyon Court: "Azure three covered cups or, on a chief argent a ship under sail in a sea proper, a dexter canton gules charged with the mace of the City of London surmounted in saltire by a sword, also proper." This latter blazon incorporates the three covered cups of the Shaws of Sauchie, but the ship under sail is reminiscent of the galley of the Highland Clan Shaw, suggesting perhaps that Sir James was misled by earlier mistaken theories that the Shaws of Sauchie were a branch of Clan Shaw.
This artistic representation of the heraldic blazon of the Shaws of Greenock and Sauchie is stored among the Shaw family papers that I inherited from my grandmother, Frances (Miller) Shaw Keithahn, who had ordered this print from a genealogical-heraldic company. According to family tradition, our Shaws were of Scottish origin, but whatever truth there is in that tradition, it is unlikely that the ancestors of our Shaws ever bore this coat of arms.
The coat of arms of the Shaws of Sauchie was "borne from the earliest times as hereditary Cup-bearers to the Scots Kings." (Genealogical notes anent some ancient Scottish families, David Marshall, page 130) Apparently in connection with that hereditary office, these Shaws also held hereditarily the office of "Master of His Majesty's Wine Cellar." (ibid., page 111) As permanent members of the royal household, they wielded some degree of influence in the kingdom as advisers to the king. They had their seat at Sauchie in Clackmannanshire, but also held Greenock in Renfrewshire and Coldoun in Kinrossshire, as well as various lands in Ayrshire, Cunninghamshire, and other places. As a result, several cadet branches of this family were planted in various parts of the Lowlands, and no doubt descendants of the Shaws of Sauchie live in the Highlands today, just as Highland Shaws are known to have moved to the Lowlands.
The following account of the Shaws of Sauchie and their cadets is drawn chiefly from David Marshall's Genealogical notes anent some ancient Scottish families, "Shaw of Sauchie, 1431-1733," pages 102-125, 130, 136-141, 148-149. According to Nisbet's Heraldry, folio 1722, page 431, the Shaws of Hailly first acquired the lands of Greenock during the reign of King Robert III (1390-1406) through marriage with the co-heiress of the family of Galbreth of Greenock. They acquired Sauchie in the early 1400s, when James Shaw of Greenock married Mary de Annand, one of the two daughters and co-heiresses of Sir David Annand of Sauchie. In 1369, King David II Bruce (1329-1371) referred to Robert de Annand as consanguineo nostra ("our cousin by blood"), so the Shaws and Annands were related to the great family of Bruce of Annandale. The sons of James and Mary included John Shaw, who had died without issue by 1439, James Shaw, 2nd of Sauchie, who was killed by a cannon-shot during the siege of Dunbar Castle in May 1478, and George Shaw, Abbot of Paisley (1476-1504). Abbot George's nephew Robert Schaw, who "had the character of a man of great virtue," also was elected Abbot of Paisley and later became Bishop of Moray in 1524. In the following generation we find Sir James Shaw, 3rd of Sauchie, Captain of Stirling Castle, with custody of Prince James, eldest son of King James III (1460-1488). Sir James Shaw is known as "the Sauchieburn Shaw" due to his leading role in the conspiracy against James III that culminated in the 1488 Battle of Sauchieburn and the assassination of the king. James apparently married twice: one wife, Isobel, is named in a 1483 instrument of reinfeftment; but James apparently is the Sir James Schaw of Sauchie who around this time married Christian Bruce, daughter of Sir David Bruce of Clackmannan. His known children include John Shaw of Alveth, Co-captain of Stirling Castle with his father, David Shaw, Richard Shaw, and Helen Shaw, who married firstly Archibald Haliburton, Master of Haliburton, and secondly Sir Patrick Home of Polwart.
"The Sauchieburn Shaw" was succeeded by his grandson Sir James Shaw, 4th of Sauchie (died 1528), son of John Shaw of Alveth who had preceded his father in death. Margaret Shaw, wife of George Graham of Callander, was a member of the Shaws of Sauchie, and may have been a sister of Sir James, 4th of Sauchie. Sir James married his cousin Alison Home, daughter of Sir Patrick Home of Polwart and Helen Shaw, and had two sons, Alexander Shaw, 5th of Sauchie, and John Shaw of Broich. Alexander's son and heir was Sir James Shaw, 6th of Sauchie. In addition, by his second wife Elizabeth Cunningham, daughter of William Cunningham of Glengarnock, Alexander had a son, John Shaw, 1st of Greenock, ancestor of the Shaws of Greenock, and a daughter, Jonet Shaw, who died Feb. 1573. Alexander also had two illegitimate sons, James Shaw and Patrick Shaw. Sir James, 6th of Sauchie, married Marjory Kirkaldy and had two sons, Sir James Shaw, 7th of Sauchie, who succeeded him in turn, and William Shaw, and at least one daughter, Margaret Shaw, who married firstly in 1595 to James Bruce of Powfoulis and secondly in 1599 to Harry Lindsay of Coreston in Fife. In addition, Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of Shaw of Sauchie, was one of the mistresses of King James V (1513-1542), and her father is thought to have been Sir James, 6th of Sauchie. Sir James, 7th of Sauchie, married twice, firstly to Eupham Shaw and secondly to Margaret Meldrum, daughter of James Meldrum of Segy. His children included Sir Alexander Shaw, 8th of Sauchie, who was served heir to his late father on 27 Aug. 1623, Harry Shaw, who married Christian Callander of Bordy in 1609, and Elizabeth Shaw, second wife of Henry, 12th Earl of Crawfurd. Also, the baptisms of three daughters of Sir James and Margaret Meldrum are recorded in the old parish register of Clackmannan, namely Marjorie Shaw, baptised 30 Jan. 1595, Katherine Shaw, baptised 26 April 1597, and Jonet Shaw, baptised 27 Nov. 1601.
Sir Alexander married Helen Bruce, daughter of Sir Robert Bruce of Clackmannan and Helen Durie, and had one daughter and seven sons: Helen Shaw, James Shaw, twin sons Robert Shaw and John Shaw, William Shaw, Harry Shaw, George Shaw, 9th of Sauchie, and a second William Shaw. Almost all of their children died in infancy or childhood, and the barony of Sauchie and the other estates of the Shaws were inherited by the sixth son George, who died childless. By this time the Shaws of Sauchie had accrued significant debts, and to satisfy those debts the estates were adjudged to George's cousin and heir Sir John Shaw, 4th of Greenock, Baronet, on 28 March 1682, which was confirmed after Sir John's death by a charter dated 7 Jan. 1698. The new laird of Sauchie was the son of John Shaw, 3rd of Greenock (died 1679) and Helenor Houston, daughter of Houston of Houston. (Beginning With Kings: From Royal Stewart to Shaw Stewart -- Their Story (1989), Janet S. Bolton, page 77)
Sir John was created 1st Baronet of Greenock in 1687 by King James VII (1685-1701), and upon his death in 1694 was succeeded by his son Sir John Shaw, 5th of Greenock, 2nd Baronet, who married Helenor Nicolson (Eleanor), daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Nicolson, 3rd Baronet of Carnock in Stirlingshire. (Burke's Peerage (1956), "Shaw-Stewart," page 2070) Sir John and Helenor had six sons and one daughter: Sir John Shaw, 6th of Greenock, 3rd Baronet, Thomas Shaw, who was killed at Mons, George Shaw, who was killed at the Siege of Lisle, Ensign Hugh Shaw, murdered in 1708 by the Master of Sinclair, Captain Alexander Shaw, murdered in 1709 in Flanders by the same Master of Sinclair, James Shaw, who died young, and Margaret Shaw, who married her cousin Sir John Houston of Houston and had a daughter, Helenor Houston. (See Bolton's From Royal Stewart to Shaw Stewart, pages 77-78) Sir John, 3rd Baronet, succeeded his father in 1702. His wife was Margaret Dalrymple, by whom he had just one daughter, Marion Shaw, died 21 March 1733, first wife of Charles, 8th Lord Cathcart, died 20 Dec. 1741. Charles and Marion had two sons, Charles Schaw, 9th Lord Cathcart, and Schaw Cathcart, an officer in the Guards who was killed at Fontenoy. (Burke's Peerage (1970), "Cathcart," page 498) With Sir John Shaw's death in 1752, the male line of the Shaws of Greenock and Sauchie came to an end. By a 1700 Deed of Entail, the estates of Greenock and Carnock, along with the Shaw name, passed to the family of Sir John's niece Helenor Houston, wife of Sir Michael Stewart, Baronet of Blackhall and Ardgowan in Renfrewshire. Thus, the eldest son of Helenor and Sir Michael became Sir John Shaw Stewart, 4th Baronet of Greenock, Blackhall, and Ardgowan, and their second son became Houston Stewart Nicolson of Carnock. Sir John Shaw Stewart died in 1812 and was succeeded by his nephew, Houston Stewart Nicolson's son, Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, 5th Baronet, whose male line descendants still retain their baronetcy and the ancestral estate of Ardgowan. (Burke's Peerage (1956), "Shaw-Stewart," page 2070; cf. Bolton's From Royal Stewart to Shaw Stewart, pages 41, 78) The Shaw Stewarts quarter the arms of the Stewarts of Blackhall and Ardgowan with the arms of the Shaws of Greenock and Sauchie. Although the senior male lines of the ancient family of the Shaws of Greenock and Sauchie are extinct, they are represented by their female-line descendants the Cathcarts and the Shaw Stewarts.
It is also likely that many Shaw families of Scottish descent today are cadets of the Shaws of Sauchie. Among the cadets of Sauchie were the Shaws of Broich, descended from the abovementioned John Shaw of Broich, younger son of Sir James Shaw, 4th of Sauchie. Several other branches of the Shaws of Sauchie settled very early on in Kinrossshire, where the Shaws of Sauchie are known to have later held lands. (See Genealogical notes anent some ancient Scottish families, pages 140-141) In 1306, Christian Wavane, Lady of Dirleton, granted a precept for infefting Richard Shaw, son of George Shaw, and Richard's son George Shaw, in the lands of Nether-Craigo in the barony of Segy. In 1480, a John of Schaw purchased half of Blair of Crambeth in Kinrossshire from Robert de Wyntoun. In 1505, Elizabeth Schaw, lady of Blair of Crambeth, probably John's daughter, disponed the lands of Haltoun and Middle Cleish to Robert Colville of Hiltoun. The following year, Elizabeth and her husband John Balfour sold Blair of Crambeth to the same Robert Colville. Later, in 1518, we find George Shaw and his wife Margaret Weymes in possession of the lands of Lethangie, in the Regality of Dunfermline and parish of Kinross -- lands that were held by George's descendants until 1675. On 29 Sept. 1590, "Johnne Schaw, Portioner of Segy" gave sasine of the half-lands of Finderlie on behalf of his kinsman James Shaw of Sauchie to Peter Broune, son and heir of John Broune of Finderlie. This John Shaw was ancestor of the Shaws formerly of Meikle Seggie, Gospetrie, and Balneathil. From these facts, we see that numerous Shaw families originated in the Lowlands of Scotland during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Highland Scottish Shaws
The Highland Clan Shaw -- known in Gaelic as Chloinn na Si'each ("Children of the Shaws") -- is one of the tribes in the Clan Chattan confederation which includes such ancient families as Clan Mackintosh, Clan MacPherson, Clan Farquarson, and Clan MacGillivray -- specifically, the Highland Shaws are a branch of the Mackintoshes. The families of Clan Chattan trace their origins from an individual named Gillechattan ("Servant of St. Catan"). The medieval Gaelic pedigrees of Clan Chattan, Clan Mackintosh, Clan MacLaren, and Clan MacKay all include the given names Disiabh and Tseadh, that is "Shaw" -- a name also found in medieval Scottish documents under forms such as "Sitheach," "Sethi," "Scayth," "Schetho," "Schethoc," and "Scheo." However it is spelled, though, this Gaelic name derives from the Middle Irish word sidheach, a wolf. (See Ian Grimble's Scottish Clans & Tartans (1973, 1993), "Shaw," pages 246-247, and Charles MacKinnon of Dunakin's Scottish Highlanders (1984), "Shaw," pages 232-233) On the other hand, an alternate etymology derives the clan's name from the Old Gaelic word seaghdha, happy or lucky (See Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk's The Highland Clans (1967), page 128). Some fancifully interpret the clan's Gaelic appellative Chloinn na Si'each as "Children of the Pine Forests," but given Clan Shaw's known descent from several notable individuals named "Shaw," there can be no doubt that this surname is a patronymic.
This is a representation of the badge of Clan Mackintosh, whose motto -- "Touch not the cat bot a glove" (Don't touch the cat without a glove) -- is a play-on-words referring to the fighting spirit of the Clan Chattan confederation. The chiefs of Clan Mackintosh are hereditary captains of Clan Chattan. Clan Shaw is a junior branch of Clan Mackintosh.
The traditional genealogy of Clan Mackintosh traces their lineage back to a legendary "Shaw 'Mor' Mackintosh," supposed son of John of Fordun's and William Shakespeare's legendary MacDuff, Thane of Fife, whose historical prototype apparently was Gillemichael MacDuff, 3rd. Earl of Fife. Another version of the Mackintosh legend claims that Shaw Mor was the son of Duncan, 4th Earl of Fife, son of Gillemichael. Shaw Mor is said to have put down a rebellion in Moray around A.D. 1153 or 1163. He was in turn, according to tradition, the father of "Shaw Mackintosh of that Ilk," said to have died in 1210. "Mackintosh" in Gaelic is Mac-an-Toiseach, "Son of the Chieftain" or "Son of the Thane," but there is no reason to believe, nor any evidence, that the ancestral "Thane" of the Mackintoshes was the Earl of Fife, who was of much higher rank than a mere thane. Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk opined, "There seems little reason to doubt the tradition" of the descent from the MacDuffs of Fife (See Moncreiffe's The Highland Clans (1967), page 126). However, as William F. Skene explained, it is far more likely that Clan Mackintosh descended from the old Thanes of Brass (Birse) in Aberdeenshire, known to have been associated with and maybe also related to the Comyn Lords of Badenoch (who had a cousin named "Kelehathonin" or Gillechattan, perhaps none other than Clan Chattan's ancestor). The old Gaelic pedigree of Clan Mackintosh includes a Gillemichael -- "Servant of St. Michael" -- who may or may not have been confused in clan tradition with Gillemichael MacDuff, Earl of Fife. Significantly, St. Michael the Archangel was the patron of the parish of Birse. (See Skene's Celtic Scotland (1876), vol. III, pages 356-358)
Shown here are the badge of Clan Shaw, with the clan's motto "Fide et Fortitudine" (Faith and Fortitude, that is, Loyalty and Endurance), and the tartan of Clan Shaw.
Be all of that as it may, the direct ancestor of Clan Shaw, and the man from whom they acquired their surname, was one of the heroes of Clan Chattan, Shaw Sgorfhiaclach Mackintosh (Shaw the Bucktoothed, died 1405), a cousin of the Mackintosh chief. Shaw led Clan Chattan on the Raid of Angus in 1391. His son was James Mackintosh, who fell fighting for Clan Donald at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. The son of James was Alexander Ciar Mackintosh, Lord of Rothiemurchus in 1469. Alexander was ancestor of the Shaws of Rothiemurchus, who were the original Chiefs of Clan Shaw, while Alexander's younger brother Adam Mackintosh (Aedh or Ay) was the ancestor of the Shaws of Tordarroch, hereditary Chiefs of Clan Ay and current Chiefs of Clan Shaw. One branch of the Shaws of Tordarroch became the ancestors of the family of Shaw-MacKenzie of Newhall, and another branch left the Highlands and settled in Ayrshire in the Scottish Lowlands during the 1600s. The Ayrshire branch were descendants of Andrew MacBean Shaw, younger son of Bean M'Robert of Tordarroch, 2nd Chief of Clan Ay, younger son of Robert MacKay, son of the above-named Adam Mackintosh. (See Burke's Landed Gentry (1939), "Shaw-MacKenzie of Newhall," page 1476) In the Shaw DNA Project, the y-DNA of the Shaws of Tordarroch has been identified as the R1b1a2 haplogroup, and several individual participants in the Shaw DNA Project from Scotland, England, Ireland, and the United States have been shown to have the same or similar y-DNA, indicating their descent from or close kinship to Clan Shaw. Although my Shaw family also appears to belong to the R1b1a2 haplogroup, neither of our two possible y-DNA Shaw signatures is anywhere close to that of Clan Shaw.
The Shaw surname also appears in Ireland, and among families of Irish descent. In some cases, Irish Shaw families are relatively recent transplants from England or Scotland -- descendants of English or Scottish Shaw families who settled in Ireland within the past four centuries. In other cases, however, the surname "Shaw" is derived from SHEA or O'SHEA, surnames that have also been spelled "Shay," "Shee," and "O'Shee." The "Shea = Shaw" change has been documented in at least one family from County Kerry. In a comment dated 10 June 2005, an O'Shea genealogical researcher said (emphasis added):
"Bartholomew left Ireland some time in the late 1800s on his way to the US with a couple of his brothers. He never made it as he married Emma Gould in 1905 (I have a copy of the marriage certificate). On the certificate his family name is shown as Shaw and his father's name is also shown as Shaw (deceased). In 1907 they had a daughter who was registered as Lily O'Shea (again I have a copy of the certificate). O'Shea is the family name all living relatives remember and they know the family was from Kerry where there are a lot of O'Shea's and Shea's."
In addition, Dick Shea of Texas, one of the administrators of the O'Shea y-DNA Project, commented in a 29 July 2012 email to me:
"We have already found a Dan Shaw whose yDNA is spot on the Kerry O'Shea modal, who was undoubtedly a Shea before emigrating to the U.S."
These examples of Kerry O'Sheas becoming "Shaws" illustrate that some Irish Shaws were formerly O'Sheas. In these instances, the name change probably was due to an anglicisation of the older Gaelic surname. This may well have been the case with my own Shaw family, assuming we are connected to Paul H. Shaw's family, which also saw a name change from Shee or O'Shea to Shaw.
As I mentioned above, my Shaws are descendants of the colonist JOHN SHAW, who came from England to Plymouth, Massachusetts, circa 1626. The parentage and genealogy of John Shaw is unknown, and DNA testing indicates that he was either of male-line English ancestry or else of male-line Irish ancestry (having descended from the O'Sheas or Shees in the area of County Tipperary, Munster, and County Kilkenny, Leinster). However, my Shaws traditionally have held that they were paternally of Scottish origin. Our family tradition was recorded in two old reference books: Frank Everett Stevens' History of Lee County, Illinois (1914), vol. 2, page 360, and Who's Who in Engineering: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries, 1922-1923, vol. 1, edited by John William Leonard, Winfield Scott Downs, and M.M. Lewis, pages 1134-1135. In the 1914 History of Lee County is a biography of my great-grandfather SHERMAN LINN SHAW (1864-1942), which gives the following account of his family origins:
". . . his parents being James M. and M. Rebecca (Linn) Shaw. He comes of Scotch ancestry on the paternal side, while the Linns are of Irish lineage, and a representative of the name served in the patriot army during the Revolutionary war."
More precisely, the Linns are of Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots lineage. In the past, sometimes the Scottish Presbyterians who settled in Ulster were less precisely called "Irish" because they were inhabitants of Ireland, even though they were ethnically and religiously distinct from most of the Irish. Now, this biography is based on information personally supplied by Sherman Linn Shaw, so it represents his own knowledge and beliefs regarding his ancestry. Very often family traditions are accurate, but even when a tradition is wrong there is usually still some grain of truth in it. We know the biography's statements about the Linns are correct (Rebecca's grandfather John Linn was the Revolutionary War patriot), which lends credibility to the statement that Sherman Linn Shaw's father was of Scottish ancestry. If Sherman had an accurate knowledge of his maternal ancestry, he may well have had an accurate knowledge of his paternal ancestry as well.
Published about eight years after Sherman's biography, the short biographies of his younger brothers GEORGE HARRY THORNTON SHAW (1869-1934) and ARTHUR MONROE SHAW (1870-1942) that were included in Who's Who in Engineering repeat the same traditions of our Shaw family's origins:
"SHAW, George Harry Thornton, 509 West 60th St., Chicago, Ill. Civil Engr; b. June 14th, 1869; s. James Monroe and Mary Rebecca (Linn) Shaw; Scotch ancestry, dating from settlement in Mass., 1660; . . ."
"SHAW, Arthur Monroe, Hibernian Bank Bldg; 1828 Calhoun St., New Orleans, La. Cons. Civil Engr; b. Lee Center, Lee Co., Ill: s. J. Monroe and Rebecca (Linn) Shaw; all American of Scotch, Irish, Welsh and French derivation; . . ."
Again, this information was personally supplied by George and Arthur, so it represents their own knowledge and beliefs regarding their ancestry. Most remarkable is the tradition that our Shaws are of "Scotch ancestry, dating from settlement in Mass., 1660." It is an accurate memory of descent from a Massachusetts colonist during the 1600s, but the date is about three decades too late. "Irish, Welsh and French derivation" is also accurate -- interpreting "Irish," of course, as "Scots-Irish" (the Linns), and interpreting "French" as "Flemish" (the Shaws' Delano ancestors on the Sherman side of the family). However, given the fact that most of our Shaws' ancestors were of English extraction, it is somewhat surprising that these biographies do not mention "English" alongside the other ethnic derivations. Had Sherman, George, and Arthur inherited, as it were, some anti-English animus from their mother Mary Rebecca Linn, whose grandfather John had a strong disdain for Englishmen due to the severe mistreatment he had endured as a prisoner of war during the American Revolution? In any case, clearly my great-grandfather and his brothers believed their Shaw family to have been of Scottish rather than of English origin. Since their basic knowledge of their ancestry was generally accurate and trustworthy, there is a probability that this tradition of Scottish origins is also trustworthy. (I have learned that my Shaw cousins of the male-line of Arthur Monroe Shaw have preserved the tradition of our Scottish descent, and they also own a depiction of Scottish Shaw heraldry -- specifically, the clan badge and tartan of the Highland Clan Shaw.) It may be significant that Paul H. Shaw's family, possibly another branch of our Shaw family, also has a tradition that they are ancestrally of Scottish origin. Paul's family has been traced back to Darius Shaw (born 1767), whose putative son Oliver Abbot Shaw left Massachusetts and settled in Mississippi. That this tradition was handed down independently in two separate Shaw families who may be related, but who have been unknown to each other for more than 200 years, suggests that the tradition could be correct -- or at any rate may have arisen prior to circa 1785, while my branch of the Shaws and the Darius Shaw family both still lived in Massachusetts. However, I do not know if the same or similar tradition has been preserved by any other branches of our Shaw family besides the descendants of Oliver Abbot Shaw and the descendants of James Monroe Shaw. If they did, it would add further credence to it.
Whatever truth there may be in our Scottish origins tradition, DNA testing has failed either to prove or disprove it. First of all, Jonathan A. Shaw's 37-marker test of his y-DNA seems to indicate an English origin for his family. As noted above, Jonathan Shaw's genealogical research traces him back to our Shaw family. However, the research of Paul H. Shaw also traces him back to another branch of our Shaw family, and yet, as mentioned above, the results of his extensive y-DNA testing (begun in the summer of 2012) have linked his Shaws to the O'Sheas or Shees or Tipperary and Kilkenny. An extensive discussion of Paul Shaw's y-DNA results may be found here.
To sum up, then, here are five hypothetical interpretations of the data regarding our Shaw family history, Shaw y-DNA, and our family tradition of Scottish ancestry:
* Our Shaws are an English family who moved to the Lowlands of Scotland at some unknown time during the Middle Ages, and then moved back south to England in the late Middle Ages or Renaissance, and finally joined a company of Puritan colonists headed to Massachusetts, or,
* Our Shaws are an English family who joined a company of Puritan colonists headed to Massachusetts, and later acquired a mistaken belief that they had originally been Scottish, or,
* Our Shaws are a branch of the Shees/Sheas of Tipperary/Kilkenny who moved to Scotland at some unknown time during the Middle Ages, and then moved south to England in the late Middle Ages or Renaissance, and finally joined a company of Puritan colonists headed to Massachusetts, or,
* Our Shaws are a branch of the Shees/Sheas of Tipperary/Kilkenny who moved to England at some unknown time during the Middle Ages or Renaissance, and then joined a company of Puritan colonists headed to Massachusetts. They remembered that they were originally not English but forgot that they had been Irish, and wrongly came to believe that they had been Scottish -- perhaps due to a garbled memory of a female-line Scottish descent, or perhaps there was confusion over the name "Scot," which formerly meant "Irish," or,
* Perhaps our Shaws are a branch of the Shees/Sheas of Tipperary/Kilkenny who moved to England at some unknown time during the Renaissance. Encountering English Protestant bigotry against Irish Catholics, they became Protestants and decided to cover up their Irish origins by claiming to be of Scottish descent and by changing their surname from Shee/Shea to Shaw, and then joined a company of Puritan colonists headed to Massachusetts.
Going on what we know at this time, any of those five scenarios is possible and can account for Paul Shaw's genetic link to the O'Sheas, the similarity of "Shea" and "Shaw," the evident Englishness of our Shaws, and our tradition of Scottish origins.
Whatever the case, our earliest known ancestor John Shaw lived among English colonists and he and his descendants were fully assimilated into the English colonial culture of Massachusetts. If John was Irish or Scottish or both, he and his family quickly became "Englished" in New England. Again, if he was Scottish he more likely was a Lowlander who spoke a Scots English dialect, not a Gaelic-speaking Highlander -- or if he was Irish, he could also speak English (as could some Shees/Sheas of Kilkenny). If John Shaw was born a Shee or Shea, and knew of his Irish origins, he certainly could have changed his name -- as an Irishman living among and working with English Puritans, even a Protestant Irishman, he would definitely not have wanted to advertise that he or his father had come from Tipperary or Kilkenny.
Genealogy Trails -- Lee County, Illinois Lee County Historical Society The Shaw DNA Project Clan Shaw Official Homepage
Ten Generations of the Shaw Family (Part One) Ten Generations of the Shaw Family (Part Two) Ten Generations of the Shaw Family (Part Three) Ten Generations of the Shaw Family (Part Four) Ten Generations of the Shaw Family (Part Five) Ten Generations of the Shaw Family (Part Six) Ten Generations of the Shaw Family (Part Seven)
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