Rev. Robert M. Shaw was born on April 29, 1829, in Kildaragh, County Donegal, Ireland. He was the eldest son of George and Mary (Baskum) Shaw. His parents were Methodists.
In 1834, his family immigrated to the United States. They initially settled in Addison, Vermont. Robert Shaw had attended school in the summer and winter until he was 14. In his youth, he was not academically inclined. Accounts describe him as having been a dull scholar, with little interest in studying. When he was 14, the family moved to Long Lake, New York, to seek greater opportunity. As a teenager, he helped to clear land and grow crops on his father’s farm. Some years after settling, a barn fire destroyed the family’s annual crop. His parents had considered moving back to Vermont, but Rebert convinced them to stay in Long Lake and find new ways to make a living.80
Robert Shaw began to undertake serious efforts to learn and find opportunities for work. Robert took a job chopping wood for the forge at McIntire iron mine, in order to help support his family. He learned about wood hewing and carpentry from a man who helped reconstruct his father’s farm.
He took to learning a variety of different trades through observation, practice, and asking questions, and worked a wide variety of jobs. Over the following decades, he at various times worked as a farmer, logger, carpenter, wheelwright, blacksmith, sleigh maker, shoe cobbler, house plasterer, and millwright. At one point, he ran a sawmill.
In 1854, when a man attempted to sue his father, Robert taught himself about the relevant laws and went to argue his father’s case. He won the case and was praised by the judge for performing so well for his first case. He would act as a local lawyer at various times, sometimes going to other towns or counties to argue cases. He also taught himself basic medicine, and with there being few professional doctors in the Adirondack region at the time, he at times acted as a sort of local doctor. Robert Shaw described himself as a self-made backwoods genius.81
In 1854, Shaw married Gitty Margaret (Keller) Shaw (b.1832-d.1916). They had one adopted son, Ai Wesley Shaw (b.1866-d.1948). Their son Ai, would later get married to Mary (Goodspeed) Shaw in 1891, and had two children: Robert Shaw Jr. and Alma (Shaw) Stanton.82
In 1856, a religious revival held by Rev. John Todd inspired Robert Shaw to become a preacher. After a few years of study, he was ordained as a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Church. He became pastor of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Long Lake, and served there for the rest of his life. He was described as having been an influential preacher, who could engage his congregation, but sometimes alienated people with his involvement in politics and law. He also provided significant donations in support of the church’s operations, to help it build, maintain, and expand its facilities in the town.83
In 1866, Robert Shaw joined James Keller in opening a general store in Long Lake. In 1865, he bought out Keller’s share of the store and became the sole owner. He ran the store for decades, with his son Ai eventually becoming a partner in running the store.84
Robert Shaw was significantly involved in politics. He was a supporter of abolition and temperance. He had joined the Republican Party in 1856.
He would later join the Prohibition Party at some point before 1886.85 Shaw continued to be involved with Prohibition Party towards the end of his life; with him representing Long Lake on the Hamilton County Prohibition Party committee in 1906.86
He was elected to local offices many times. He served as town supervisor of Long Lake in the years 1862, 1866, 1867, 1869, 1872, 1875, 1879, 1883, 1884, 1886, and 1887. He was also commissioner of highways in 1885. When there were local votes on whether or not to grant licenses for selling alcohol, Shaw would campaign in favor of not granting licenses, and was in many cases successful in his efforts.87
Shaw sought to discourage local businessmen from selling alcohol. In one notable case in the early 1890s, a local hotel owner named Mr. Butler had started selling alcohol and allowing acts of prostitution in his hotel. Shaw confronted him about his actions. Butler made promises of stopping, but instead continued his practices more discreetly. This stopped when his hotel burned down in 1891. Mr. Butler attempted a scheme to try to get the town to pay for building a new hotel. Shaw used his political connections to oppose Butler’s scheme, prevent him from getting public funding, and frustrate his attempts to get private investments and permits for the building. Eventually, Shaw agreed to stop blocking his efforts to build a new hotel in exchange for more concrete assurances that the new hotel would be run in a more respectable manner. Mr. Butler would later request Shaw’s help in finding an investor to finance the completion of the hotel. Shaw convinced a Mr. Hoe of New York City to finance the hotel’s completion. After the Sagamore Hotel was completed, Butler couldn’t afford to pay back his investors, Mr. Hoe took ownership of it and turned it into a rental property.88
In the last years of his life, Shaw was a minister, businessman, political activist, and influential community member.89
He died of paralysis on September 19, 1907. Funeral services were held at the Long Lake Wesleyan Methodist Church and were officiated by Rev. Mr. Allen, with the assistance of Rev. C.E. Fox and Rev. V. Wright. The funeral was attended by a large crowd of people, from in and out of town, and was reportedly the largest group to have ever assembled at the church at that time. Robert Shaw was buried at Long Lake Cemetery.90
80 George Shaw, Robert Shaw, and John Todd. Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake. Manuscript, (Rexford, New York: 1955), Adirondack Museum, http://www.seekingmyroots.com/members/files/H008339.pdf (Accessed, June 7, 2021), 119-157; “History”, Long Lake Wesleyan Church, March 3, 2019, Accessed June 7, 2021, https://longlakewesleyan.wordpress.com/history-of-llwc/;
Phillip G. Terrie, Contested Terrain: A New History of Nature and People in the Adirondacks, 2 nd Ed., (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008), 21-32;
“Robert Shaw: 1829-1907”, FamilySearch.org, Accessed, June 7, 2021, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/KCQP-QTS; “Rev Robert Shaw (1829-1907) - Find A Grave Memorial”, Find a Grave, Accessed June 8, 2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/11042129/robert-shaw.
81 Shaw, Shaw, and Todd, Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake, 119-157; “History”, Long Lake Wesleyan Church; Terrie, Contested Terrain, 21-32
82 Shaw, Shaw, and Todd, Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake, A.; “History”, Long Lake Wesleyan Church; “Robert Shaw: United States Census, 1900”, FamilySearch.org, Accessed, June 7, 2021, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MSFM-HPL; “Robert Shaw: 1829-1907”, FamilySearch.org 13
83 Shaw, Shaw, and Todd, Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake, 119-157; “History”, Long Lake Wesleyan Church; “Rev Robert Shaw (1829-1907) - Find A Grave Memorial”, Find a Grave
84 Shaw, Shaw, and Todd, Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake, 177-183; “History”, Long Lake Wesleyan Church
85 Shaw, Shaw, and Todd, Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake, 119-157; “History”, Long Lake Wesleyan Church; “Steady New York Lines”, The Voice, (New York City, New York), March 10, 1887
86 Prohibition Party hand-book, State of New York, 1906, 42
87 Shaw, Shaw, and Todd, Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake, 119-157; “History”, Long Lake Wesleyan Church
88 Shaw, Shaw, and Todd, Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake, 119-157
89 Shaw, Shaw, and Todd, Tahawus, Newcomb, and Long Lake, 119-157; “History”, Long Lake Wesleyan Church; “Rev Robert Shaw (1829-1907) - Find A Grave Memorial”, Find a Grave
90 “Robert Shaw: 1829-1907”, FamilySearch.org; “Rev Robert Shaw (1829-1907) - Find A Grave Memorial”, Find a Grave
-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley