Shaw, Samuel

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Shaw, Samuel

SHAW, SAMUEL. (1754–1794). Continental officer. Massachusetts. Born at Boston on 2 October 1754, Samuel Shaw was the son of a prominent merchant and went to work in a countinghouse. As a lieutenant in Colonel Henry Knox's Continental Artillery Regiment from 10 December 1775, he served in the siege of Boston, the New York campaign (for a time at Fort Washington), and the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. He was regimental adjutant from May 1776. He was promoted to captain lieutenant in Colonel John Crane's Third Continental Artillery on 1 January 1777 and to captain on 12 April 1780. He was present at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. He spent most of his time as a staff officer, as brigade major of Knox's artillery brigade from 10 May 1777 to 31 December 1779, and thereafter until November 1783 as aide-de-camp to Knox with the rank of major (in the Corps of Artillery after 17 June 1783). His Journals are a particularly valuable source of information on the events surrounding the Mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line in January 1781 and the Newburgh Addresses in March 1783. He was with Washington's army when it reoccupied New York City on 25 November 1783 and assisted in disbanding the Continental army thereafter. He helped Knox organize the Society of the Cincinnati. When he left the service, Washington commended him for his intelligence, energy, and courage.

On 22 February 1784 he sailed from New York City as supercargo on the Empress of China, the first American ship to engage in the China trade. He arrived home on 11 May 1785 with a valuable cargo of tea, silk, and other commodities. Later that year Knox appointed him to a clerkship in the War Department, but he resigned when Congress made him the first American consul in Canton (January 1786). He sailed from New York City on 4 February 1786 and returned home on 17 July 1789. He was reappointed by President Washington and returned to China, where he served from March 1790 to January 1792. He married at Boston on 21 August 1792. Washington renewed his appointment and he sailed for China a fourth time. Delayed at Bombay because of typhoons, he contracted a liver disease and did not reach Canton until 2 November 1793. He left China on 17 March 1794 and died near the Cape of Good Hope on 30 May 1794. He was buried at sea.

SEE ALSO Mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line; Newburgh Addresses.


Quincy, Josiah, ed. The Journals of Major Samuel Shaw, the First American Consul at Canton: With a Life of the Author. Boston: William Crosby and H. P. Nichols, 1847.

                          revised by Harold E. Selesky