John Robert Shaw: An Autobiography of Thirty Years, 1777-1807

John Robert Shaw: An Autobiography of Thirty Years, 1777-1807

John Robert Shaw: An Autobiography of Thirty Years, 1777-1807

John Robert Shaw: An Autobiography of Thirty Years, 1777-1807

Synopsis

In the summer of 1807 more than a thousand subscribers from New England to Tennessee paid for the initial printing of The Life and Travels of John Robert Shaw: A Narrative of the Life and Travels of the Well-Digger, now resident of Lexington, Kentucky, Written by Himself. Shaw had come to Rhode Island as a British redcoat to put down the colonial rebellion. Through various quirks of fate, including being taken a prisoner of war, he ended up fighting with the Americans. Shaw was an exuberant spirit whose rowdy drinking bouts and related predicaments alternated with periods of wholehearted efforts at reform. His autobiography, written while he recuperated from injuries from one of several explosions (an occupational hazard for the frontier well-digger), is an articulate and entertaining record of the Revolutionary War era. A 1930 printing of Shaw's autobiography was rescued from the trash by an alert librarian in Kentucky in 1950. She passed the tattered copy on to journalist Oressa M. Teagarden, who became intrigued with Shaw's story and spent much of her free time over the next two decades, finding out more about the ebullient early American. On Teagarden's death, co-editor Jeanne Crabtree assumed the task of making Shaw's authentic and colorful view of early America available to a new generation of readers.

Excerpt

In 1791, the eccentric genius, John Robert Shaw, the well digger, was at Fort Washington where "I dug the first well that ever was in Cincinnati."

-- Greve Centennial Histoy of Cincinnati

John Robert Shaw had been blown up. While recuperating from this mishap, the eighteenth-century soldier, Lothario, and well digger for the army and the new settlements had ample time to reflect on what he chose to call his "misspent life."

While still a teenager, Shaw had come to Rhode Island as a British redcoat to be a "gentleman soldier" for the king. After some chicaneries as an escaped prisoner of war (he even joined the rebel army), after posing as witch doctor and fortune teller, after traveling about as a begging veteran and being almost frozen in General Harmer's American First army, Shaw came to Kentucky late in the fall of 1791. All the while, he said, he "took many a delectable frolic with the bottle and venturesome turn with the ladies."

Despite Christian fortitude and quack doctors, "bottle fever" plagued Shaw all of his days, even while he was engaged in the dangerous business of blasting wells and quarrying stone. His "bottle fever" no doubt accounted for the carelessness that . . .

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