Henry M. Shaw

(Currituck County)

Featured Character – 1861-1862

Colonel Henry Shaw

Henry M. Shaw

Courtesy of Ray Etheridge

Henry M. Shaw epitomized the generation of young Democrats that overwhelmingly supported secession in 1861, in spite of his northern origins.  Born in Newport, Rhode Island on November 20, 1817, Shaw’s merchant father, John Allen Shaw, suffered severe losses in the War of 1812 due to British seizures of his ships.  His financial situation forced John Allen Shaw to relocate to Tyrrell County, North Carolina where he worked in the mercantile and lumber business, and eventually earned a living as an iterant Baptist preacher.  Gideon Marchant, the local physician in Currituck County’s Indiantown section, sponsored Henry M. Shaw’s medical education at the University of Pennsylvania.  After graduation, Shaw joined Marchant’s practice.  The young doctor’s social stature and  political speeches turned him into the star of Currituck County’s local Democratic Party.  Shaw beat local Whig John Barnard in 1851 for the Second District seat in the North Carolina Senate.   In 1853 and 1857, Shaw won election to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives.  On both occasions, his victories came by a paper-thin margin.   As the leading voice for secession in the Albemarle’s finger counties, Shaw called for secession even before Abraham Lincoln’s election.  Elected as Currituck County’s representative to the Secession Convention, Shaw enthusiastically voted to take North Carolina out of the Union.  Fellow secessionist Governor John W. Ellis rewarded Shaw by appointing him as the colonel of the Eighth North Carolina Infantry.  Assuming command of all the Confederate forces on Roanoke Island after sickness incapacitated General Henry A. Wise, Shaw suffered the inglorious fate of surrendering the island to General Ambrose Burnside.  After his parole and exchange, Shaw reassumed command of his regiment.  As part of Robert F. Hoke’s Division, the Eighth North Carolina Infantry took part in the 1864 Eastern North Carolina campaign.  During the preliminary preparations for an attack on New Bern, North Carolina, Shaw suffered a mortal wound at Batchelor’s Creek on February 1, 1864.  He lies buried in the family cemetery near Shawboro in Currituck County.