Hon. Thomas M. SHAW, judge of the eighth judicial circuit of Illinois,
comprising the counties of Putnam, Marshall, Woodford, Tazewell, Peoria and
Stark, is a man greatly esteemed for his worth’s sake. He is a native of
Marshall county, born in Roberts township, August 20, 1836. At that time
Marshall was still a part of Putnam county, and white settlers were few and
far between. Indians still lingered about, although four years after the
close of the Black Hawk war. His parents, George H. and Penelope (EDWARDS)
SHAW, were both natives of Kentucky, who emigrated to this section in 1829,
making settlement on the section of what is now Roberts township, where they
spent the remainder of their lives. Their nearest neighbors were Col. STRAWN
on the south and Jesse ROBERTS on the north. With that determination
characteristic of the pioneers, they began to make for themselves a home in
this wilderness. The wife and mother, however, was not long for this world,
her death occurring in 1840, when our subject was but four years old. Later
the father married Miss Emma EDWARDS, a sister of his first wife, who passed
away in 1871, while he survived until 1877. As a friend and neighbor he was
highly respected, having those traits which distinguish the Kentuckian the
The subject of this sketch grew to manhood on the old farm, and from early childhood did his part in the cultivation and improvement of the place. He received his primary education in the common schools of the neighborhood, which was supplemented by partial courses in the colleges of Mount Palatine, Putnam county, and Mount Morris, Ogle county. The profession of law he determined as his life’s work, and in 1855 began reading in the office, and under the instruction of William D. EDWARDS, of Lacon.
In the year 1857, when but twenty years of age, he was admitted to the bar, after an examination by a committee appointed for that purpose by the circuit judge, then holding court at Lacon. Still pursuing his studies he remained another year at Lacon and then removed to Hennepin, Putnam county, and there commenced practice.
After a residence of five years at Hennepin, where he met with as good success as could reasonably be expected, he returned to Lacon richer in experience and better able to cope with the older attorneys at the bar. Mark BANGS, now one of the leading attorneys of Chicago, had been practicing at this place for some years, and with him he formed a partnership, which continued uninterruptedly for seventeen years, to their mutual profit. It is said the two made an excellent combination, the studious habits and close application of Mr. SHAW being supplemented by the oratorical powers of Mr. BANGS, who was always effective in jury trials. On the dissolution of the co-partnership, caused by the removal of Mr. BANGS to Chicago, Mr. SHAW became a partner of Robert B. EDWARDS, that relation continuing until his elevation to the bench in 1885.
In his profession, the judge never made a specialty of any particular line, but attended to general practice, being a good all-around lawyer, a safe counselor in every respect. He never resorted to any of the clap-trap peculiar to some members of the profession, but gave his whole thought, time and attention to the business in hand. Few attorneys have exercised the caution displayed by him in the preparation of a case. He must know he was right before he would proceed. If a client came to him with a case, he must know that it was a good one, and that law and equity was upon his side. Never did he hesitate to tell a client that his case was not good if so convinced. A good, fat fee was no temptation to him, if he knew the law was against him. A point made by him in a trial was seldom overruled by the presiding judge. His practice was not local, but extended throughout adjoining counties in the various circuit and county courts, and in the supreme court of the state, and of the United Sates courts, before which honorable body he argued many cases.
Among his associates at the bar the judge always stood high. They recognized his abilities, knew his studious nature, his conservative opinions and actions, and by them was he first suggested for the bench. In the spring of 1885 he was duly nominated and at the regular June election of that year he was triumphantly elected. After serving his term of six years he was re-nominated and re-elected in 1891. The same points that characterized him as an attorney at the bar have followed him upon the bench. While quick to grasp a point, and with a breadth of perception enabling him to see a case from every point of view, he must feel assured that he is right before a decision is rendered. His impartiality and absolute fairness is acknowledged by every member of the bar comprising the district, and none fear to leave the decision of a case in his hands. But few of his decisions appealed from here have been reversed by the higher courts.
Politically Judge SHAW has always held to the principles of the democratic party, especially as advocated by the fathers. He is not a partisan, however, his judicial mind forbidding it, but in the advocacy of his political views he asks no favor. By his party he was given the nomination for congress in 1878, but the district being overwhelmingly republican, he suffered the expected defeat. Two years later, in 1880, he was nominated and elected a member of the state senate from the district comprising the counties of Putnam, Marshall and Woodford. He served the term of four years with credit to himself and constituents, serving on several important committees, among which was the judiciary. This was the only political office he ever held, unless we except that of mayor of Lacon, an office he held two terms to the satisfaction of all concerned.
On the 24th of December, 1863, Judge SHAW and Miss Nellie F. HIRCH, of Metamora, Woodford county, Illinois, were united in marriage. She is a native of New Hampshire and a daughter of Fred F. and Caroline (STARRETTE) HIRCH, both of whom were also natives of New Hampshire. They came west and settled in Woodford county, when Mrs. SHAW was but twelve years of age. The judge and Mrs. SHAW have one daughter, Daisy, who yet remains at home, and is a musician of fine ability, who often sings in public to the delight of her hearers. Mrs. SHAW and daughter are members of the Congregational church. Fraternally the judge is a member of the Elks. A life-long resident of Marshall county, it can be truly said that no man stands higher in the estimation of his fell citizens, and none more highly deserve the honor. In every question pertaining to its best interest he is always found upon the side of right.
Extracted May 2011 by Norma Hass from The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois, 1896.
Judge Thomas M. SHAW, faultless in honor, fearless in conduct and stainless in reputation, left behind him a record which is an honor to the bench and bar of Illinois and to the state legislature, where he served as a distinguished member of the senate for four years. But while he won distinction and honors his more personal attributes and characteristics his kindly disposition, gentle manner and consideration for others gained him the warmest personal regard, so that every one who knew him was his friend, and when a long life of professional activity was ended and the world passed judgment upon his record the consensus of opinion was altogether favorable.
Like many another man who has risen to public prominence, he was born in a little log cabin that stood on the old family homestead in Roberts township, Marshall county, his natal day being August 20, 1836. At that time Marshall was still a part of Putnam county and its white settlers were comparatively few. Indians were still seen in the neighborhood, although four years had passed since the close of the Black Hawk war. The genealogical records furnish several interesting facts about the ancestors of Judge SHAW. His grandmother was a cousin of George Washington and his father, George H. SHAW, went to school in Kentucky with a boy who was to become President BUCHANAN. His father, George H. SHAW, was a Kentucky planter, who after liberating his slaves came to Illinois in 1829 accompanied by his young bride, who bore the maiden name of Penelope R. EDWARDS. He selected as their home a tract of government land, situated about eight miles from the Illinois river, and comprising both prairie and wood land. A point of grand forest trees, mostly oaks, extended into the prairie tract and this gave occasion for the naming of the locality Shaw's Point. In the midst of the forest George SHAW hewed the logs and built the cabin in which his son Thomas was born and where he lived for many years with his brothers and sisters until the family was prosperous enough to erect a large two-story brick residence on the old homestead, the work being done by the sons of the family, who not only constructed the building, but also manufactured the brick. This residence, which is one of the landmarks of the community, is now occupied by George H. SHAW, a brother of the Judge, who saw most honorable service as a lieutenant in the Union army in the Civil war. Mrs. Penelope SHAW died in 1840, when her son Thomas was but four years of age, but the father reached the age of eighty years, passing away on the old homestead, February 2, 1877.
The usual description of pioneer life would present a picture of the environments of Judge SHAW in his boyhood days, when there were forest trees to fell, a virgin soil to till and prairie fires to fight. Prom his work in the forest and fields he eagerly turned to his books, his favorite studies being mathematics and history, and he made such surprising progress in his education that with all the disadvantages which attended upon its acquirement he was prepared when sixteen years of age to carry on the work as a student of Judson College at Mount Palatine, in Putnam county, Illinois, then the leading educational institute of the central portion of this state. A year later, however, in 1854, the school was obliged to suspend, and Judge SHAW became a student in Mount Morris Academy. Ambitious to enter a field of labor demanding intellectual prowess, he became a law student in the office of William D. EDWARDS, his cousin, and at that time the leading attorney of Lacon, in 1855. The same thoroughness which characterized his general school work was manifest in his efforts to master the principles of jurisprudence, and in later years when he had earned an assured position as a lawyer and judge, those who had the privilege of studying in his office and afterward of following his professional career and private life, enthusiastically testified to his broad understanding and impartial interpretation of the law, his intellectual cultivation, his manly integrity and his firmness and courage, coupled with a tenderness which was essentially womanly in its type.
When twenty years of age Judge SHAW was admitted to the bar and located for practice at Hennepin, where he remained for five years. In 1873 he was also admitted to practice before the United States supreme court. He became a resident of Lacon in 1862, but had previously enlisted for service in the Civil war at Hennepin. He had been chosen captain of the company, but was afterward rejected on account of an accident in boyhood, which deprived him of the use of an eye. Removing to Lacon, he became a partner of Judge Mark BANGS under the firm style of Bangs & Shaw, a connection that was maintained for seventeen years, and the firm was regarded as one of the strongest at the bar of central Illinois. It is said the two made an excellent combination, the studious habits and close application of Mr. SHAW being supplemented by the oratorical powers of Mr. BANGS, who was always effective in jury trials. The dissolution of the firm came with the appointment of Mr. BANGS to the office of the United States district attorney, with headquarters in Chicago. In the meantime, in 1874, R. B. EDWARDS, a cousin of Judge SHAW, had been received into partnership, so that upon the retirement of Mr. BANGS the firm became Shaw & Edwards, and was thus maintained until Mr. SHAW's election in 1885 as one of the three circuit judges of the tenth judicial district. He went to the bench well qualified for the arduous duties that are called for in the impartial administration of the law, and his record on the bench was in harmony with his record as a man and lawyer, being distinguished by irreproachable integrity and a masterful grasp of every problem that was presented for solution. In 1891 and again in 1897 Judge SHAW was elected, but died April 15, 1901, during the sixteenth year of his service. He had the highest respect of the members of the bar and his decisions were models of judicial soundness. He had the faculty to a remarkable degree of losing all personal prejudice and peculiarities in the equity and justice of the case, and he was seldom, if ever, at error in the application of a legal point to the question at issue. There are few men who have had so small a number of decisions reversed. While quick to grasp a point and with a breadth of perception enabling him to view a case from every standpoint, he must also feel assured that he was right before a decision was rendered. His impartiality and absolute fairness were acknowledged by every member of the bar comprising the district and none feared to leave a decision of a case in his hands. He was often urged by his -professional friends to become a candidate for judge of the state supreme court, and his name was prominently mentioned in connection with gubernatorial honors.
Judge SHAW was a recognized leader in the ranks of the democracy, and although while on the bench he took little part in political affairs and never allowed partisan feeling to affect him in any way in the discharge of his multitudinous delicate duties, prior to the time when he was called to the bench he was an influential factor in democratic circles. He was twice elected and served as mayor of Lacon, and was also a member of the school board. He was once the candidate of his party for congress and in 1880 he was elected to represent his district, comprising Marshall, Woodford and Putnam counties, in the state senate. He had very ably represented his district during the thirty-second and thirty-third sessions of the legislature, and at the latter had been honored with the unanimous vote of the senators of his party for the position of president pro tem. He was next elected to the bench, although he never sought office.
Judge SHAW was married on the 24th of December, 1863, to Miss Nellie F. HIRSCH, of Metamora, Woodford county, Illinois, considered one of the beautiful belles of that locality. She is a native of New Hampshire, and is one of the five children born to Frederick F. and Caroline (STARRETT) HIRSCH. Her mother was also born in New Hampshire, and died in Metamora, Illinois, October 8, 1866, while her father was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, and died in Metamora, April 22, 1901, at the age of eighty-five years. He was preparing to attend the funeral of Judge SHAW the day after the latter's death and died six days later. This double sorrow to Mrs. SHAW was a strain to the heart strings which few women would have borne without utter collapse. She was only ten years of age when the family removed from the east to Woodford county, Illinois. Besides Mrs. SHAW, the aged father left three married daughters: Mrs. Carrie S. IRVING, of Metamora; Mrs. Lutie C. MYERS, of the same place; and Mrs. Narietta A. CASSELL, of Denver, Colorado. The maternal great-grandfather of Mrs. SHAW was an officer in the British army. His real name was STUART, and he was related to Mary, Queen of Scots. While in England he fell in love with an English lady of nobility, but their marriage was opposed on account of his Scotch connections. The young couple eloped to America and were married on their arrival in New England. To hide his identity he changed his name from STUART to STARRETT and eventually settled in New Hampshire.
Judge and Mrs. SHAW never had any children of their own, but reared an adopted daughter, Daisy, and upon her Judge SHAW lavished the love of the ideal father. The domestic life was everything that might be expected when one considers the deeply affectionate, the strong, the considerate, and the well balanced character of the Judge. At home he cast aside his legal and judicial cares. He loved music and sang in a deep mellow voice, and he delighted in the musical talent of his daughter. A lover of art, he visited in his travels many noted galleries. He loved nature even more and its beauties and he could always find beauty therein were a constant delight to him. He took little interest in games of chance even for amusement, but such as whist and chess, which call for the application of memory, intellectual action, decision, patience and mental stamina, he always played with enjoyment and skill. He was very fond of travel, both as a means of recreation and improvement, and in his trips in his native land and abroad he was always accompanied by his wife or his daughter or both, the measure of his enjoyment being never completed unless he could share it with others. His membership relations were with the Order of Elks and with the State Bar Association. There is no better estimate of character and of accomplishment than that which is expressed in the words of friends who, without thought of eulogy, voice their true sentiment in regard to an individual. His large and lovable qualities as a man have been a frequent theme of discussion by those who knew him best. Judge S. S. PAGE, one of his co-workers in the circuit court, wrote : "We all feel that we have lost one of the best and most lovable men we have ever known. The bench and bar alike will mourn his loss. I never knew a man who seemed to possess more of a sweet and womanly disposition." While Judge Leslie PUTERBAUGH, of Peoria, said: "No one can more fully than I appreciate your irreparable loss. While I had known Judge SHAW since my boyhood and had always respected and admired him as a lawyer and jurist, my close official and personal relations of recent years had led me to know and love him almost as a father. I feel that I have lost one of my best friends, and shall long miss his genial companionship and wise counsel." Ex-Vice President Adlai E. STEVENSON, who spoke at his funeral, referred to him as his life-long friend, as. not only an able lawyer and upright judge, but so true a man in all the relations of life as to have fairly earned the immortality spoken of by the poet:
To live in hearts we leave behind,
Is not to die."
A more general tribute of affection and esteem was presented in these resolutions spread upon the records of the circuit court of Peoria county by the members of the Peoria Bar Association:
Whereas, Thomas M. SHAW, one of the judges of the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Illinois, has been suddenly called away in the midst of his usefulness, the members of the bar practicing before him in Peoria and adjoining counties, desire to place on record their appreciation of him as a judge and a man.
Faithful in all his duties, widely and profoundly learned in the law, he brought large abilities to the work of the jurist. Kindly, patient and serene, his great endeavor was to mete out justice through the rules of law. He has not only the respect and admiration of the bar, but the love of its members also. "Justice, tempered by mercy." was his motto.
In social intercourse he was modest and unobtrusive, but always approachable and pleasant. Ho weighed social, moral, and religious questions with the same calm, judicial spirit that he brought to legal ones. As a friend he was reliable; always the same. When he approached any question, principles rather than persons guided him.
Thus he won the confidence of the people. For the sixteen years they kept him on the bench he grew in that confidence. They felt their rights were safe in his hands.
To his afflicted family we tender our heartfelt sympathy, knowing that the beautiful picture of his life will abide with them so long as memory shall endure.
To the people of this judicial district his departure is a great loss, but the effect and memory of his service on the bench endure as a great gain. A model judge, an upright citizen, a lovable man has gone from us. We ask that this imperfect memorial of him be placed on the records of Peoria county.
Says Rev. Theodore Clifton, western field secretary of the Congregational Educational Society: "I knew Judge SHAW long and well, only to love and honor him. The news of his death was a great surprise to me, and came with a distinct sense of personal loss. When I first met the judge, nearly thirty years ago, he was a young lawyer in Lacon, Marshall county. From that day to the day of his death he grew upon me, not only as a lawyer, but as a man, a citizen and a personal friend. Judge SHAW possessed a fine legal mind and his career as a lawyer and a judge was an honor to the state as well as to himself. Illinois did not confer honor upon him so much as he conferred honor upon Illinois. A quiet, unassuming man, he did not realize his own great worth or his own great influence. He was a man of few words, but whether before a jury, on the bench or in the social circle, his words were always listened to and carried weight. It was the weight of a noble manhood, a mature and accurate judgment, and an unsullied life."
J. Cassner IRVING, a brother-in-law of Judge SHAW, draws the following reminiscent picture of his many-sided personality: "Judge SHAW was wedded to his profession, and once said to me: 'I had rather feel that I was qualified to fill the position of judge of the supreme court of Illinois than be president of the United States.' He loved nature and lived as near to it as his environment would permit. He was a plain, unobtrusive man, meeting pomp and pride and show, but never seeking it. He loved art for art's sake, and said: 'It is nature's first cousin, and music, sweet music, is its soul.' Gentle and kind; always regarding the rights of others; knightly and respectful to women wherever he met them; loving his home and those within it, it was a joy to him to return to it when his day's work was done. He lived for others, and especially those he loved. Firm as a rock when convinced he was right, conscientious to an excessive degree, he worked harder to do justice and right than any man I ever knew. I was very close to him in some of his campaigns for office, and knew much of what he did and wanted done. Once during his second judicial campaign Luther Dearborn, of Chicago, came to me and said: 'Now, young man, I met a party of lawyers in Peoria last night, and the three democratic candidates for judges were there, and I was told you had the practical management of their campaign in hand and at heart. Do your best, but be sure that SHAW is elected.' I saw Judge SHAW a few days afterward and told him of the incident. He said : 'Cass, do your best; but do not push me past the other boys, for I had rather be defeated than to have them think I had not sailed fair with them.' He lived for others, and in the years to come - in that mysterious, sweet unknown, when mists and clouds and darkness and doubts have been dispelled, I only hope to meet my friend, Judge SHAW."
It falls to the lot of but few in this world to fully and yet humbly respond, throughout a long life of practical and professional activity, to the impressive call of the immortal Bryant:
So live, that when thy summons conies to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one that draws the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."
Extracted July 2011 by Norma Hass from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, 1907.