Happy Sylvester Shaw

From the November 28, 1875 Cincinnati Daily Enquirer:

HAPPY SYLVESTER SHAW, of Russellville, Brown County, Ohio! On Tuesday he celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday in company with his twenty-one children. After dinner he took them out to the mud road in front of the house, and the old man left them all in a scrub race of a hundred yards. The ole man then showed his wondering offspring what boys could do when he was young. He jumped a nine-rail fence without touching his hands, climbed a branch of the apple tree nineteen times, climbed to the top of the well-pole hand over hand, threw a bull calf over the house, and ripped the back seam of his pants in the effort, and told the old woman "if she didn't fix 'em afore mornin' he'd knock the socks off of her!" Hale old SYLVESTER SHAW! Long live the oldest inhabitant!

What a man!  This incredible specimen of manhood was my fourth great-grandfather.  Sylvester Shaw was born November 19, 1800 in Rensellaer County, New York.  In the early 1800s, Sylvester's parents Russell and Johanna Reynolds Shaw moved their family to what would later become Brown County, Ohio.  There, Russell Shaw established the town of Russellville.
Sylvester married my fourth great-grandmother Elizabeth Hatfield on November 29, 1821 in Brown County.  Their first child was born and died in 1822.  My third great-grandmother, Elmina Shaw Dunn, was born in 1823 and was their first child to survive to adulthood.  Sylvester and Elizabeth had a total of ten children.  Elizabeth died August 22, 1851.
Sylvester married Sarah Jane Wire on June 24, 1852 in Spencer County, Indiana.  I don't know how they met.  Did Sylvester have business in Spencer County?  Was she a mail order bride?  Anyway, they got hitched and Sarah Jane got a house full of kids.  Sylvester's passion obviously didn't subside with his second wife.  He and Sarah Jane had eleven children.  Sylvester had his first great-grandchild before his youngest child was born in 1868! 
Sylvester was a man of many interests.  Early in his life, he made his living as a carpenter.  He was also a farmer, with an apple orchard, cornfield, cows, pigs, and sheep.   He was known as a veterinarian and developed a "throwing harness," so horses could be thrown without injury to the horse. 
So, I wonder what the real story was with his 75th birthday celebration?  Although he had 21 children, a few had died and others had moved away, so he didn't spend his birthday with all 21 children.  I wonder who counted how many times he climbed the apple tree.  I think it would have become a little tedious after about the second time he had done it.  Plus, I would probably be feeling a little downhearted after losing to him in the 100 yard dash. 
I'm most curious about Sylvester's hurling the calf over the house.  I have heard of throwing cow chips, but not calves.  How would one go about doing that - grab the calf's legs and then do sort of a modified hammer throw?  Obviously, his concern with the wellbeing of horses didn't extend to his livestock. 
Even though Sarah Jane was more than 20 years younger than Sylvester, she was the "old woman" whose socks Sylvester planned to knock off if she didn't mend his busted seam by morning.  Ultimately, Sarah Jane's body (and, no doubt, patience) wore out and she died on October 11, 1879.

Sylvester, however, still had some life in him, not to mention a house of teenagers.  He married Mariah Sowers on October 6, 1881.  I don't know much about Mariah, except that she was a "hired girl."  Their marriage record refers to her as "Mrs. Mariah Sowers," so she must have been married before.  As far as I know, Sylvester and Mariah had no children, but given Sylvester's history, I'm not making any assumptions.

Sylvester Shaw died February 27, 1884 and the bovines of Brown County all breathed a little easier.


  1. Hi. I too am a descendant of Sylvester although Sarah Jane is my grandmother. This story is very interesting. Thanks for posting!


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