"It Is A Grand Thing To Rally People To The Cross Of Christ!"
Knowles Shaw was born in Butler County, Ohio, on October 13, 1834. Of Scottish descent, his father was Albin Shaw, and his mother was Huldah Griffin. Soon after his birth, the family removed to Rush County, Indiana. Albin Shaw was a farmer and a tanner, stock dealer and merchant in the small village of Rushville where they lived.
When Knowles was about nine or ten his father became very ill. When near death he called for his son and said, "My son, be good to your mother," and, "Prepare to meet your God." The last thing he gave his son was a violin, which had often been a comfort to him during his struggles of life. Very soon thereafter, he passed away.
As a young man, enduring the struggles of being in a fatherless family, young Knowles did what he could to live up to his father's last request to be good to his mother. So he helped in doing whatever he could. He worked diligently to learn the violin that his father had given him, and often spent evenings playing the instrument for his mother and siblings.
He was quick to learn most anything he put his hand to. He learned to make shoes in a single week, made grain-cradles for the neighbors, was a carpenter, plasterer, and on one occasion greatly astonished a watchmaker from whom he obtained permission to use his tools, by taking his watch to pieces, cleaning it, and putting it together again in good order, as if cleaning a watch were an every-day affair with him. He quickly learned how to work on sewing machines as well. He knew so many things from the habit of close observation that he had cultivated, that one of the neighbors quaintly expressed the general sentiment in regard to him by saying that "Knowles Shaw's head was like a tar-bucket, for everything that touched it stuck to it."
By the time he was eighteen years old, he had spent a short time as a clerk in a store, taught school several terms, and at one time fell in with a teacher who professed to be able to give instructions in Greek and Latin. He became a pupil, and in one month learned all his teacher knew.
His proficiency with the violin soon gave him fame throughout the area. He often played for neighbors that would come by. He would play until late into the evening. He was soon invited to participate in neighborhood and town activities. He organized others to play with him in musical bands. They would then entertain the masses. Along with the music came playing at dances and parties, where alcohol was often served. As a young adult, he was living a free life where religion was far from his mind.
In the biography of on Shaw's life, William Baxter related an experience that caused a change to take place in his life:
One night he was playing the violin for a large company of dancers, and in that most unlikely of all places for serious thought, there came into his mind the dying advice of his father, in the impressive words of the prophet: "Prepare to meet thy God." They came unbidden; they forced themselves upon him with a power that he could not resist; they seemed to him not only a voice from the grave but a message from heaven. Still the dance went on; but the gayer the crowd became, the sadder grew the heart of the player, whose mirthful strains were at such variance with the solemn thoughts with which his mind was occupied.
A young lady observing the sadness of his look, and the abstraction of his manner, approached him and said: ''Knowly, what is the matter?" He told without reserve the state of his mind; and it was with strange feelings that she resumed her place through the set, to music which she knew mocked the feelings of the sad-hearted player. The dance ceased; another set was formed, and all were waiting for the music to begin. To the astonishment of all, Shaw, in response to the call to "strike up," said he could not play any more. A dozen voices called on him to begin, when he gravely walked out into the middle of the floor and told all that had been passing through his mind; told of his father's dying words, neglected till then, and expressed his determination never to play for another dance. He expressed regret for his past course of life; that it was not such as it should have been; that it might do if this life were all; but in view of the life to come, he must pursue another course. He then asked the company, about forty in all, to promise that they would throw no hindrance in the way of his attempt to lead a new life. His sadness, manliness, and earnestness reached their hearts. They gave the promise he asked; and to their honor be it said, they not only kept it, but some of them even gave him help and encouragement to keep the resolve which under such strange surroundings he had made. This proved to be no passing fancy; it was the turning point in his life; and to the life which he had been leading he never from that hour longingly looked back.
Very soon thereafter he began attending the services of the church of Christ at Flat Rock. There he heard the preaching of Gabriel McDuffie and Elder George Campbell. Then on September 13, 1852 he confessed Christ before witnesses and put his Lord on in baptism at the hands of George Thomas, an elder in the congregation.
For the next two years he worked as a farm hand for one of his neighbors, Mr. George R. Finley. Finley had a daughter by the name of Martha, who very soon won his heart. Knowles and Martha were married on the 11th of January, 1855. They gave birth to their first child, Georgie Anne on the 3rd day of June, 1856, and then another daughter, Mary Elizabeth was born October 31st, 1858. Then a son, John Albin, was born in February 18, 1862. All three were born in Rush County, Indiana. Another son, Carey W., was born at Edinburgh, Indiana, February 26, 1864; and Knowles Shaw, jr., was born at Lebanon, Ohio, February 14, 1869. The last two died in early infancy; the former on the 25th of July, 1865; the latter on the 13th of August, 1869; both at Lebanon, Ohio. His eldest daughter, Georgie Anna, when nearly fourteen years of age, was taken dangerously ill, while her father was engaged in a very interesting and successful meeting at Wellsburgh, West Virginia. Her condition became alarming, and her father was summoned home; and a few days after his return, she calmly closed her eyes in hope and trust, on the 29th of December, 1869; to open them, doubtless, in the presence of Him to whom she had given her heart in holy obedience. Two of his children died in the same year; three within about four years.
Only a few days before the birth of Mary Elizabeth, Knowles was called upon to make some comments at a worship services. It marked the first of many occasions he was called upon to comment on scripture, and to bring the occasional lesson. His new found talents also helped him in the area of family provision. He began teaching in a district school, where he was both teacher and pupil, as he saw the need to broaden his horizons with study. He also began seeking places where he might preach from time to time.
With his musical skills and his heart from preaching the gospel, invitations began coming in from all about the country. By 1861 he had been preaching for two years, and was already baptized many into Christ. Over the next nineteen years of his ministry he baptized between eleven and twelve thousand people into Christ.
Knowles Shaw had a marvelous ability to reach people of ever social level in any community where he would be called to labor. He worked tirelessly in Gospel Meeting efforts. He preached at least twice every day, and three times on Sundays. During the day when not with the brethren he could be seen going from business to business, introducing himself, and inviting people to attend.
With a personal history of alcohol abuse, as well as witness to its destruction, he became a strong voice for the Temperance movement. He organized chapters of the Temperance movement in many of the cities where he worked. In his last work in Columbus, Mississippi, he organized a local chapter that included over 1800 members. He truly believed that alcohol was the single most destructive element in American society, and encouraged responsible thinking citizens to ban together against it. In cities where he visited for gospel meetings, he would often be in contact with city leaders who operated Temperance movements in their own towns.
However his most effective work was seen in his gospel meeting efforts. His talent with music, as well as preaching the powerful message of the gospel made him virtually a "one-man show." As being one who believed in the use of musical instruments in worship, he was often seen at the piano, in buildings where they existed for the first thirty minutes of any gathering. He would play and sing music, most of which he had written. Then he would get up and preach as convicting a sermon as could be offered concerning the need for obedience to the call of the gospel. Very soon he became known as, "The Singing Evangelist."
His versatility and talents sometime made him the focus of negative criticism from some. He had some peculiarities in his speech and worship leadership. He referred often to his experience with the shame and abuse of alcohol. One preacher visiting a service where Shaw preached stated that over sixty-nine times in the lesson Shaw made reference to his early years of debaucherous living: playing the fiddle for balls; going to theaters; drinking alcohol; etc. In the same lesson twenty-seven times he made references to five times where he went to the cemetery to bury members of his broken home. Yet, in all his idiosyncrasies, no one could argue his success.
His determination to preach the truth of the gospel is also worthy of comment. Often when entering into a community where he would speak, the first night or two would see the presence of denominational ministers from many churches in the community. He would take the false doctrines of denomination to task by exposing their falseness in light of Scriptures. When many thought he would have made concessions in view of a desire to impress a dignitary or church leader of great importance in a community, he shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God in his preaching, often times alienating the town's "respected religious authorities."
His talent in music was perhaps his greatest calling card. He began to compose music soon after he began to preach. During his preaching career he published at different times five Sunday-school singing books: 1st. "Shining Pearls," 1868; 2nd. �"olden Gate," 1871; 3rd. "Sparkling Jewels," 1871; 4th. "The Gospel Trumpet," 1878; 5th. "The Morning Star," 1878. He wrote many songs, that are now standards in most song books. One of his later pieces, "Bringing in the Sheaves," was dedicated to the memory of A. D. Fillmore, and has proved to be the most popular of his songs, and gives promise of living for many years to come. He also wrote the music for the much loved song, "We Saw Thee Not."
During the preaching career of Knowles Shaw, he lived and worked regularly in three or four different areas of the country. He lived for a time at Rushville, Indiana; Lebanon, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; and lastly at Columbus, Mississippi.
In May of 1878, Shaw left his Columbus, Mississippi home to attend to a Gospel Meeting in Dallas, Texas. It commenced on May 4th and lasted for thirty days. At the end of the meeting where there was recorded one hundred twelve additions, he answered a call to McKinney, north of Dallas for a meeting. On the morning of the June 7th, Knowles, along with the preacher from Dallas, Kirk Baxter, set out for McKinney on a Texas Central Railroad passenger train. During the trip, Baxter had been visiting with Shaw when he left him and went forward to another compartment. While passing through his attention was called to by a Methodist minister, Mr. Malloy, whom he knew from Dallas. They struck up a conversation. Very soon the two were joined by Shaw, at which time he was introduced to Mr. Malloy. Malloy asked about the success of the eminent Shaw when he responded, "It is a grand thing to rally people to the Cross of Christ." These were Shaw's last words.
Just then, the train jumped the track, and the car where the three men were sitting began rolling down an embankment. According to reports later, rotting crossties and a broken rail caused the car to flip three times before landing in some standing water forty feet below the track, and about one mile south of the station at McKinney, Texas. When people began climbing out, it was soon noted by Baxter that Brother Shaw was no where to be found. He saw Mr. Malloy, who told him that Shaw had saved his life by pushing him out of harms way during to wreck. When Baxter returned to the car, he saw part of it under water. At that location he noted a hand sticking out of the water pointing upward. It was the hand of Knowles Shaw. Upon pulling his dead body from the wreckage it was noted that he had a deep cut on his head. There were many people injured, some severely, but only one person died, Knowles Shaw. The nationally known and great evangelist was now dead. The brotherhood, and even the nation was in shock.
His body was returned to Dallas briefly for a funeral. Thousands were in attendance there. His body was then returned to his home in Rushville, Indiana. There waiting at the train station was his mother, who in tears claimed the body of her lost son. His wife and family did not arrive until a few hours later. The funeral was held on the 13th of June. No church building was large enough for the service, so the body taken to the Courthouse Square.
Participating in the service was Brother J. M. Conner and Brother Love H. Jameson, of Indianapolis. Some twenty or more other preachers were in attendance, eight of which served as pallbearers.
Upon completion of the service, the body was removed to the East Hill Cemetery for burial. And thus ended the life of a man who though only preaching nineteen years, baptized nearly twelve thousand people into Christ.
For a fuller reading on the life of Knowles Shaw, be sure to read the biography of his life by William Baxter on this website. See the link below.
-Gleaned From Life Of Knowles Shaw, The Singing Evangelist
Directions To The Grave Of Knowles Shaw
Knowles Shaw is buried in Rushville, Indiana in the East View Cemetery. Heading west of Indianapolis, Indiana on Interstate 70, go to Exit 137, and head south on Hwy. 3. Head about 18 miles to Rushville. Head into the downtown area and turn left on Hwy. 44 (E. 2nd St.) Less than a mile you will come to the cemetery on the right hand (south) side. Turn into the cemetery and go down the main road to the second section on the left (Officially, section 4). Close to the road, facing you on the left, look for the monument "WADDELL." Behind it should be "HILLIGOSS/KING" Behind it should be "SHAW." Note, while looking you come to "WINSHIP," You've gone too far.
Hover Over Green Arrow Below For Exact Location
In June, 2009 Tom L. Childers, C. Wayne Kilpatrick and Scott Harp traveled about 3000 miles in one week through parts of Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. During this time we found the graves of 75 church leaders in the Restoration Movement. Chronicling these leaders into websites has been time consuming. Many thanks to Tom and Wayne in helping to take photos, share the driving, and putting up with your web master's slave-driving effort to see as many as we did in the time we had. Their photos as well as some of mine are seen on this site.