While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Virginia H. Ming
James Dickson Shaw
James Dickson Shaw. Courtesy of T. Bradford Willis and the Portal to Texas History. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Grave of James Dickson Shaw
Grave of James Dickson Shaw. Courtesy of T. Bradford Willis.

SHAW, JAMES DICKSON (1841–1926). James Dickson Shaw, freethinker and editor of The Independent Pulpit, son of Granville C. and Mary A. (Manning) Shaw, was born in Walker County, Texas, on December 27, 1841. After serving in the Confederate Army, he was admitted to the Methodist ministry in 1870. During the next few years he taught at Marvin College in Waxahachie and served on the editorial staff of The Christian Advocate. His early pastorates included the church at Mexia and Lancaster Bell, Texas. In 1878 he assumed the pastorate of the Fifth Street Methodist Church in Waco. In 1880 in a public meeting in Waco, Shaw was described as being an agnostic by a visiting phrenologist, Dr. O. S. Fowler. A short time later questions were raised concerning his orthodoxy. At the annual session of the Northwest Methodist Conference meeting in Cleburne, Texas, 1882, a motion was made to bring charges of heresy before a committee for examination. When Shaw appeared before the committee to defend his beliefs, he spoke concerning the inspiration of the scriptures, the divinity of Christ, the vicarious atonement, and the punishment of the wicked. At the conclusion of his address, he was asked to surrender his credentials because his views were "detrimental to religion and injurious to the church." Returning to Waco, Shaw gathered together some of the prominent men of the city and established the Religious and Benevolent Association on December 2, 1882. The association established a monthly magazine in 1883 called the Independent Pulpit to serve as a forum for the most liberal and independent thinkers on the moral, social, and intellectual questions of the day. Shaw served as editor of the publication. Subscribers to the twenty-four page monthly publication were not limited to Texas, but were found in states throughout the United States and other countries. Through the pages of this magazine Shaw led a reform movement propounding the virtues of free thought. He drew much correspondence for the pages of the Independent Pulpit from across the state. In 1890 he was instrumental in the organization of the Liberal Society of Texas. Shaw was well known as a public speaker and was active in civic and political affairs for many years. He held the rank of captain in the Pat Cleburne Camp of Confederate Veterans, was a member of the board of aldermen for the City of Waco, and served as a member of the executive committee to formulate the commission form of city government for the city. He helped organize the Humane Society of Waco. Shaw married twice. His first wife, Lucy Frances, died in 1881, two weeks after the birth of their sixth child, leaving Shaw with a family of young children. Several months later the baby also died. In 1884 he married Rachella Dodson. She died on March 29, 1902. In 1910 Shaw moved to Glendale, California, with his daughter. He died there on December 3, 1926. Later his remains were returned to Waco for burial in Oakwood Cemetery.


Blake W. Barrow, Freethought in Texas: J. D. Shaw and the Independent Pulpit (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1983). Dallas Morning News, January 6, 1929. Virginia Ming, "J. D. Shaw: Freethinker," Waco Heritage and History, Summer 1979. Macum Phelan, History of Early Methodism in Texas, 1817–1866 (Nashville: Cokesbury, 1924); A History of the Expansion of Methodism in Texas, 1867–1902 (Dallas: Mathis, Van Nort, 1937).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Virginia H. Ming, "SHAW, JAMES DICKSON," accessed July 10, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsh41.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on April 16, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...