Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lt. Col. William Charles Shortt and His Descendants by Mike Hedges

Through the decades, descendants of Lt. Col. William Charles Shortt and Hayes Presidential Center staff have exchanged information about Lt. Col. Shortt's family, his descendants, and his military career. Most recently, Mike Hedges of Portsmouth, England, a great great great grandson of Lt. Col. William Charles Shortt contacted me. I thank Mr. Hedges for graciously agreeing to share some of his research in the article below. Above is a photograph of a portrait of Lt. Col. Shortt sent previously by a descendant of William Tayler Peter Shortt.

My great great great grandfather, Lt Col William Charles Shortt, served in the 41st Regiment of Foot in the British Army and died a heroic death at the Battle of Fort Stephenson, Lower Sandusky, Ohio (Fremont, Ohio), on 2nd August 1813.

The Battle of Fort Stephenson

This battle, won decisively by the Americans, was the last western battle in the Second War of Independence (War of 1812) between Britain and America. Fort Stephenson guarded an American supply base on the Sandusky River and became a target for the British, led by Major-General Henry Proctor, after they had failed to capture Fort Meigs at Perrysburg, Ohio.

Fort Stephenson was commanded by Major George Croghan. His superior, Major-General William Harrison, ordered him to destroy the fort and withdraw, believing the British force to be larger than it really was. However, Croghan was confident that he could defend the fort and successfully persuaded Harrison of this.

Croghan’s view was decisively endorsed by the outcome of the British assault. The British and their Indian allies had 96 men either killed or wounded, of whom 25 were from Lt Col Shortt’s column of men from the 41st Regiment of Foot. Shortt himself died with many of his men in a murderous barrage of American fire as he led them into one of the perimeter ditches of the fort.

A full account of the battle can be found on the website

Lt Col William Charles Shortt

Lt Col William C. Shortt had a rather colourful life and seems to have passed this trait down the generations that followed. According to information provided in 1909 by his great-nephew Captain Henry D. Shortt to the Hayes Presidential Center, he was the eldest son of Major John Shortt of the Madras Native Infantry. William was born in Trichinopoly (now Tiruchirappalli) in India in 1764 and was apparently educated at Eton College[1]. He joined the Army as an Ensign in the 24th Foot in 1782, became a captain in 1783 and joined the 99th Foot at the same rank in 1801. By the time of the Battle of Fort Stephenson, he was a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel[2].

William C. Shortt had a relationship with (or may in fact have married) a Shawnee Indian called Sally Bluejacket (born 1778) while his regiment was garrisoning the British fort on the Maumee River, Ohio, in 1794 and 1795[3]. They had a son, Thomas Shortt, born in 1796, who was later recorded as living in the Indian reservation at Flat Rock, Mi[4]. Thomas had a son Joseph, born in 1833, and Joseph had two daughters[5]. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the relationship between William and Sally did not last and she later married a trader called Wilson. They may have met again in 1813 just before the Battle of Fort Stephenson, as by then Sally was living on the Detroit River, within the area commanded by William’s superior officer, Major General Henry Proctor.

By this time William C. Shortt had married Jean Margaret Stuart (known by her middle name) and they had a son William Tayler[6] Peter Shortt, who had been born in Marylebone, London, in 1800. The name Tayler was no doubt chosen because it was the maiden name of William’s mother Jane; her brother Lt Gen William Tayler was an equerry to King George III.

William C. Shortt’s wife Jean died in 1805 while giving birth to a daughter, Mary, who survived for just seven weeks. In 1809 William married Jane Crooks, whose sister had married the borther of his commander, Henry Proctor. William and Jane had a son, James Symington Shortt, who was born in 1812 and was my great great grandfather. James’ mother died in 1812, probably after giving birth to him.

With the death of their father at the Battle of Fort Stephenson and the earlier deaths of their mothers, William TP Shortt and his half-brother James became orphans at the respective ages of 13 and 1. To support their upbringing and education, the guardians of both boys were granted payments from the Royal Bounty, a fund established to support the families of people who had died in service of the British Crown, for example officers killed in battle.

The Elder Son, William Tayler Peter Shortt

William TP Shortt was educated in Quebec, but eventually returned to England where he gained a Bachelor of Arts degree at Worcester College, Oxford, in 1821 and, true to family tradition, embarked on a career in the British Army. However, before this he engaged in another tradition for wealthy families of that period by going on the so-called ‘Grand Tour’, a visit to classical cities, art galleries and historical sites of continental Europe. In his case, the tour was through France and Switzerland to Italy and consequently, in an early pointer to his future occupation as an author, he published A Visit to Milan, Florence and Rome, etc in 1821. The visit inspired his lifelong interest in Roman antiquities. In 1824, he co-authored Journal of the Principal Occurrences During the Siege of Quebec.

By 1826, William TP Shortt was a Lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot, joining from the 34th Foot. However, he soon abandoned his military career and moved in 1832 to Heavitree, Exeter, England, where he lived as a gentleman of independent means (on his father’s death, he had inherited the freehold rent of Remenham House, near Henley-on-Thames, England). He developed a keen interest in Roman relics and especially coins, many of which were being found during the substantial reconstruction of Exeter that took place from the 1830s to the 1850s. At this time, no great interest was aroused whenever archaeological remains were discovered and building contractors regarded any interference in their work to recover relics as obstruction. However, William TP Shortt was not deterred and, over a period of 23 years from 1832, took it upon himself to retrieve and investigate as many items as he could and to publish the results of his findings.

His persistence led to some incidents on building sites, typical of which is one of July 3rd 1835 when, during his enquiries with labourers about relics found during the re-development of the Upper Market, Shortt was confronted by a prominent Exeter builder, Henry Hooper, ordered off the site and helped on his way by a shovelful of earth! Enraged by this slight on his dignity as an ex-officer and a gentleman, Shortt summoned Hooper for assault. At a court appearance the next day, Hooper admitted the assault but said that Shortt’s habit of retrieving artefacts was constantly interrupting work at the market and that he had refused to leave the site when asked. The Mayor of Exeter, conforming with the general indifference to the history of Roman Exeter, found Hooper guilty but levied a token fine of 10 shillings (50 pence) on him. Shortt was rebuked for his ‘warmth of temper’. The case was well publicised in the local and national press, which generally supported Shortt, and began a trend of making archaeological excavation and research more fashionable[7].

William TP Shortt published many articles about his findings in the Devonshire Chronicle, the Flying Post and other local journals. He apparently insisted on receiving printers’ proofs of his articles, which he then savagely corrected before they were printed! He also wrote two books about his work; the first, with the not very catchy title of Sylva Antiqua Iscana, Numismatica Quinetiam Figulina, or Roman and Other Antiquities of Exeter, was published in 1841 and the following year came Collecteana Curiosa Antiqua Dunmonia; or An Essay on Some Druidical Remains in Devon. The latter book was based on his visits on horseback and in all weathers to every known prehistoric site in Devon. Each book is, it has to be said, hard to read for the modern eye, but each was no doubt very learned and based on Shortt’s great historical knowledge and extensive field work. This did not prevent a magisterial put-down by one writer, who said of Shortt’s books: ‘I could refer to the two works of this author with much more confidence had they been drawn up with the gravity which becomes the subject. They have been compiled in such a careless, rambling and ill-arranged manner, and are so full of haphazard assertions, that I lament extremely that I cannot quote them as authorities’[8]!

Despite this criticism, there is no doubt that William TP Shortt carried out pioneering archaeological work in Exeter that recorded and preserved valuable Roman artefacts. Without his intervention and dedication, they and the valuable historical information that they yielded would certainly have been lost.

William TP Shortt moved to Heidelberg, Germany, in 1855 and died in 1881. He and his wife Margaret had a son and three daughters. His son Stuart followed a military career, and the Army also featured strongly in the lives of his daughter Ann and of the descendants to the present day of his daughter Kathleen. She married Captain John Dent Bird, who was murdered by one of his troopers at Aldershot, England, in 1874. Their son Wilkinson Dent Bird (born 1869) was a decorated soldier, became a Major-General, and lectured and wrote about military history and strategy.

The Younger Son, James Symington Shortt

Orphaned at the age of just one year when his father William died at the Battle of Fort Stephenson, James Symington Shortt probably then lived with his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Crooks, and his material aunt, Mary. His middle name Symington came from the surname of John Symington of Niagara, who was his maternal grandfather and one of the executors of his father’s will (the other was William C Shortt’s cousin, Captain William Thomas Tayler).

Family researches have so far thrown up no other information about James Shortt’s early life. He is next recorded as living in Ancaster Township, Brent County, Ontario, in 1832. Within a year he was an Ensign in the 48th Foot Regiment of the British Army. In 1835 he transferred to the 4th, or King’s Own, Regiment of Foot, became a Lieutenant in 1837 and a Captain in 1844.

In 1839 at Sholden, Kent, James married Mary Harvey, one of the daughters of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Harvey (1775 – 1841) who, along with many other members of his family, served with great distinction in the Royal Navy. Mary died only two years later and James subsequently took her sister Annie as his partner, but they never married because, at that time in England, it was illegal for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife.

Over the period of James Shortt’s service in the 4th Foot, the regiment was stationed first in Australia then, from January 1838, in India[9]. James and Annie had their first child, a girl, in 1844, but the child did not survive her first day. A son ws born a year later, but is believed to have died in infancy. Their first surviving child, Mary, was born in Kamptee, India, in 1846. James remained in the Army until 1847-48. James’ departure from the Army came shortly after he had been found guilty at a court martial of being drunk at the funeral in Kamptee of a fellow officer, Ensign William Thorpe.

The remainder of James’ life was punctuated by misfortune and tragedy. During the 1850s, he and Annie had five more chilren. a son and four daughters, but only Jessie (born 1850 in Colaba, India) and Helen (born 1855 in Broadstairs, England) survived. Four of these five children were born in India, but it seems that Annie purposely came back to England to give birth to Helen there and give her a better chance of survival. Helen may well have remained in England in the guardianship of Annie’s sister Eliza and may never have returned with her mother to India; certainly Helen was living with Eliza and her husband Admiral William WP Johnson[10] in England in 1866.

James and Annie’s youngest child was Edith Annie Shortt, my great grandmother, who was born in 1861 in Ahmedabad, India. Tragically her mother Annie died just 17 days later from diarrhea and exhaustion following her confinement.

James’ fortunes with employment were no better. After leaving the Army, he and Annie stayed in India and he is recorded as working in the secretariat of the Judicial Department in Bombay from 1851 to 1853. In 1855 he is listed as a clerk, but then prospects seem to have improved, as he held the post of Deputy Marshal of the Byculla House of Correction (a prison in Bombay) in 1856 and was its Governor from 1857-59. Thereafter his employment appears to have resumed its decline, for by 1862 he was a clerk on the Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian Railway.

In 1864 he brought my great grandmother Edith (and possibly one or more of her older sisters) back to England. Edith was put first into the guardianship of her maternal aunt, Sarah Rainier, and her husband Revd. George Rainier, and then into the guardianship of her maternal uncle, Admiral Henry Harvey.

The final tragedy of James Shortt’s life came when he died at sea of dysentery in 1865, probably on his return journey to India, and was buried at sea.

Thus, like her father, Edith Shortt was orphaned at a very young age. She was clearly told of the fate of her parents; a poignant letter, still in the family’s possession, from Henry Harvey to his sister Eliza mentions that ‘little Edith….says her own Papa “gone, dead, gone into the water. Mama died too.”’

Of the four surviving daughters of James Shortt, Mary remained in India and married a civil engineer, Robert Gompertz, but is believed to have died before 1882, when Robert re-married. Jessie (1850 – 1939) never married but went to England, eventually giving birth to a son, Henry. Helen (1855 – 1925) married George Humphreys, a farm labourer. Edith (1861 – 1933) married Thomas Hall, a post office clerk.

Contrasting Fortunes

Thus the two sons of Lt Col William C. Shortt and their descendants experienced contrasting fortunes. William TP Shortt initially followed his father’s footsteps by joining the Army, but the academic side of his nature led him away from military life into pioneering archaeological work. He lived to the age of 81, and several of his descendants continued the family tradition of military service right through to the early 21st century. He did not escape sadness, losing his daughter Kathleen when she was only 27 years old and his son-in-law in an act of murder in 1874.

His half-brother James S. Shortt suffered disadvantages that stemmed from being a second son orphaned at the age of just one year. With no university education, he joined the British Army at the age of 21. His first wife died when he was 29. For him, the early prestige of being an Army officer was later significantly tempered by his court martial, and more sadness came with the loss of five of his children in infancy. The final personal tragedy for him and his daughters was his death at sea at the age of 53; almost inevitably perhaps, the guardians of his three younger daughters could not provide sufficient financial resources for them to be able to live the privileged lives of their parents’ families.

This story of the lives of Lt Col William Shortt and his descendants is the result of much research by my cousin David Royle and myself. There are still many gaps in our knowledge and we would welcome any further information. This can be passed to us by contacting Nan J. Card, Curator of Manuscripts, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio at(

Acknowledgements: My family is grateful for information provided during our research by the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center (Fremont, Ohio), National Archives (Kew, London), the British Library (London), the Families in British India (FIBIS) website, Sue Andrew, G. Carlyle Hinshaw and Margaret McGrath.

This article has been copyrighted by Mike Hedges.


[1] Henry Shortt said that William was educated at Eton College, but my enquiries with the College suggest that this is not correct.
[2] Brevet rank was awarded for distinguished service, but the recipient retained the pay and responsibilities of his previous lower rank. Brevet rank could not be purchased.
[3] Ref. Bluejacket: Warrior of the Shawnees by John Sugden (University of Nebraska Press, 2000).
[4] Article in the Wyandotte Tribune, 3 November 1948.
[5] Information provided in an e-mail to the author.
[6] Correct spelling, but generally recorded as Taylor in later mentions of WTP Shortt
[7] From An Antiquary in Devon (WTP Shortt 1800 – 1881) by R.G. Goodchild, Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, 1947.
[8] From A Dissertation on the Site of Moridunum, The Gentleman’s Magazine, January to June 1849.
[9] From The King’s Own: The Story of a Royal Regiment Volume 2, 1814-1914, by Colonel L.I. Cowper (Oxford University Press, 1939).
[10] William Ward Percival Johnson (1790 – 1880) served as a young seaman on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.


NINA said...

James S Shortt was my great great grandfather as well. My mother is the granddaughter of Helen Ramsay Short. I am in India at present and was checking up on the connections in Tamil Nadu and came across your piece on the family history.
Certainly fills in a few holes but mostly known to us in the family.
My mother is now 88 but remembers her grandmother very well and her Aunt Jessie as well.
Admiral Johnson lived in the village and the Shortts and Humpreys have remained in the area of Little Baddow , Essex UK
I have a family tree that was prepared for a second cousin that goes back through the Harveys to the Ramsays that may interest you.
I am in Bangalore today but will have time this weekend to look through the article again.
Kind regards
Nigel Sizer

Nan Card said...

Thank you Nigel. So glad you saw this article by Mike from Portsmoth. I am sure he would like to make contact with you. Best regards Nan

Nan Card said...

Nigel: After Mike Hedges saw your interesting comment about James S. Shortt, he asked if you would be willing to share your email address with me so that I might pass it on to him. He would enjoy communicating with you. Many thanks. Nan

lindalee said...

I left you a little something on my blog. Check it out!

Nan Card said...

Thank you for considering Ohio's Yesterdays a worthy recipient of the "one-lovely-blog" award! It is rewarding to know that others find the posts about Ohio's past of interest. Most appreciatively, Nan

Bill Williams said...

Hi, I am researching my GGGG UNCLE John Symington, who was paymaster for NIAGARA IN WAR OF 1812. Saw the middle name Symington and wondered the name of the mother. You give it as Crooks. My John married a Elizabeth Crooks (widow) in 1800, Crooks is a popular family name in Niagara history.

Great story, Bill Williams

Nan Card said...

I am glad you enjoyed the Lt. Col. William Shortt post. Sadly, at this time I cannot add to your knowledge. We can hope that others can advance your research!

NigelSizer said...

Hi Bill !
Your post popped up on my mail yesterday and I was thinking that I have a family tree of the Cruix that a cousin made some time back.
On looking through it I can see that it appears your John Symington married Elizabeth Crooks ( nee Clark ) who was widowed in 1797 when her husband Francis Crooks died. It was her daughter Jane Crooks who married our Lt Col WC Shortt and died giving birth to James Symington Shortt in 1812. So probably they took the middle name from his maternal step grandfather which I believe was your John Symington.

Here's the bit that matters.

10. FRANCIS5 CROOKS (WILLIAM4, FRANCIS3, WILLIAM2, JOHN1 CRUIX) was born May 18, 1766 in Kilmarnock, Ayr, Scotland, and died 1797 in Antilles. He married ELIZABETH CLARK, daughter of JAMES CLARK and JEMIMA MASON.


18. i. FRANCIS6 CROOKS, b. Abt. 1785, Niagara, Ontario; d. May 13, 1845.

19. ii. JANE CROOKS, b. Abt. 1793; d. Abt. 1812.

20. iii. MARY CROOKS, b. Abt. 1795; d. Unknown.

I can send a copy of this tree by mail to Nan if you like , it came from my cousin via Mike Hedges who has what must be a wardrobe full of this stuff and is the best one to confirm if this is right or not.

Anyway I hope it helps with your search

Kind regards

Nigel Sizer

Susan McCall said...

I have often wondered if this Shortt is connected to my own Shortt line who settled in Ireland in the 1600s and now seem to have migrated mostly to Canada/USA and Australia and New Zealand. They had a great deal of men in the army too. I wondered if someone in this line had done the DNA test.

Might be worth considering. Some of us pooled out resources together to pay for a test which seems like a good idea.

Kind regards,

Sue McCall

Nan Card said...

I'm hoping to be able to confirm that Pilot Officer Harry A. Shortt belongs
to this family. According to the Aircrew Remembrance website , he was the son of Henry Shortt and lived in
Little Baddow. Although not related to the Shortt family, I do have a
connection with them through WW2. My uncle Jack Ward was the Observer in
the same crew as P.O. Harry Shortt when their Wellington was shot down over
Holland on 16th April 1942. They belonged to 214 Squadron and all the crew
are buried in Eindhoven, Holland.

I'm researching the crew members and after reading the blog, a google search
led me to believe that Nigel Sizer has a connection with the RAF through his
late father. Given Nigel's interest in genealogy and the RAF, I wondered if
he might have any information relating to 214 squadron and the crew of this
particular Wellington that could be pertinent to my research. I am, of
course, happy to share with him any information that I have.

If Nigel is interested in contacting me, could you please pass my email
address on to him.

Kind regards,

Judith Ward

John Hall said...

A very interesting blog about Lt.-Col. William Charles Shortt. I am interested in the provenance of the portrait. It seems unlikely to be of William Charles Shortt. The 41st Regiment of Foot had red facing to their uniforms, not green. Thus, the green collar strongly suggests a different regiment. From a cursory review of men named Shortt who served at this period, I have not found one who served in a regiment with green facings. So something of a mystery. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who may have further information about this portrait. Most kindly, John Hall.