Thriller Thursday – William S. Shaner’s Terrible Death

Today’s Thriller Thurday posting (a prompt suggested by members of Geneabloggers) is the tragic story of William S. Shaner.

William S. Shaner was born November 24, 1840, probably in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He was the oldest child of Thomas Maberry Shaner and Naomi Strickland. William had a hard childhood in so much as his mother died October 4, 1849 just months before William’s 9th birthday. He and his younger siblings were apparently taken in by relatives or apprenticed out as none of them are living with their father in the 1850 census.

While there are a couple of other William Shaners in Chester County of similar age, it is believed that he is the William Shaner, age 9, living with the family of David (aka Daniel) Benner in East Coventry Township, Chester County, PA in 1850. (William’s younger brother, Davis E. Shaner, is living with Henry and Elizabeth Shaner and is listed on the same census sheet, just 2 families later.) Mr. Benner was a carpenter, and although William did not become a carpenter himself, it is possible that he was originally placed with the Benners to learn that trade.

At some point in the 1850s, William’s father Thomas married a woman named Margaret. Together they had a son Thomas Jr., born in 1859. By the time of the 1860 census, both William and his younger sister Phoebe had moved back home and were living in Uwchlan Township with their father and his new wife and son. Oddly enough both William (then aged 19) and Phoebe (then aged 14) are listed as having attended school that year.

On December 21, 1864, William married Sallie Milligan at the Lutheran parsonage at Lionville, Pennsylvania. Together they had two known children, Jefferson S. in 1865 and William in 1869. In 1870, the couple and their sons were living in Uwchlan. Sadly, Sallie died in 1876. And it was only about a year later, on December 20, 1877 that William S. Shaner met his tragic fate.

William was an employee of the American Wood Paper Company of Spring City, PA. Paper-making was a big business in Chester County, PA. As early as 1800 there were at least 8 paper mills and by 1874 there were reportedly 37 paper mills in the county. The American Wood Paper Company, where William was employed, was noted as being a pioneer in the use of wood as a raw material for making paper rather than the traditional rags, linen and cotton.

Paper-making was a hazardous industry and due to the nature of the machinery and the pulleys, personal injury was a constant threat. Sadly, William’s life was claimed in just such an industrial accident.

It was about 5 o’clock on a Thursday morning, and William was in the process of shifting some belts on one of the pulleys in the paper mill. Unfortunately he became entangled in the belt and was pulled between a fly wheel and the stone floor – a space of only about 5 inches in height. Although his co-workers attempted to stop the machine as soon as possible, it was too late. Just about every bone in William’s body was crushed. His neck was broken and his spine was fractured. In addition, his left arm was wrenched from the socket and his ribs were crushed. Physicians believed that his death was nearly instantaneous. His death was ruled a tragic accident.

William was 37 years old when he died. He was widowed and the father of two young boys. His sons apparently moved to West Chester, PA and were raised by their grandfather and step-grandmother, Thomas Shaner and his wife Margaret.

My connection to William S. Shaner is that he was my 3rd cousin, 4 times removed. If you also have a connection to this family, I would love to hear from you.


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