Portraitist Samuel M. Shaver was born in Sullivan County, the son of David Shaver and Catherine (Barringer) Shaver. He may have been influenced by William Harrison Scarborough (1812-1871), a native-born Tennessee artist, four years Shaver’s senior, who did portraits of Shaver’s relatives. Shaver’s earliest known painting dates to 1845, but he was probably painting before that time. For the next quarter-century, he was East Tennessee’s standard portraitist.
In 1845 Shaver married Mary Hannah Elizabeth Powel, daughter of the late Congressman Samuel Powel. The couple lived with the congressman’s widow in Rogersville and were the parents of two daughters. In 1851 Shaver was professor of drawing and painting at the Odd Fellows Female Institute in Rogersville. In 1852 he advertised in Greeneville and Knoxville papers; for several years thereafter his whereabouts are unknown. The death of his first wife in January 1856 recalled him to Rogersville, where he remained until the Civil War.
At the outset of the war, pro-Confederate Shaver moved to Knoxville, where he became one of the founders of the East Tennessee Art Association. The association commissioned him to do portraits of fifteen Confederate leaders and generals, presumably from photographs. None of the portraits have been located, and perhaps they were never painted. From 1863 to 1868 Shaver lived and worked near Russellville. About 1868 he joined his mother-in-law and family in Jerseyville, Illinois, near St. Louis, where he continued painting. He died on June 21, 1878.