My Fairman family was always sort of a mystery to me. My mom’s mom was born a Fairman and although I knew of the existence of some members of the family through things my mother told me, I had only met only one Fairman while growing up, my mom’s Uncle Dewey. And it was only once or twice that I saw him. All the other Fairman family members were never in our home, never called, just pretty much not part of our lives. The past couple of years I tried to remedy that situation and I researched and reached out to the Fairman family. Most have been so very welcoming and have shared Fairman stories with me. I have met up with a few and we really enjoyed our meeting, I plan to meet with more in the near future. I blogged about some of the Fairman family here. But this blog entry is about one of the Fairman family that I found during my research that I thought was especially interesting.
It turns out that the Fairmans were some of the very first settlers of the colonies, starting with John Firmin arriving in about 1630 who settled first in Watertown, Connecticut. One of his descendants is Gideon Fairman (1774-1827) who is my 2nd cousin 6 times removed. While researching the Fairman family I came across Gideon’s portrait and I was intrigued. It turns out that he was an important artist in his day. His specialty was engraving which I had to look up as I wasn’t familiar with the term in art: Engraving, technique of making prints from metal plates into which a design has been incised with a cutting tool called a burin.
I found this write up of Gideon from 1859 and it seems to sum up well what Gideon did through his life:
The Lives of Eminent Philadelphians, Now Deceased
By Henry Simpson
Member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Gideon Fairman—a captain, and then a colonel, in the war of 1812, of militia, and volunteers—was born at Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut, June 26th, 1774.
At an early age he exhibited an extraordinary mechanical ingenuity and taste for the fine arts. He placed himself as an apprentice to Isaac Crane, a mechanic in New Mitford, a few miles distant from Newtown. Shortly after he came to the town, an English engraver by the name of Brunton, to whom some specimens of Fairman’s genius had been shown, pronounced his performances astonishing, and advised his father to encourage the youth in a pursuit in which he bade so fair to distinguish himself.
After residing a short time at New Mitford with his family, he determined to leave a place where he could obtain no instruction in the art of engraving. He therefore started on foot with eighteen cents in his pocket, and walked to Hudson, on the North River. From thence he found means to reach Albany, where he bound himself apprentice to Messrs. Isaac and George Hutton, jewellers and engravers.
At the age of twenty-one he commenced business for himself, winning the good opinion of all by a natural grace of manner, joined to great intelligence and a fine person.
In 1798, he married. In 1810, he came to this city, where a company of bank-note engravers was formed under the firm-title of Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co., who commenced business in Sansom Street above Eighth Street.
In the year 1819, he was induced to enter into another partnership with Mr. Jacob Perkins, and he accompanied the latter to England, where he resided three years. Not long after commencing business in England, they took into partnership the celebrated engraver, Charles Heath.
Mr. Fairman died on the 18th of April, 1827. He was, to the last, a man of uncommon physical powers, beauty of person, and elegance of deportment. He and the late George Murray contributed more than any other persons to elevate the beautiful art of engraving in this country.
I was so surprised to learn he was a volunteer in the War of 1812 and rose to the rank of Colonel, which he was addressed by for the remainder of his life. He was a detailed artist, highly regarded, and was very much the entrepreneur, being in many business partnerships in his life. Following are a few of his engravings that exist today:
Gideon was also involved with some partners in bank note engraving. At that time banks printed their own paper money and for a time Gideon and partners printed quite a bit of money for bank customers. Unfortunately, this also led to criminals trying to take advantage. Here is an article I found in an Albany, New York newspaper from August 1825.
I found a follow up article on the robbery. It seems that 2 years after the robbery, after Gideon’s death, the police rounded up a gang of counterfeiters and in a trunk they found 50 of the bank note impressions that they believed came from Gideon’s robbery. I don’t know how many were stolen, but I am glad they were found. Counterfeiting was very rampant in those days and the police were always on the look out.
As far as Gidions personal life, I am having a little trouble nailing down if he was married once or twice. I know he had one son that died at 5 months old and one daughter that survived. But one article I read said he had a few children but I can’t quite find any records of more children yet. I won’t give up though.
Gideon died on the 17th of March, 1827. He was only 51 years old although by the standards of that time he was pretty old. I found a flowery obituary for him on Newspapers.com.
Lastly, here is a painting of Gideon done by Thomas Sulley in 1824, just 3 years before his death.
I love finding out more about my Fairman side of the family, they are an interesting bunch. Stay tuned for more!