JAIRUS CASSIUS FAIRCHILD


From History of Dane County, Wisconsin, publ. by Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1880, page 532-535

JAIRUS CASSIUS FAIRCHILD was born on the 27th of December 1801. A younger son of a large family, he might have remained there but for the loss of his mother at an early age. As he used laughingly to express it, he "found he could not govern his step-mother," and so, at eleven years, he started out to seek his fortune. Probably, among the hardy pioneers of the time, this did not seem so doubtful a venture as it might now do. It must be added that the same step-mother afterward paid him a visit at his home in Ohio,and received most affectionate attention from himself and his wife, to whose children she became much attached. Unfortunately, there is no clear record of these early years, full of adventure and of persevering effort. Doubtless a most entertaining book might be made of them, if any friend could clearly recall the stories he has related of scenes through which he passed. He recollected vividly the news of the attack on Sackett's Harbor, brought by a man mounted on a horse detached from the plow, who, seeing a fresher one standing harnessed at his father's door, threw himself from one to the other, and continued his journey over hill and dale to warn the people of the approaching enemy.

Fifteen months would cover all the time spent in schools. But he was a careful observer, with retentive memory; and, whether he earned his bread at the weaver's loom, or by business journeys through the country, on both sides of River St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, he laid up stores of practical knowledge which made him a cyclopedia for those who sought information from him in later years.

An indefatigable and critical reader, nothing came amiss to his inquiring, thoughtful mind; and, even at this early period, he had reasoned and drawn conclusions upon subjects not speculated upon by his companions; and theories now commonly received were reached by him alone and unaided. One fact, unimportant in itself, shows a marked character and capacity. He always rose late. Entering upon any employment, this fact was always mentioned by him, and the hope expressed that he should make himself so valuable after he was up as to make up for the loss of time. One smiles to think of the young boy thus frankly dictating terms to his masters, expressing a hope that he might overcome his tendency, but, if it proved impossible, asking consideration - a consideration which was never denied. This is mentioned, not as a good precedent, but only as showing a characteristic.

At twenty-one we find him, with an elder brother, Marcus Brutus, entering Ohio in search of a permanent home. They separated at Cleveland, agreeing to meet there at a certain time, and report progress. But the brother never returned; and, after weary and anxious waiting, the subject of this sketch entered upon an engagement with Owen BROWN, the father of that John BROWN, whose devotion to the cause of Anti-slavery and raid into Virginia have given him so wonderful a place in the history of our country. This Owen BROWN was a remarkable man; a volume might be written of his sayings, full of wit, and of keen, shrewd good sense. An industrious and prosperous man, he stood high among his fellows, and was a valuable friend to a young man starting in life.

Among his other enterprises he had a tannery, and taught the young man this trade, and soon after John BROWN and Mr. FAIRCHILD became partners in the business. But John BROWN - stern, unbending, a man of "one idea," the stuff of which martyrs are made - grand and sublime though he be in history, was not the most suave and agreeable companion one could find for social relations; and this arrangement was very brief, though a friendship continued. For when, some years later, John lost his wife, the fact was announced in a letter to his former partner, beginning, "My good, faithful, obedient wife, Diantha, is dead."

About this time, Mr. FAIRCHILD met with Sally BLAIR, a handsome, energetic daughter of New England, of Scotch-Irish descent, gifted with Scotch persistency and Irish kindliness. One brief meeting left upon each so strong an impression, that the acquaintance was voluntarily renewed; and a few months later, in the spring of 1826, he brought his bride home to Franklin Mills (now Kent), Ohio, where they lived in a log house a year, till their own house was built.

After all his wanderings and struggles, we find the homeless, self-instructed boy anchored by his 'ain fireside." Here four children were born, and one laid under the sod. He built a brick store, now pointed out as the first brick building ever erected in the town. Very small it looks; but it was regarded with no contempt then. No success or position of later years was brighter or more beautiful than these few years passed by him in the thriving little village, as the proprietor of a large tannery, of "the store," and his own cottage close by it, a Justice of the Peace, and known as "the Squire" in all the neighboring counties. He was an active temperance man. So prevalent was drunkenness at this time that nothing short of total abstinence could remedy the evil. Tobacco and stimulants in all forms were fought against with all his youthful vigor; and not till near his fiftieth year did he, by the advice of several physicians, adopt the occasional use of them. This period, uneventful in a written history, afforded time for maturing and assimilating the experiences and observations of his previous years; for reading law, in order that he might faithfully and justly act as "Squire;" for investigating financial and political questions to fit him for business and citizenship. But to him personally this was a period of intense interest. His busy days were followed by sleepless nights of study of the Bible, and thoughtful talks with his clergyman and others. An active and prayerful church-member, his views of Christian duty were extreme and vigorous; and though these most conscientious struggles resulted in a positive rejection of the miraculous claims of theology, they gave an enviable familiarity, with the teachings and spirit of the Founder of Christianity, and a steadfast faith in the wisdom of the command to "do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God."

During all these years, one of the delightful domestic events was the frequent visits of his good old friend Owen BROWN, whose affection extended to the wife and children, and whose habit of frightful stammering only added a charm to the keen wit and kindly good-humor which made him a delight to children as well as to the older ones.

In 1834, he removed to Cleveland - then rushing on in the full tide of speculation - just in time to be stranded by the tidal wave of 1837, which wrecked so many imaginary millionaires. His little brood, incapable of comprehending the prosperity, were taught by this adversity that opportunities for education were to be made the most of; and much of the sons' perseverance, and faithful performance of small duties, may have been unconsciously derived from their father's humbling experiences in this '"crash." While engaged in the wearisome and mortifying business of adjusting these affairs, there came to him, unexpectedly, a position in the secret service of the Government, which gave him active employment and means of subsistence during the period in which his hands were tied by his embarrassments. It also afforded him opportunity to choose a home wherein he should start anew.

One dreary March day, driving against a biting north wind, in the year 1846, he arrived in Madison, Wis.; and, after a stay of less than twenty-four hours, he wrote to his wife in Cleveland that he had found the place wherein he should live and die. This active, far-seeing helpmeet was ready for the summons, and, bringing children and household goods, joined him in Milwaukee.

Driving two and a half days over green prairies and through "oak openings," where shadows danced upon a brilliant carpet of flowers, they reached Madison, June 8, 1846.

The First Constitutional Convention, occurring this year not only brought most of the leading men of the State together in Madison, but made political questions the subject of everyday common conversation. Into these he threw himself with eager interest; and, though some of the progressive measures most pleasing to him led to the rejection of the constitution by the people, he lived to see most of them adopted by the State.

He had been a Henry Clay Whit, a "stump" speaker during the campaign which elected Harrison; and was one of the few who sustained John Tyler in his course after the death of the President brought him to the head of the administration. Perhaps it was not so much that he agreed with him in the abstract as that he claimed for him the right to carry out the principles he had always held, and his known advocacy of which had given strength to the efforts which resulted in the triumph of the party. So few were the Tyler men that they were known as the "corporal's guard" - a sobriquet cheerfully accepted by himself and others.

This state of things naturally drifted him with the Democrats; and he was elected State Treasurer at the first State election, on the Democratic ticket, at the head of which was Gov. DEWEY, and was elected to the same office, for a second term, in 1849. In 1851, and again in 1853, he was pressed by his friends for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and on the second occasion lacked only two votes of the number required to confer the nomination.

He was the only State officer who kept house in Madison; and his own and his wife's unfailing hospitality made their simple, unpretending home a delightful social center, and familiarly known to all whose business or tastes brought them to the City of the Lakes. Perhaps in this way, more than in any public positions, was their united influence exercised in the rapidly-increasing community. All his efforts went to develop the resources of his own visibility, and to advance the interests of his neighbors. If he gained a little money, instead of seeking some safe investment, where he could profit by the industry of others, he put it into improvements of the town or State. Immediately upon his arrival in Madison, he set about getting a home for life. His first step was to buy a saw-mill in the pinery; and, running his own lumber down to Prairie du Sac, he had it hauled by teams, twenty-five miles, to Madison. Then there was no brick. The beautiful stone now easily procured, was then inaccessible; so he started a brick-yard, and made enough brick for all his own buildings, and to go far toward paying for the other materials used. These things being ready, the architect who was to have taken charge failed, and so he completed the job by giving his own daily personal attention to the details of the work to the end. A home gained under such difficulties and enriched by memories of years of hospitality is not to be bought with mere money.

While he was a State officer, he became intimately acquainted with the whole State through his ex officio connection with the Commissioners for the Care of Schools and University Lands; and, though he was strongly averse to much they were obliged to do, considering it a waste or misuse of a noble endowment, yet he enjoyed giving his time and strength to the work, and was faithful and efficient in efforts to avert evils, and accomplish good.

Not much is it to tell - the first State Treasurer in a new State, the first Mayor in a very small city, the builder of an unassuming home and of other modest buildings. But his influence was widely felt in his day; and who shall say where it will end? He could not sleep comfortably in his bed if he knew others to be homeless and suffering. He was foremost in every public work. No widow or orphan was ever turned away till his best thought and kindest aid had been given. No man, not even the worthless, ever appealed to his friendship in vain. He felt that want of success often stamped a man as worthless among his fellows; and the unfortunate was sure of his aid. At one time his banker refused to accept his name as an endorser, giving as a reason, that his name was on two-thirds of the paper in Dane County. Of course he had losses; of course he a very few times aided scamps; of course he had no millions to divide among his children. It is not a good example to follow to that extent. And yet, who would not prefer the troubles and embarrassments brought on by such a life, to those attending a selfish life?

He had a powerful frame, a large, intellectual head, fine features, a fair complexion, and bright auburn, curling hair. His physical strength was enormous. At one time, when a spirited horse which he was driving, frenzied by fright, had started to run, he stopped him by main strength, nearly pulling him back into the buggy. Though genial in his ways, and under habitual self-control, his passions were strong; and his keen sense of honor led him to quick resentment of any attack upon his character. The first year of his residence in Madison, he walked steadily into a printing office, and, with his own unaided arm, broke up a newspaper from upon the press, then printing false words derogatory to him. This strength and self-reliance in his person appearance made the feebleness and loss of sight of his last months peculiarly touching.

His life went out in darkness. The war came. He had foreseen it with deepest pain. He was of those who thought that the election of Douglas over Lincoln would have averted it for the time, possibly would have shifted it along until different circumstances had quietly accomplished the end which came only through blood and anguish. But, when the call for men came, and his son Lucius was one of the first five in the State to enlist to serve in any capacity required, he made no objection. It was his country; and the union was essential to his idea of it. And, when Cassius, returning from the wilds of the pinery to find the country aflame with the war-spirit, added his name to the already tremendous list, he gave no sigh. He expect, as a matter of course, if there was work to be done, all his boys would do it. And though great tears rolled down his cheeks, already thin and pallid at the rapid approach of death, those precious lives were never recalled, even to comfort his last days. The fortunes of war sent his eldest son, Cassius, back on a stretcher, with a ball in his thigh, to occupy an adjoining bedroom during his father's last days, and, with his mother and sister, to follow, on crutches, the revered from to its last resting-place. But with all the sense of personal loss, with all the frightful sense of danger to his eldest son in the Western Army, his second in the Army of the Potomac, and his third son and youngest child in the navy, now on guard below Richmond, in James River, and then participating in the siege of Charleston, his great grief, his really first thought, was for his country - the fear that peace had fled from it for a long time, if not forever. No victories came to cheer his last days. With failing strength and nearly extinguished sight, he went out in the darkest days of the war, just when defeat after defeat had begun to teach our armies how large a task had been undertaken. He died July 18, 1862.


Transcribed and contributed to this site by Carol

 

 

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