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  Rev. Calvin Fairbank

Rev. Calvin Fairbank (November 3, 1816 - October 12, 1898) was an American abolitionist minister who spent more than 17 years in prison for his anti-slavery activities. Born in Pike, in what is now Wyoming County, New York, Fairbank grew up in an intensely religious family environment. Listening to the stories told by two escaped slaves whom he met at a Methodist quarterly meeting, he became strongly anti-slavery. He began his career freeing slaves in 1837 when, piloting a lumber raft down the Ohio River, he ferried a slave across the river to free territory. Soon he was delivering runaway slaves to the Quaker abolitionist Levi Coffin for transportation on the Underground Railroad to northern U.S. cities or to Canada.

The Methodist Episcopal Church licensed Fairbank to preach in 1840 and fully ordained him in 1842. Hoping to improve his education, he enrolled in 1844 in the "preparatory division" of Oberlin Collegiate Institute, now Oberlin College, a center of anti-slavery sentiment. Responding to an appeal to rescue the wife and children of an escaped slave named Gilson Berry, Fairbank left Oberlin for Lexington, Kentucky, where he made contact with Delia Webster, a teacher from Vermont who was to help with the rescue. Berry's wife failed to meet Fairbank as planned, so he and Webster set their sights on freeing Lewis Hayden and his family.

Fairbank and Webster successfully delivered Hayden, his wife Harriet and Harriet's son Joseph to freedom in Ohio, then returned to Kentucky where they were identified and arrested for assisting the runaway slaves. Webster was tried in December 1844 and sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary, but served less than two months of her sentence. Fairbank was tried in 1845 and received a 15-year term, five years for each of the slaves he helped free. He was pardoned in 1849 when a grateful Lewis Hayden raised the money to pay off Hayden's former master.

In 1851, Fairbank helped a slave named Tamar escape from Kentucky to Indiana. On November 9, with the connivance of the sheriff of Clark County, Indiana and Indiana Governor Joseph A. Wright, marshals from Kentucky abducted Fairbank and took him back to their state for trial. In 1852, he was again sentenced to 15 years in the state penitentiary, where he was singled out as a target for exceptionally harsh treatment that included flogging and overwork. Finally, in 1864, three years into the American Civil War, he was pardoned by Acting Governor Richard T. Jacob, who had long advocated Fairbank's release.

Once free, Fairbank married Mandana Tileston, to whom he had become engaged during his brief period of freedom in 1851. Known as "Dana," she moved from Williamsburg, Massachusetts, to Oxford, Ohio, in order to visit Fairbank in prison as often as possible and to press the case for his pardon with the Governor of Kentucky. Their only child, Calvin Cornelius Fairbank, was born in 1868.

The conditions of Fairbank's life in prison broke his health. Although he held jobs with missionary and benevolent societies, he was not able to support his family. At one point, he and his wife tried to earn a living operating a bakery in the utopian community of Florence, Massachusetts. Mandana Fairbank died of tuberculosis in 1876 and the couple's son was raised by her sister and brother-in-law. Fairbank remarried in 1879, but little is known of his second wife, Adeline Winegar.

Fairbank's memoirs were published in 1890 under the title Rev. Calvin Fairbank During Slavery Times: How He "Fought the Good Fight" to Prepare "The Way." Unhappily, this effort earned him little money. He died in 1898 in near-poverty in Angelica, New York, and is buried there in the Until the Day Dawn Cemetery. He is generally credited with helping free 47 slaves.

As Calvin says in his memoirs: "For aiding those slaves to escape from their bondage, I was twice imprisoned - in all seventeen years and four months; and received, during the eight years from March 1st, 1854 to March 1st, 1862, thirty-five thousand one hundred and five stripes from a leather strap fifteen to eighteen inches long, one and a half inches wide, and from one-quarter to three-eights of an inch thick. It was of half-tanned leather, and frequently well soaked, so that it might burn the flesh more intensely. These floggings were not with a rawhide or cowhide, but with a strap of leather attached to a handle of convenient size and length to inflict as much pain as possible, with as little real damage as possible to the working capacity".

Rev. Calvin Fairbank

Mandana Tileston Fairbank

Gravestone, Until The Day Cemetery,
Angelica, Allegany County, New York

  Sources and Further Reading:
    -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvin_Fairbank
  Fairbank, Rev. Calvin 'Rev. Calvin Fairbank During Slavery Times: How He "Fought the Good Fight" to Prepare "The Way" '.
  Published by R.R. McCabe & Co., Chicago, 1890
  Find A Grave:
    - http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=9581671


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