History & Tourism

Richland Roots: Pastor, Educator, Politican, Diplomat: The Life Of Edmund Fairfield

3 Nov , 2019  

Throughout its history, Richland County has produced or been the home to a wide variety of individuals that have made important contributions to the world. 1812Blockhouse has been sharing their stories in a series we started last year called “Richland Roots.” For other Richland Roots stories, click here.

Few we have profiled in this series have held the variety of positions that the subject of today’s profile held during his lifetime. Edmund Burke Fairfield was a minister, a politician, a writer, a university executive, and a member of the United States diplomatic corps.

Fairfield

Twice during his long life, he also held the position of pastor of Mansfield’s First Congregational Church.

Born in 1821 in West Virginia to a slave owning family, Edmund’s father moved the Fairfields to Troy, Ohio and executed a private emancipation of those slaves. Edmund was a cousin of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson on his mother’s side.

He graduated from Oberlin College, and would later receive degrees from both Indiana University and Denison University.

In 1849, Fairfield took the position of President of Free Baptist College in Michian, which moved in 1853 and became Hillsdale College. Subsequently, he was elected to the Michigan State Senate and then to the position of Lieutenant Governor. It was at this time that he published his best known short work, a hard copy version of a speech on the prohibition of slavery in US territories, a work which had a print run of 50,000 copies.

Fairfield’s first tenure at First Congregational in Mansfield took place between 1869 and 1875. It was during this time that he became embroiled in a major controversy over the alleged adultery of the well-known Henry Ward Beecher, himself a Congregationalist minister of national stature. In making these allegations, he gained the opposition of one of the leading local figures of the time, General Roefliff Brinkerhoff. The matter took front page newspaper space for more than a year.

All must have been forgiven, however, as Fairfield was preaching again in Mansfield within a handful of years.

In 1875 he took the position as the head of what is now Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the year later the role as the second chancellor for the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The latter position ended seven years later after Fairfield and the university trustees butted heads on the subject of the role of religion in education, Fairfield taking a more conservative view on that subject.

Fairfield’s later years were spent again in Mansfield with First Congregational Church, and as US Consul in Lyon, France.

During his years in Mansfield, the Fairfields lived in the Congregational Church rectory at 97 Market Street/Park Avenue West. Their neighbors were the leading families of the day, including members of the Sturges, Purdy, and Black families.

The above photo shows the old University Hall of the University of Nebraska.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, Harvard Press; Mansfield Herald; Find-a-Grave; Photo: Public Domain

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