I won this beautiful daguerreotype on ebay. I bought it because I loved the image of the two men. But, the part I love the most now is the writing I found in the case, behind the photo. These two young men definitely had a sense of humor.
“Taken form (?) John B. Gillette & R. B. Fairchild at the ages of 25 & 23 – look as if we might be about 45 or 50 – August 30th 1859”
The sitters are John B. Gillette, born April, 1834, son of Abel Ferris and Lucy (nee Plat) Gillette, and Robert Bruce Fairchild, son of David Burton and Amy (nee Wayland) Fairchild, born June 9, 1836.
In 1840, both boys were living in Newtown, Fairfield county, Connecticut. By 1850, John was still in Newtown, but tragedy had befallen Robert. His father was killed in 1841 by an accident while blasting rock and his mother died in 1848, leaving Robert an orphan at the age of eleven. In 1850, he lived with the Rufus Couch family in nearby Danbury. The boys were distantly related; John’s Great Aunt, Mary Gillette, had married Zadock Fairchild, Robert’s first Cousin three times removed.
After sitting for their photograph on August 30, 1859, the two went on to live very different lives. John became a family man. He married Hyla Briggs in 1860 and had a son, John Francis, in 1861. As a young man, he lived in Newtown, working as a carpenter. In his 50s and 60s, he lived in New Haven, and worked as a salesman for G.T. Alling & Co. and H.W. Stow Lumber. After he retired, he formed John B. Gillette & Son, and sold fire insurance until his son’s death in 1921. His wife, Hyla, died in 1901 and he remarried Lucy Merwin in 1904. John died in 1925, at the age of 91, and was survived by his wife Lucy.
R.B. Fairchild never married. During the Civil War, he enlisted in the military and fought for the Union in Company I, Connecticut 23rd Infantry Regiment. He was taken prisoner in Louisiana when Captain Julius Sanford and his men were captured. The end of the Civil War did not bring an end to his military service. He made it his career, advancing to the rank of Colonel by the time of his death. He wrote a pocket guide titled General Rules for Non-Commissioned Officers that was published in 1873 and sold for 75 cents. In addition to his military career, he was engaged in the business of Sammis & Fairchild, with partner Franklin Sammis, in Bridgeport. The company offered tailoring, clothing, suiting, overcoats, fancy shirts, etc. He made his home at the Atlantic Hotel in Bridgeport. Robert Bruce Fairchild died on September 12, 1878, aged 42 years, of an illness that had lasted several months. In his will, he left his case of pictures to Mr. and Mrs. Frank H. Fairchild, (his only living brother and his wife), and Mary Jane Fairchild, (the widow of his brother George Newton). His two cases of books were to be equally divided between the children of his brothers. His gold watch and chain went to Frank. His military clothing and trappings were to be divided equally between Frank, and his nephew, George P. Fairchild. His funeral was highly attended by both civilians and military personnel and he was buried in Lakeview cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His headstone inscription reads “He chose that course in life which was most excellent and custom rendered it to him delightful.”
My research for this photo has been my most time consuming so far. I had names, ages and a date for when the photo was taken, but no location. This meant researching multiple individuals in an attempt to identify the sitters.
I began researching John Gillette, and found there were a slew of men with that name. I ruled out those who had the wrong middle initial and/or were not the right age. A few of them:
John M. Gillette living in Delaware, Ohio, born in 1833
John Gillette, son of Gelston and Rozilla, who died in 1853
John Benjamin Gillette living in NY, son of Zopher and Martha, born 1837
John B Gillette living in Massachusetts, born in France in 1830
John Gillette, born November 17, 1834, so would not have yet been 25, was a junior, and never used a middle initial
I was left with:
John B. Gillette, born April, 1834, son of Abel Ferris and Lucy, husband of Hyla Briggs, who was living in Newtown, Fairfield county, Connecticut in 1860.
I now turned my attention to R.B. Fairchild. Again, I was able to weed out many because of a different middle initial and/or age. Having only a first initial, and not a full name, made it tricky. Some that were ruled out:
Reuben Fairchild, living in Pennsylvania, born 1832
Richard E. Fairchild, born in New York in 1834
Robert W. Fairchild, born in 1836 in Connecticut
Richard F. Fairchild, born in Indiana in 1837
I narrowed it down to two and strangely enough, those two were both living in Fairfield county, Connecticut. This put the two Fairchilds in the same location as my John Gillette. A bit more research, and I ruled out Robert, son of Peter Warren and Caroline (nee Briscoe) Fairchild, as he was only 22 at the time of the photo, and I found a record of his middle initial being D.
This left me with Robert B. Fairchild, son of David Burton and Amy (nee Wayland) Fairchild, born June 9, 1836 in Fairfield county, Connecticut. He would have been 23 at the time of the photo. Bingo! I found multiple records referring to him as R.B. instead of Robert, including military records, city directory records, his obituary, even his will was penned as R.B. Fairchild.
It’s a good thing that I greatly enjoy research!
Find A Grave
Sammis & Fairchild – Bridgeport Daily Standard, Bridgeport, Connecticut, May 1, 1878
R. B.’s Obit – New York Tribune, New York, New York, September 18, 1878
R.B.’s Obit – Stamford Advocate, Stamford, Connecticut, Sept. 20, 1878
Commemorative Biographical Record of Fairfield County, Connecticut, 1899
Early Fairchilds in America, by Jean Gilmore
Newtown’s History and Historian, by Ezra Levan Johnson
Connecticut Wills and Probate Records, 1609-1999
New Haven City Directories
Bridgeport City Directories