Calvin Fairbank


Because Calvin Fairbank was arrested in Jeffersonville, Indiana, he is considered worthy of mention in Indiana history.  He worked the Ohio Valley borderlands leading fugitive slaves to freedom and because of that suffered near death.

Released from the Kentucky State Penitentiary in the spring of 1864, Reverend Calvin Fairbank fell to the ground as soon as he reached Ohio. "I kissed the dirt of my adopted State," he later recalled, "and rising to my feet, and throwing my hands high in (the) air, I shouted: Out of the Mouth of Death! Out of the Jaws of Hell!!"1

A convicted felon, Reverend Fairbank had served two separate terms for the same offense. In all, he spent over seventeen years and four months behind prison walls. During one eight year period alone, Fairbank claimed he received over thirty-five thousand, one hundred and five stripes from the lash. Although confined with murderers and thieves, Fairbank lost his youth and his freedom for the "crime" of helping Kentucky slaves escape to freedom.2

Calvin Fairbank's 1890 autobiography is filled with similar accounts of brutal treatment. His first term of four years and ten months ended in 1849 when he was pardoned by Governor John J. Crittenden. When he began his second lengthier term in 1852, the Abolitionist heard the warden snarl, ". . . take Fairbank to the hackling house and kill him." The hackling house was part of the prison's hemp production area where conditions were so brutal that during one fifteen month period three inmates deliberately chopped off a hand in order to escape the hated task.3

To Fairbank there was "very little difference between the condition of the prisoner and that of an actual slave." As previously noted, the Abolitionist was flogged repeatedly during his second term. During the fall of 1863, Fairbank was struck by a club with such force that he was temporarily blinded. The end finally came in the spring of 1864 when Leslie Combs, the staunch Unionist who intervened on behalf of young Tom Johnson, sought a formal pardon for the long suffering prisoner.4


1Research Paper by - James M. Prichard
Into the Fiery Furnace