Open main menu

FAIRFAX, JOHN (1623–1700), ejected minister, second son of Benjamin Fairfax (1592–1675), ejected from Rumburgh, Suffolk, who married Sarah, daughter of Roger and Joane Galliard, of Ashwellthorpe, Norfolk, was born in 1623. Theophilus Brabourne (1590–1662) [q. v.], the sabbatarian, was his uncle by marriage. The Suffolk Fairfaxes are a branch of the ancient Fairfax family of Walton and Gilling, Yorkshire. Fairfax dates his religious impressions from an incident which occurred in his eleventh year: ‘the (supposed) sudden death of his sister in the cradle.’ He was admitted at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1640. After graduating B.A. he was appointed a fellow by the Earl of Manchester on 10 Jan. 1644–5 (admitted 14 Jan.) in the room of Thomas Briggs, ejected. He had qualified by subscribing the covenant, and undergoing an examination by the Westminster Assembly. He graduated M.A. in 1647. From his fellowship he was ejected in 1650 or 1651, on refusing to take the ‘engagement’ of 1649, promising fidelity to the Commonwealth, ‘without a king or house of lords.’ He then obtained the rectory of Barking-cum-Needham, Suffolk, worth 140l. a year, and held it until the Uniformity Act of 1662.

Fairfax continued to reside in his own house at Barking, and used all opportunities of preaching. He received pecuniary assistance from Dame Brook (d. 22 July 1683, aged 82), widow of Sir Robert Brook of Cockfield Hall, near Yoxford, Suffolk, a lady who, while thinking separation on account of nonconformity unreasonable, ‘relieved many sober nonconformists with great bounty.’ He was also aided by his neighbour, John Meadows [q. v.], an ejected minister of good property, who afterwards married his niece. Fairfax's preaching got him more than once into prison. Of his last imprisonment there is a full account in his own letters. On Tuesday, 5 July 1670, Fairfax and other ministers attended the parish church of Walsham-in-the-Willows, Suffolk. ‘After the liturgy was read by the minister of the parish a sermon was preached by a non-licensed minister,’ Stephen Scandaret. During sermon Fairfax and five other ministers were arrested, and committed to the county gaol at Bury St. Edmunds. At the quarter sessions they were released on their own recognisances to appear at the next assize. The judge before whom they appeared was Sir Richard Raynsford, noted for his severity to nonconformists. The grand jury found a true bill against one of them (Simpson); others, including Fairfax, on ‘a general suggestion’ of the justices who had committed them, that they were ‘persons dangerous to the public peace,’ were sent to prison by Raynsford ‘till they should find sureties for their good behaviour.’ After ‘five months' close imprisonment’ in Bury gaol, they applied to the common pleas for a writ of habeas corpus, which the judges were of opinion they could not grant, and advised a petition to the king. On 18 March 1671 Fairfax was still in prison. His sister Priscilla (d. 1708), who was in the service of Reynolds, bishop of Norwich, urged him to conform. He probably obtained his release at the following assize; and on the issue of the king's indulgence (15 March 1672) he took out a license as ‘a presbyterian teacher at the house of Margaret Rozer, Needham Market,’ thus resuming the pastoral care of the nonconformist portion of his old parish.

Though now in his fiftieth year, Fairfax entered on a renewed career of great activity in the formation of nonconformist congregations. He preached ‘seven times in a fortnight,’ besides ‘occasional sermons.’ His pulpit preparation was ‘by meditation’ rather than by writing, but his discourses were remarkable for their method and pertinency. He aided the settlement of young ministers, as the ejected died out. On the death of Owen Stockton (10 Sept. 1680), he took the charge of the nonconformist congregation in Ipswich, in addition to his own. The independent section formed a separate congregation in 1686; on the issue of James's ‘declaration for liberty of conscience’ next year (4 April), the presbyterians under Fairfax hired a building for public worship in St. Nicholas parish. Timothy Wright became his assistant at Ipswich in 1698. On 26 April 1700 Fairfax opened the existing meeting-house in St. Nicholas Street (now unitarian). His work was done. He died at Barking on 11 Aug. 1700. The funeral sermon was preached on 15 Aug. in the parish church by Samuel Bury [q. v.] Fairfax was succeeded at Needham by his grandnephew, John Meadows, who in his later years was assisted by Joseph Priestley; and at Ipswich by Wright, who died in November 1701, aged 42.

Fairfax married Elizabeth, daughter of William Cowper of Mosborough, Derbyshire. From his eldest son, Nathaniel (1661–1722), are descended the Kebles of Creeting, Suffolk, who possess an original painting of John Fairfax; a duplicate is in the possession of the Harwoods of Battisford, descended from his daughter Elizabeth (born 1668), who married Samuel Studd of Coddenham, Suffolk; his other children were Thomas (?) and William.

He published: 1. ‘The Dead Saint Speaking,’ &c., 1679, 4to (this is a sermon preached at Dedham, Essex, on 16 Sept. 1668, in memory of Matthew Newcomen [q. v.]; it was reported to Sheldon as containing ‘dangerous words’ at an ‘outrageous conventicle;’ the publication, which bears Fairfax's initials, was made against his consent by John Collinges, D.D. [q. v.]). 2. ‘Πρεσβύτερς διπλῆς τιμῆς ἄξιος … life of … O. Stockton … funeral sermon,’ &c., 1681, 12mo (dedicated to the Lady Brook; the sermon has separate title-page, ‘Mors Triumphata,’ &c.). Of the life there is an abridged reprint in ‘Christian Biography,’ 1826, 12mo. 3. ‘Primitiæ Synagogæ,’ &c., 1700, 4to (sermon on opening the Ipswich meeting-house; dedicated to Sir Thomas Cuddon, chamberlain of the city of London). His funeral sermon (1673) for Samuel Spring, ejected from St. Mary's, Creeting, is quoted by Calamy, but does not seem to have been published.

[Funeral Sermon by S. Bury, 1702; Calamy's Account, 1713, pp. 643 sq., 653, 662 sq.; Walker's Sufferings, 1714, ii. 143; Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial, 1803, iii. 249 (makes him of Christ Church, Oxford); Masters's Hist. College of Corpus Christi (Lamb), 1831; Taylor's Suffolk Bartholomeans, 1840, p. 14 sq. (gives original letters, papers, and pedigrees, and lithographed portrait by Weld Taylor); Davis's Evang. Nonconf. in Essex, 1863, p. 382; Browne's Hist. Congr. Norf. and Suff., 1877, pp. 367, 369, 390, 491, 493 sq.]

A. G.