Thursday, March 31, 2016

George Fawkner -- Was he Entrepreneurial or just Unsettled?

George S. Fawkner is one of my favorite characters. To the best of my knowledge, he has no descendants, but I think end-of-line characters are worth remembering. After all, George had nephews, nieces and cousins, and he was part of their lives.

I like George partly for his middle name: Spencer. It's completely unimportant that you know this, but I think I like the name because I was born in Spencer, Iowa. George used his middle initial "S." religiously, but the only record I have seen giving the name Spencer is his widow's application for his Civil War pension, in which she swore that she was “the widow of George Spencer Fawkner who was enrolled under the name George S. Fawkner. The origin of the name is no mystery, however.  He was named after his mother's brother, Spencer Faulconer.

As last week's post revealed, George had tried harness-making and had a shaking law enforcement career in Illinois and Indiana after the Civil War. By 1880, the family was in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where the census stated he was a merchant "taking coal." He presumably moved to Minnesota after 1877, because his 3-year old daughter, M. Kate, had been born in Indiana. The family’s 1880 residence was apparently a multi-family dwelling with a half dozen families. Among them were printers, dressmakers, merchants and teachers; a couple of families had young female servants.

The first evidence placing the Fawkners in St. Paul was an entry in the “Removals, Alterations and Omissions” section of the 1879-80 city directory listing with the firm of “Bendre & Fawkner.” Bendre and Fawkner’s line of work remains uncertain.  No other mention of a Bendre has been found in city directories or the census, but Louis and Fritz Bender were tailors. The 1880-81 city directory hints at tailoring, placing George in the sewing machine trade, while wife Mary was engaged in millinery with her niece Miss A. D. Walker.

1883 St. Paul, MN, City Directory, p. 537.
George soon switched to the travel agency business.  Directories from 1884 to 1888-89 listed George Fawkner working for a travel agency, Matheny, Haney & Co. The family moved frequently, living at 286 Pleasant St. in 1884-85, and at 378 N. Franklin by 1888-89. Was George simply drifting from one trade to another, or making real financial progress?  A clue on the side of progress is the 1891-92 city directory, which identified him as the U.S. Government Inspector of Surveys. The family was now living at a fashionable address on St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill: 686 Dayton Avenue. A government job may have led to political connections, or possibly connections led to the job.  At any rate, George’s daughter Fairibelle captured the heart of Herbert C. Braden, the son of the Minnesota State Auditor.  They were married in October 1892.

Earlier, in 1887, daughter Jennie had married Thomas Parker Pease. Jennie died only 15 months later from complications of a premature birth. No surviving children are known. Thomas was boarding with the Fawkners on Dayton Ave. in 1889-90 and 1890-91. By 1893, Pease had moved to a downtown dwelling. 

The 1894 St. Paul directory reported that George Fawkner had moved to Minneapolis. The 1896-96 Minneapolis directory found George S. Fawkner still working as a travel agent and living at 118 E. 14th St. The 1895 Minnesota census recorded George’s family at 112 E. 14th St., but the state census did not record occupation. Likely, either the census or city directory made an error in recording the house number.

The duration of George Fawkner's tenure as Inspector of Surveys is uncertain, but as newspaper accounts from across the western United States attest, the job took him far from home on long train journeys. Local papers commonly made note that the Inspector was in town on official business. George might even have made a little money on the side. An Ogden, Utah, jeweler advertised he had for sale a quantity of opals acquired from George Fawkner, the U.S. Inspector of Surveys.
The Standard (Ogden, UT), 1 April 1893

Was this a case of entrepreneurial spirit, of a case of a man who had a hard time settling down? Since George's last descendant died in 1954, there are no stories to illuminate the evidence. Next week's post will take up George's last journey.

No comments:

Post a Comment