The Musical Kirkmans originated around mid 1500's in Niederoesch, Switzerland. In the mid 1600's the family moved from Switzerland to the village of Bischwiller, Alsace (then in Germany but now in France). Around 1650 Hans Peter Kirchmann established himself in Bischwiller. At that time he was a weaver by trade. He married Marie Branget who was of Huguenot origins.
In 1710 Jacob, his grandson, was born. Jacob Kirchman emigrated to London in the early 1730s and became the foreman for the eminent harpsichord manufacturer Hermann Tabel. When Tabel died in 1738, Jacob married his widow, formed a partnership with his nephew Abraham, anglicised their names and took over the business.
During the 18th century, the Kirckmans manufactured 1,000 to 2,000 harpsichords. Famed for excellence, the Kirckmans sold harpsichords until 1809, notably to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III; Virginia tobacco planter Thomas Jefferson, and a pre-revolutionary governor of Virginia.
The Kirkmans switched to manufacturing pianos when they became the premier keyboard, in the early 19th century. The family’s piano manufactory at Dufours Place was destroyed by a fire on August, 20, 1853, but the business survived until it was sold to a competitor in 1898. The family had prospered, and Henry John Kirkman b 1825, the great grandson of Abraham b 1737, died in 1874 worth about £80,000 (worth £5.7m in 2010). His cousin William Kirkman b 1801 was granted the freedom of the City of London, and changed the spelling of his surname to Kirkmann, which was also used by his descendants.
Another Jacob Kirkman, a nephew of harpsichord-making Jacob, was a noted late 18th century London organist and composer who wrote more than 30 works for the piano.
In 1882, John Henry Kirkman b 1856 emigrated to America and set up house in Niagara Falls, marrying a Canadian, Anna Maria Brett. They had 13 children of whom 6 died in infancy. John Henry died in 1955, just 7 days short of his 100th birthday and is buried with his wife in Atlanta, Georgia.
Currently, there are three Kirckman harpsichords in Colonial Williamsburg and one, made in 1758, is on display in the ballroom of the picturesque, recreated, Governor’s Palace. Kirckman harpsichords also can be viewed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; at Yale University, New London, CT, and in the Boston and New York City Museums of Fine Art.
Are you descended from this Musical Kirkman Line? If so, please contact me as you may qualify for a free DNA test, and membership of the Kirkman Project Group