Friday, April 19, 2019
Money, Revolution, & Books: A multi-generational perspective on the Portsmouth Athenaeum’s Library of John Fisher of London
By Thomas Hardiman Jr.
John Fisher’s name appears in many history books, but his story is not in any of them; he is only mentioned in passing. His story exists in fragments in hundreds of books and letters like an encrypted message. Money, Revolution, & Books recombines those fragments to decode the significant hidden history of the Fisher family. John Fisher, Sr. was Naval Officer for Portsmouth, Newbury, and York, then Collector of Customs for Salem, and Under Secretary of State for North America near the close of the Revolutionary War. After the war he was a high-ranking bureaucrat in the British Excise Office. More importantly, he was the “fixer” for the tory Wentworth family, using his unique status as a British official allowed by statute to hold and sell property in New Hampshire to rescue much of the family’s wealth and property seized in the war.
Fisher and his son, John, Jr., used family connections to acquire vast wealth and estates on both sides of the Atlantic. His daughter Sarah married the wealthiest merchant in New Hampshire, James Sheafe. Sarah was a major benefactor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum throughout her life, donating valuable books and paintings, and arranging for the gift of her brother’s important library in 1829. Her son, John Fisher Sheafe, married millionaire heiress Mary Lenox of New York and helped his brother-in-law build one of the world’s greatest libraries. Altogether, Money, Revolution, & Books traces five generations of this fascinating family that has contributed greatly to Atlantic history and culture, but has escaped notice until now.
About the author:
Thomas Hardiman Jr., Keeper of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, has more than 30 years of experience in the museum, library, and historic preservation fields. He has been Athenaeum keeper since 2000 and was previously curator of the Saco Museum. In addition to museum administration, Mr. Hardiman has significant experience with the management, exhibition, and conservation of art and artifact collections and with the sensitive conservation of historic buildings.
144 pages. $30.00 (+$5.00 shipping and handling)
Available at www.portsmouthathenaeum.org/shop.
“This book redeems a precious legacy. Revealed here is the forgotten story of a family of loyalists whose allegiance was both to the Crown and to their home of New Hampshire. The treasure of the Fisher family lies unseen in land titles of many towns in New Hampshire; in elegant furnishings, with their origins usually unrecognized, that are exhibited in many American museums; and in a superb collection of rare volumes preserved in the Portsmouth Athenaeum, one of New England’s most venerable libraries.”
—James L. Garvin, retired State Architectural Historian
“Tom Hardiman has created an intimate portrait of John Fisher, Sr. and his namesake son, wealthy Revolutionary-era entrepreneurs based in New Hampshire and London who astutely played both sides during the American Revolution—and happened to be bibliophiles. There is plenty of drama here, and subterfuge, too, though Hardiman’s primary passion is Fisher Jr.’s substantial private library, and how we can know a shadowy historical figure through their books. An intriguing contribution to Atlantic History with a New Hampshire twist.”
—W. Jeffrey Bolster, Professor of History, Emeritus, University of New Hampshire