William Logan Fisher papers  1749-1861
full text File Size: 42 K bytes

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Fisher collection consists of 69 letters received by William Logan Fisher between 1798 and 1861, with a few older items, mostly legal documents and commercial correspondence, received by his father Thomas Fisher (1741-1810; 17 items), and 8 items relating to his grandfather, William Logan (1718-1776). There are also four letters received by William Logan Fisher's son, Charles W., from a friend, M. Ritchie.

The strength of this small collection lies in its documentation of the crisis afflicting American Quakerism during the antebellum period. The letters from Charles W. Morgan from New Bedford are particularly noteworthy for documenting the deep rifts that developed in the meetings at Lynn and New Bedford, Mass., and the efforts there to suppress dissent. In 1822, the meeting at Lynn was repeatedly interrupted by the ministering of politically and theologically progressive Friends. On February 17th, one dissenter entered meeting brandishing a sword as an emblem of the "warlike disposition of those against whom he wished to bear testimony." Although this form of symbolic speech had been common among Quakers of the 17th century, it was ill received in Lynn. The sword was wrenched from the man, and he was forcibly expelled from meeting. The protest, however, was renewed by several others in the afternoon, after which the sheriff was called in to read the riot act. When the protesters refused to absent themselves, four were arrested and jailed at Salem. Morgan wrote that they were "confined the first night in a store without provisions or sleeping accommodations" (1822 February 26). Two of the protesters were ultimately found guilty and fined, and two, according to Morgan, were found innocent because insane.

Morgan's letters also document that the tensions in the Society were hardly unique to Lynn, nor were they confined to this one incident. Morgan noted with great personal interest the divisions within the New Bedford meeting, his parents and other relatives pitted against the more numerous conservatives. Morgan felt throughout the crisis that he might become a target for disownment due to his views, and was distressed by the accusations of adultery made against a fellow "Hicksite," The stress that this otherwise devout Quaker experienced is suggested by his comment to Fisher of October 6th, 1822: "This is all the Religion that I can communicate to thee at present -- I have nothing of my own & I can see nothing in others, meeting discipline, preachers and Societies all are dead and dark to me and I go among them hardly without knowing why yet not perhaps quite easy to abandon all that is called holy -- though all is death and idolatry to me." Interestingly, at the height of the fracas in Lynn, on March 27th, 1822, Morgan's "black man" rose at the New Bedford meeting without forewarning Morgan, and asked to be admitted as a member. Morgan wrote that he "sp[oke] very well & properly, the request Received due notice, and is under care of overseers."

Other aspects of the tensions within the Society are recorded in a long letter from James B. Congdon on his book, the Quaker Quiddities, discussing the reservations that young Friends had toward Quaker "peculiarities." In a similar vein, Christopher Slocum complained of the practice among Friends of expelling members who had married outside the faith: "What a pity it is Wm that Society should loose so many of its Members by Marriage -- how can it be remedied? does it not sustain a greater injury in this way, than if it admitted Persons into Membership for that express Purpose..." (22 November 1800). Two letters from Matilda F. Fry, an English Quaker, represent the conservative view on the doctrinal disputes.

Other letters of interest in the collection are two letters from Christopher Slocum, a Quaker merchant from New York City, and the letters of John Wadey Russell, also a New York merchant. In Slocum's first, dated October 12th, 1800, he describes three suicides, one of which turned out to be a ruse by a man attempting to escape from his debts. In his second, he records a medical experiment performed on a Black woman: after being inoculated with cow pox serum as a preventative against small pox, the woman was injected with small pox and thereafter developed all of the sequelae of the disease. In the same letter, Slocum describes the use of Priestly's "dephlogisticated nitrous air" (i.e., nitrous oxide), then in vogue as a treatment for a variety of ailments in New York. Russell lured away Slocum's partner J. Mintern, thus dissolving the firm of Slocum & Mintern. Though hard feelings seem to have been avoided in the long run, Slocum warned Fisher, who was then engaged to be married, "Beware my dear Fellow of Partnerships -- they are so uncertain -- that no calculation can be made upon them -- unless thou should'st be so fortunate as to form a Connection of a Matrimonial kind..." (1801 February 4). Though the letters relating to the Slocum-Mintern-Russell triangle are few and brief, they provide an interesting insight into business relations in the small and interrelated community of Quaker merchants. Finally, there are two fine letters from Theodore Parker one of which (1845 January 30) includes an optimistic statement of his plans for the future of Universalism.

Show all series level scope and content notes