Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
William Logan Fisher Papers, 1749-1861

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, May 1992

Summary Information
Title: William Logan Fisher papers
Creator: Fisher, William Logan, 1781-1862
Inclusive dates: 1749-1861
Extent: 103 items (0.25 linear feet)
Abstract:
The Fisher collection consists mostly of letters received by William Logan Fisher between 1798 and 1861, along with a few items concerning other family members. The strength of this small collection lies in its documentation of the crisis afflicting American Quakerism during the antebellum period, particularly the deep rifts that developed in the meetings at Lynn and New Bedford, Mass., and the efforts there to suppress dissent.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1980. M-1898.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

William Logan Fisher Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

The Logans and Fishers were among the most prominent families in American Quaker society during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Descendants of John Fisher, who had accompanied William Penn to Pennsylvania in 1682, the Fishers were a particularly large and affluent family, many of whom became known for their philanthropy. Their various commercial endeavors, fostered through a network of family members and fellow Quakers throughout the northeastern seaboard, resulted in the establishment of several prosperous and highly profitable firms as one generation succeeded another in manufacturing and shipping.

In March, 1772, Thomas Fisher, originally from Lewes, Del., married Sarah Logan, daughter of William and granddaughter of James Logan. Following in the footsteps of his father, Joshua, Fisher established himself early in life as a merchant, engaging in trade with Britain and her West Indian colonies before the Revolution intervened. In 1777, Thomas and his younger brothers Miers and Samuel were among several Quakers arrested by American radicals after refusing to swear an oath of allegiance. Although their refusal to do so was based upon religious principals, they were nevertheless suspected of loyalism, were locked into the Masonic Hall, and finally exiled to Winchester, Va. All three Fishers survived this ordeal with their businesses more or less intact, and after the war Thomas Fisher renewed his diverse interests in shipping and brewing, and gained a local reputation for his philanthropy. Thomas and Sarah Fisher fled Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793, to a property called Wakefield, near Germantown, that they had inherited from Sarah's father. Taking a strong liking to this country estate, the Fishers built a house on a portion of the property and settled there in 1795.

The Fishers' third child, William Logan Fisher, was born in Philadelphia in 1781. Twice married, first to Mary Rodman in 1801, with whom he had three children, and secondly to Sarah Lindley, with whom he had an additional three, Fisher remained most of his life at Wakefield. In 1829 his son, Thomas Rodman Fisher, would build a small house of his own called Little Wakefield (Wakefield burned in the 1980s but Little Wakefield still stands on the campus of LaSalle University). From his early twenties, William Logan Fisher distinguished himself as an industrious manufacturer and merchant, assuming a brisk trade in wool and woolen products, and promoting the indigenous manufacture of gloves, stockings, woolen apparel, and broad cloth, with his mill at Germantown serving as a prototype of American ingenuity and enterprise. The most important and longest lasting among several commercial partnerships of Fisher's was the one with his brother-in-law, Charles Waln Morgan (Morgan's wife, Sarah Rodman, and Fisher's first wife, Mary Rodman, were sisters). The two became close friends, working together both in the wool trade and as partners in the Duncannon Iron Works, a major operation in Clark's Ferry, Pa., that included a blast furnace, rolling mill and nail manufactory. Both, too, were devout, politically and doctrinally liberal Quakers.

In the 1820s, the Society of Friends in America entered a period of extreme crisis. Doctrinal disputes between conservative and progressive factions, centering on the relative importance of scripture versus personal revelation and the influence of the "new" evangelism, dominated Quaker discourse, and resulted in a series of major schisms in the church. This volatile mixture was further fueled by disputes between politically conservative Friends and progressive to radical Friends, divided over such issues of national importance as slavery or race- and sex-equality, as well as issues specific to Quakers, such as Friends' "peculiarities" in speech and dress. The Hicksite schism of 1827, the Wilburite-Gurneyite schisms of the 1830's, and the separation of the Progressive Friends in Philadelphia in 1848 were all products of these disputes, and the rifts that developed in meetings were years in repairing.

Fisher, Morgan, and most of Fisher's correspondents were committed to the "liberal" ideas exemplified in the preaching of Elias Hicks, and opposed to the narrowly scripture-centered, evangelical-influenced Orthodox doctrine prevalent in the New England Yearly Meeting and present in a sizable minority in Philadelphia. Typical of many "Hicksites," Fisher also espoused politically radical points of view. Later in his life, Fisher became well known in Quaker circles as a controversialist, authoring books on Owenite socialism, the history of Sabbath observance, the laws of the Society of Friends, and a history of the Society. Others of his friends were no less controversial: most notably, James B. Congdon, who wrote the doctrinally radical Quaker Quiddities. Fisher died in Philadelphia in 1862.


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.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Estates (Law)--Pennsylvania.
    • Progressive Friends.
    • Society of Friends--Doctrines.
    • Society of Friends--Massachusetts--Lynn.
    • Society of Friends--Massachusetts--New Bedford.
    • Wool trade and industry--Massachusetts.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1  
    William Logan Fisher papers,  1749 November 6-1861 April 24 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Fisher-Logan-Fox collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (N.U.C.M.C. MS 76-1010) contains over 6,000 items relating to the families, including approximately 1,700 pieces of correspondence of William Logan Fisher, 1810-1840, correspondence and diaries of his two wives, materials relating to the imprisonment of Thomas Fisher in 1777, and letters of William Logan, Sr. and Jr.

    There are two major collections of correspondence and business records of Charles W. Morgan, housed at the Bancroft Library at Harvard and at the museum at Mystic Seaport.

    The diarist Sidney George Fisher (1808-1871) was a nephew of William L. Fisher's, the son of Fisher's brother, James L.

    Bibliography

    Lewis, Alonzo and James R. Newhall. History of Lynn (Boston, 1865), p. 387.

    Partial Subject Index
    Alcott, Nathaniel
    • 1800 October 12
    • 1800 December 15
    Allen, Benjamin, d. 1798
    • 1798 December 29
    • 1799 February 9-12
    Atonement
    • 1855 January 11
    Australia--Emigration and immigration
    • 1852 October 21
    Barker, Jacob
    • 1801 February 4
    Barley--Prices
    • 1799 October 30
    Barns--Pennsylvania--Drawings
    • 1799 January 26
    Barry, John, 1745-1803
    • 1799 October 30
    Barton, Hull
    • 1823 January 22
    • 1823 August 8
    Bereavement
    • 1858 May 14
    • 1861 April 24
    Betrothal
    • 1857 February 16
    • 1857 June 2
    Book collecting--Great Britain
    • 1855 January 11
    Breed, Content
    • 1823 December 2
    • 1823 December 21
    • 1824 January 30-February 1
    Brothers--Death
    • 1858 May 14
    Canals--Pennsylvania
    • 1801 May 7
    Censorship
    • 1858 September 21
    Children--Death
    • 1852 May 10
    Connecticut--Description and travel
    • 1800 November 1
    Crimean War, 1853-1856
    • 1855 January 11
    • 1855 December 10
    Death
    • 1861 April 24
    Debtor and creditor--Pennsylvania
    • 1784 December 17
    • 1794 August 16
    Depressions--1857
    • 1857 December 8
    Devonald, Thomas, d. 1793
    • 1794 May 25
    • 1799 January 17
    Drowning
    • 1798 December 29
    Epidemics
    • 1798 September 16
    • 1798 October 13
    Estates (Law)--Pennsylvania
    • 1781
    • 1783 July 13
    • 1794 May 25
    • 1799 January 17
    • 1801 July 1
    Estates (Law)--Virginia
    • 1801 August 29
    Evans, Charles
    • 1799 December 16
    Evil
    • 1824 February 26
    Excommunication--Quakers
    • 1822 February 10
    • 1822 March 9
    Fires--New York (City)
    • 1800 December 15
    Fisher, Charles W.
    • 1851 October 29
    • 1851 October 29
    Fisher, Lindley, d. 1852
    • 1852 January
    • 1852 May 10
    Fisher, Thomas, 1741-1810
    • 1783 July 13
    Flour--Prices
    • 1772 December 21
    Fothergill, John, 1712-1780
    • 1855 December 10
    French language--Study and teaching
    • 1799 January 27
    Fur trade--Great Britain
    • 1749 November 6
    Germany--Description and travel
    • 1801 June 14-18
    Grandchildren
    • 1860 July 13
    Grandmothers--Death
    • 1824 May 18
    Hickory nuts
    • 1798 April 20
    Hicks, Edward, 1780-1849
    • 1822 March 9
    Hicks, Elias, 1748-1830
    • 1822 March 9
    Historians
    • 1861 January 29
    Historiography
    • 1861 January 29
    Human experimentation in medicine
    • 1800 December 4
    Hunt, Priscilla
    • 1824 April 15
    Incest
    • 1822 March 27
    Indians of North America
    • 1852 October 21
    Interfaith marriage
    • 1800 November 22
    Lightfoot, Thomas
    • 1796 February 2
    Lindley, Jacob, 1774-1857
    • 1828 February 24
    Logan, Charles, 1754-1794
    • 1781
    • 1794 August 16
    Logan, George, 1753-1821
    • 1781
    Logan, James, 1674-1751
    • 1760 March 25
    Logan, William, 1718-1776
    • 1760 March 25
    • 1783 July 13
    Marriage
    • 1800 November 21
    • 1801 February 4
    Merchants--Massachusetts--Boston
    • 1857 August 11
    Merchants--New York
    • 1801 June 7
    Merchants--New York (City)
    • 1801 January 31
    • 1801 February 4
    Mintern, Jonas
    • 1801 January 31
    • 1801 February 4
    Miscarriage
    • 1823 January 4
    Mortgages--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
    • 1826 January 21
    Nantucket
    • 1799 August 17-19
    Netherlands--Description and travel
    • 1801 May 7
    • 1801 June 7
    New Bedford (Mass.)
    • 1798 December 29
    • 1799 January 15
    New York (City)--Description and travel
    • 1801 February 20
    Nitrous oxide
    • 1800 December 4
    Palfrey, John Gorham, 1796-1881
    • 1861 January 29
    Partnership
    • 1801 January 31
    • 1801 February 4
    • 1801 June 7
    Perfection--Religious aspects--Society of Friends
    • 1824 February 26
    Poor
    • 1823 January 4
    Presidents--United States--Election--1800
    • 1800 December 15
    Price, Samuel
    • 1794 May 25
    Progressive Friends
    • 1855 May 1
    • 1861 February 23
    Proverbs
    • 1783 March 5
    • [1783]
    Quaker poetry
    • 1783 March 5
    • [1783]
    Read, Charles
    • 1834 October 3
    Real property--Pennsylvania
    • 1799 December 16
    Religion and science
    • 1845 January 30
    Roads--Germany
    • 1801 June 14-18
    Rotch Family
    • [1860]
    Scott, James
    • 1822 March 27
    Secession
    • 1861 January 29
    Ships--Netherlands
    • 1801 May 7
    Slave-trade
    • 1799 October 30
    Slocum & Mintern
    • 1801 January 31
    Slocum, Christopher M.
    • 1801 January 31
    Smallpox--Preventative inoculation
    • 1800 December 4
    Smith, Rebecca D.
    • 1855 December 10
    Society of Friends
    • 1822 October 6
    Society of Friends--Discipline
    • [1860]
    Society of Friends--Doctrines
    • 1822 July 14
    • 1824 February 26
    • 1824 March 30
    • 1824 April 15
    • 1855 January 11
    • 1858 September 21
    • [1860]
    Society of Friends--Great Britain--Doctrines
    • 1860 July 13
    Society of Friends--Massachusetts--Lynn
    • 1822 February 10
    • 1822 February 12
    • 1822 February 26
    • 1822 March 9
    • 1822 March 27
    • 1823 January 22
    • 1823 December 2
    • 1823 December 21
    Society of Friends--Massachusetts--New Bedford
    • 1822 March 9
    • 1823 August 8
    • 1823 November 20
    • 1823 December 30
    • 1824 January 30-February 1
    • 1824 May 18
    Society of Friends--Pennsylvania
    • 1858 September 21
    Sugar
    • 1858 May 14
    Suicide
    • 1800 October 12
    Tariff--United States
    • 1824 February 26
    Turnpikes--Massachusetts
    • 1802 August 15
    Unitarians--Massachusetts
    • 1845 January 30
    Wakefield (Estate: Pa.)
    • 1781
    • 1799 January 26
    • 1857 June 28
    Weddings
    • 1800 November 22
    Whale meat
    • 1799 August 17-19
    Whaling industry
    • 1824 May 18
    Winslow, Jeremiah
    • 1798 December 29
    Wister, Thomas
    • 1824 July 4
    Wister, William, 1803-1881
    • 1824 July 4
    Women travelers
    • 1855 December 10
    Wool trade and industry--Massachusetts
    • 1822 October 6
    • 1823 January 22
    • 1823 August 8
    • 1823 November 20
    • 1823 December 2
    • 1823 December 21
    • 1823 December 30
    • 1824 January 30-February 1
    • 1824 February 26
    • 1824 March 30
    • 1824 May 18
    • 1824 July 4