Fish family papers  1847-1933
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Fish family papers (417 items) contain the personal letters and writings of a family from Williamson, New York, whose members, over the course of the 19th century, scattered throughout the United States, fought in the Civil War, and suffered though sickness and poverty during the postwar period. The bulk of the letters (336 in all) concern Harry S. Fish and his children: Dan, Carlton, Selby, and Julia Fish. Also present are letters to J. Clifford Robinson from his mother and sister, and 47 letters written annually from Franc Edith Aldrich Arnold to her friend Maud Bradley Robinson, spanning 1887 to 1933. The collection also contains 25 calling cards, 9 social invitations, 2 documents, 1 essay, 13 miscellaneous items, and one lock of hair.

Correspondence series :

The Fish family letters subseries (336 items) largely document the lives of Dan, Carlton, Selby, and Julia Fish. Throughout, the siblings discuss their deep animosity toward their father. The first four letters (1847-1850) are between Wright R. Fish, in Poughkeepsie, New York, and his father Isaac Fish, in Williamson, New York. Letters written during the Civil War-era include 18 letters from Carlton, 27 from Selby, 14 from Daniel, 9 from Judson Rice (all addressed to Julia), and 49 letters from Julia to Carlton (with 3 additional, post-war letters). These include descriptions of the Peninsular Campaign (Yorktown and the Seven Days Battles, particularly Gaines's Mills) by Selby, and Judson Rice's account of 1st Winchester. Both Selby and Carlton commented on their regiment’s occasional ill discipline and low morale. Selby described his experience in army hospitals and sometimes reflected on death, war, and the hard life of a soldier.

Dan’s letters, written mostly from California and Oregon, provide commentary on the life of an itinerant (and sometimes vagrant) traveler in the gold fields of the Far West. Julia described local events and family news, frequently discussing family strife. She occasionally discussed the politics and society in Williamson. In a particularly notable incident onJuly 17, 1864, Julia consulted a psychic to diagnose Carlton’s mysterious illness, which appeared during the siege of Yorktown in May 1862. Many Civil War era letters contain illustrated letterheads.

The collection contains material concerning southern perspectives of the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction eras, including 59 letters written to Julia Fish by Selby Fish and/or his wife, Josephine, from New Orleans (1864-1871); 7 letters from Selby to Carlton (1867-1869); and letters from Carlton to Julia: 7 written from Grant City, Missouri, (1868-1869); 27 from New Orleans, Louisiana (1869-1883); and 3 from San Antonio, Texas (1883). Of note are two letters written by Carlton from Grant City, Missouri, in which he described the surge of population in a "back woods" town in northwestern Missouri, as post-war westward expansion peaked (October 18, 1868 and October 24, 1869). Also of interest are Carlton’s accounts of his struggles with poverty and unemployment (November 8, 1889), and Dan’s report on joining the Good Templars in 1867; he described a wild ceremony that featured riding a goat backwards and climbing a greased pole with bare feet.

The J. Clifford Robinson letters consist of 63 letters and postcards, written to J. Clifford Robinson by his mother and sister Gertrude in 1895 and 1896. These offer a perspective on an intensely close mother-son relationship in the 1890's, and contain many remarks of motherly advice.

The Fish family letters subseries ends with 13 condolence letters addressed to Maud Bradley, comforting her on the death of her mother, Julia Fish Bradley, in 1905.

The Arnold-Robinson letters subseries contains 47 letters written annually, on New Year's Day, by Franc Edith Aldrich Arnold to Maud Bradley Robinson, reflecting on the events of the year, and reminiscing about their childhood together in Pultneyville, New York (1887-1933). These letters were written every year from 1887-1933, from their teenage years through retirement. In these, Arnold discussed her concerns about remaining unmarried, her inability to have children, and her desire to adopt a child.

The Ephemera, Photographs, and Miscellaneous series (55 items) is comprised of 5 items of ephemera concerning Julia Fish Bradley and her relatives; 25 calling cards from friends of Julia Fish Bradley; 9 invitations to parties and balls addressed to J. Clifford Robinson, (1890's); 13 miscellaneous writing fragments; and 3 cartes-de-visite of Selby Fish (c. 1869), Joseph E. Johnston (c.1863), and Nathaniel Lyon (c.1861).

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