The Fish family papers center on Harry S. Fish and his five children with his first wife, Polly Maria Russell, between 1847 and 1933. The collection also contains letters of cousin Judson Rice, Harry’s granddaughter Maud Bradley Robinson, and her husband J. Clifford Robinson.
Harry S. Fish was born on November 24, 1811, to Isaac Fish and Polly Rice who had recently moved from Massachusetts to a farm in Williamson, New York. Harry S. Fish became a prosperous farmer, and by 1874 owned two substantial tracts of farmland near the eastern edge of Williamson. Harry’s first wife was Polly Maria Russell (1816-1845); they had five children: Isaac Newton (1836-1898), Daniel R. (b. c.1836) Selby Stephen (1839-1871), Julia Maria (1841-1905) and Carton Brewster (b. 1845-1884). Harry’s second wife was Fanny M. Stewart (b. 1817); they had four children: Harriet Alemeda, Timothy Smith, William I., and Sarah, none of whom are well documented in this collection. Though wealthy, H.S. Fish was not generous to his children and developed strained relationships with all of them. He died in 1897.
Isaac Newton Fish , the eldest son of Harry Fish, was born in 1836. Newton avoided joining the Union army and after the war had had difficulty finding employment in New York. He may have traveled west to Missouri; by 1876 he was living in Texas. He married a woman named Mary, but around 1879, they became estranged; Mary felt as if she had to hide from Newton. The marriage ended in divorce; Mary remarried in 1883. In that same year, Newton pulled a knife on his half-brother William, during a family dispute over money that dissolved into a brawl. Newton died in 1898.
Daniel R. Fish was born around 1836. In the 1850s he left Williamson and headed west to Michigan. During the Civil War, Daniel escaped the draft by drifting aimlessly among the gold fields of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. He identified his primary interests in life as having a good time, making easy money, chasing women, and drinking. In January 1870, Daniel was living in Umatilla, Oregon, but was estranged from his family. He eventually married and had one child named Jesse Williamson Fish.
Selby Stephen Fish (ca. 1839-1874) enlisted in the 17th New York Infantry in May 1861. Not long after his arrival in Virginia, Selby contracted typhoid and was hospitalized for two months. The disease left him permanently weakened and he was again hospitalized in May 1862 with an unspecified illness. By that summer, Selby had recovered sufficiently for active service, and under McClellan, took part in the Peninsular Campaign (the siege at Yorktown and the Seven Days Battles) and in Pope's campaign in northern Virginia (including 2nd Bull Run). In1863, Selby returned to Williamson to study law. He was admitted to the bar one year later and, in November of 1864, moved to New Orleans where his uncle Wright R. Fish was a probate court clerk. Wright Fish was a member of the Southern Rights Secret Association, a secessionist group active during the war. While attending a radical Republican convention in 1866, Selby was shot twice and severely beaten when a violent mob of citizens and police disrupted the meeting. He recovered and set up the Fish & Dibble law firm (1866-1867) and in August 1867, was appointed attorney by Philip Sheridan. Selby married Josephine (Josie) of Marion, New York, in 1870. He died in early 1874, and was buried in Williamson in the spring of 1874.
Julia Fish (1841-1905) lived with her father until she was 20 years old. Until then, she had earned money cleaning houses but aspired to earn a living teaching. In 1862, when her father refused to pay for her continued education, she left home and lived with either her grandfather or her uncle. She continued working as a domestic servant and teacher until she married Almon E. Bradley (b. 1835) in 1868. They first lived as farmers in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and by 1880 lived in Pultneyville, New York, near Ontario, where they had two daughters: Maude Elizabeth (b. 1871) and Gertrude (b.1878). Maude Bradley married J. Clifford Robinson in 1897 after a long courtship; they had two daughters.
Carlton Brewster Fish (b. 1845) spent three years in the 6th U.S. Cavalry under an assumed name, starting in the summer of 1861. The 6th Cavalry took part in the Peninsular Campaign (the siege at Yorktown and the Seven Days Battles) and in Pope's campaign in northern Virginia (including 2nd Bull Run). During the siege of Yorktown, in May 1862, Carlton fell ill and was sent to the U.S. General Hospital in Annapolis. By July, he was well enough to serve as assistant in the hospital but did not leave the hospital until September 1863. He spent the final year of his enlistment at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. After 3 years of unemployment in New York, Carlton moved to Grant City, Missouri, in October 1868. While there, he worked as a teacher until the end of November 1869, when he visited New Orleans at the suggestion of his Uncle Wright and Aunt Anastasia. Like his brother Selby, Carlton aligned himself with the radical Republican faction in New Orleans and was employed in various bureaucratic positions, first as Register of Conveyances and later as Collector of Customs. In August 1875, Carlton married 17-year-old Catie Wright (b. 1857); they had a son six months later, named Harry Wright (May 18, 1876). They also had a daughter Lilith, born sometime before 1883. In 1883, Carlton, like other radical Republicans, was dismissed from his position and ostracized from New Orleans society. That August, after suffering from bronchitis and malaria, the impoverished family moved to San Antonio, but Carlton was still unable to find a job. Carlton and Catie returned to New Orleans in November 1883, where their situation rapidly became even more desperate. He temporarily found employment until May 1884, when his health again foundered. Carlton, or a family member on Carlton's behalf, requested that his father, then 71 years old, lend him some desperately needed money. His father refused and, unable to afford a physician, Carlton died under the care of comrades in the Grand Army of the Republic. .
Judson E. Rice was a cousin of the Fish children. In August 1861, he joined the 8th New York Cavalry. He saw action in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 and survived the 1st Battle of Winchester before falling ill with typhus. He spent the months of September through November 1862 in a hospital. After the war, Rice became a merchant, married a woman named Amelie M., and had two children: a son, Lindsay (b. 1868) and daughter, Nellie F. (b. 1878).