Rare Photo of NH Revolutionary War Vet Featured in New Books
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
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Historians are press agents for the dead. We keep our clients in the news. Some are heroes, some are villains. Some, like Captain George Fishley (1760-1850), are best known for a simple twist of fate. Fishley, as far as we know, is the only Portsmouth veteran of the American Revolution to have his photograph taken. That is his claim to fame. (Continued below)
It was ten years ago that antiquarian Peter Narbonne stumbled across the rare daguerreotype of Fishley tucked against the back wall in a glass cabinet on the second floor of the Portsmouth Historical Society. It showed an 89-year old man in a large “cocked hat” like those worn in the Revolution.
Sure enough, a little research proved that Fishley fought at Valley Forge and at Monmouth with Gen. George Washington. He served under New Hampshire military heroes Enoch Poor, Henry Dearborn, Alexander Scammell, and John Sullivan. After his discharge in 1781, he signed onto a privateer and was captured and imprisoned in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He married Kezikah Nason of Kittery in 1801. Later he commanded a coaster sailing between Portsmouth and Boston. He was unable to work after 1818 due to “a debilitating rupture” that forced him to apply for a small federal pension that he received intermittently.
MORE ON CAPTAIN FISHLEY
George Fishley had his portrait taken by Francis W. Ham who set up shop in the city’s Congress Hall in 1848. The two known original portraits were likely taken during a Whig convention on the Fourth of July. Fishley died on Christmas Day in 1850.
In his elder years, Captain Fishley was a popular local figure in parades and patriotic celebrations. He was one of the few surviving veterans to attend the opening of the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston in 1843. During another ceremony, dressed in his Revolutionary War uniform, he stood aboard a miniature wooden ship that was carted inland from Portsmouth to Concord, NH as hundreds of spectators cheered.
A number of historians found my articles about George Fishley on the Internet, and he has begun to regain some of his nineteenth century notoriety. At this writing, ten years after he was rediscovered on a shelf at the John Paul Jones House, the Captain is now featured in two new books.
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