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Rare Photo Shows NH Revolutionary

George FIshley in Joe Bauman Collection as seen on TV in Salt LakeHISTORY MATTERS

Sure he’s dead, and has been in South Cemetery for over 150 years. But George Fishley is on his way to becoming one of Portsmouth’s most famous veterans – again. The man who fought with Washington at Valley Forge is among the only known Revolutionary War soldiers ever photographed. And that picture is getting more and more attention.


It has been eight years since antiquarian Peter Narbonne stumbled across an extraordinary photo on the second floor of the Portsmouth Historical Society.

"I noticed this daguerreotype tucked against the back wall in a glass cabinet," Peter said. "I immediately realized that I was holding one of the rarest images ever photographed -- and a wonderful piece of Portsmouth history."

READ MORE: The Eyes of George Fishley

The framed slightly blurred daguerreotype was dated June 11, 1850 and showed a 90-year old man. He wore a large "cocked hat" like those popular in the 1700s. Could this possibly be the face of a man who fought in the American Revolution?

It was true. Captain George Fishley (1759 – 1850) belongs to an extremely elite veteran’s club. Hundreds of Revolutionary War soldiers lived long enough to have their pictures taken. The earliest photograph of a person in the Library of Congress dates to 1839. But only about a dozen documented images of Continental soldiers are known, two of them from nearby Maine.

I happened to be at the historical society the day the daguerreotype turned up among 2,500 items in the museum. It was a chilling moment. We were looking – not at a painting or a sketch – but at a photograph of a guy who was born in 1760 when Benning Wentworth was still Royal Governor of the British colony of New Hampshire.

Catching up with Captain Fishley

Fishley grew up in turbulent times. As a teenager, he fought at Valley Forge and at Monmouth with Gen. George Washington. He served under New Hampshire military heroes Enoch Poor, Henry Dearborn and John Sullivan. After his discharge in 1781, Fishley signed onto a privateer, 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.

Fishley was a popular figure in Portsmouth patriotic events for decades. 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.

George Fishley did not survive long after sitting for his portrait and died a decade before the Civil War. He is buried with his wife in the South Cemetery. But thanks to the Internet, George Fishely is more famous this year than ever before.

CONTINUE: Keep up with Captain Fishley

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Thursday, January 18, 2018 
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