Academic journal article The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.

Jonathan Fisher: A Well-Ordered Life

Academic journal article The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.

Jonathan Fisher: A Well-Ordered Life

Article excerpt

The following is excerptedfrom Hands Employed Aright: The Furniture Making of Jonathan Fisher (1768-1847), by Joshua Klein. Kleins research was funded in part by a 2015 research grant from the Early American Industries Association; he was the first recipient awarded the James M. Gaynor Memorial Grant.

Childhood in Massachusetts

Jonathan Fisher was born on Oct. 7, 1768, and spent the first nine years of his life in New Braintree, Massachusetts. After the death of his father, a revolutionary war soldier, young Jonathan lived with his uncle, the Rev. Joseph Avery of Holden, Mass. Fisher recorded that he spent much time at his uncle's laboring on the farm and becoming "expert" with the axe. This practice in hard labor went in hand with a strong desire for a liberal education. Fisher recalled: "Between the years of 10 and 15 of my age I began to exhibit some traces of a mechanical genius, and a turn for mathematics; spending my leisure time m making buttons, broaches, windmills, snares, traps, puzzling sticks, and the like, and in solving various questions in mathematics" and said this led to "a small measure of proficiency in sketching and painting."

Because the young Jonathan believed liberal education would be impossible, he considered alternative careers, "first to go to the blacksmith's trade, then to the cabinetmaker's and finally to the clockmaker's trade. In either of the last two mentioned I might no doubt have succeeded, but God had other employment for me." Finally, though, at the encouragement of his mother, he determined to pursue his studies in preparation for a college education. Even as his childhood studies were "pleasant" and learned "with considerable ease," he noted how "many intervals were stolen" in reading, geometry and "some mechanical employ." This merger of rigorous mental exercise with hand craft work would come to typify the remainder of his life.

His Harvard Years

One of Fisher's fellow Harvard classmates described Fisher as "a quiet and peaceful student with a manner eccentric and old." Not much for light-hearted socializing, Fisher took his studies seriously and occasionally voiced irritation in his journal regarding fellow students who did not. His time at this conservative institution was foundational in his thinking for his entire life. As one writer has said, "In the developing industrial age he remained, temperamentally and by training, a man of the eighteenth-century ... The college education he acquired in his twenties developed his tastes and expanded his horizon; it also established standards that he clung to all his life." 1

Life in Blue Hill

fter graduation, Fisher married Dolly Battle of Dedham, Mass., and accepted a call to minister to the frontier town of Blue Hill in the District of Maine. Situated about halfway up the Maine coast, Blue Hill is the subject of many idyllic landscape paintings. The jagged and rocky shoreline, salty ocean air and lush forests have long attracted tourists looking to get away from city life.

As welcome a vacation spot as midcoast Maine is today, in the first half of the nineteenth century it was inhospitable frontier wilderness. Between the notoriously recalcitrant populace and the lack of resources, the isolated frontier was a daunting mission. Kevin Murphy described Blue Hill in the 1790s as "a clutch of rude dwellings surrounded by some rickety tidal mills." 2 The benefits of serving in a well-established town were not lost on Fisher. Before accepting the call to rural Blue Hill, he also considered a pastorate in Ashby, Mass., "in the heart of a well settled country," which offered closer proximity to family, better compensation, assistance from fellow ministers and more "temporal conveniences." For a Harvard-trained minister, the allure of urban ministry was real. Despite this temptation, Fisher felt a divine call to serve in this frontier setting - the "infant part of the country" - because "it [was] difficult for them to find a sufficient number of candidates, who [[were] willing even to come and preach among them, and much less to settle. …

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