Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Revolutionary Eyes of George Fishley.(90 years old in 1850)

The Revolutionary Eyes of George Fishley
A very rare daguerreotype reveals the last of Portsmouth's "Cocked Hats"
Captain George Fishley stares into the camera, his tiny eyes almost lost in gray, a faded three-cornered hat balanced on his ancient head. We stare back. It takes a moment for the truth to sink in. This is not another Civil War veteran. We have seen hundreds of photographs of those men, Confederate and Yankee, posed stiffly or lying dead in fields of battle. This is something else. This is a photograph of a man who fought the British in the Revolutionary War, something very few Americans have seen.
There was a note attached to the back of the image. It read:
"Capt. George Fishley is 90 years on his birthday June 11, 1850. He called at the house this afternoon and appeared well and healthy for an old man, he went to sleep and died December 26th aged 90 years, 7 months adn15 days."
There's much research to do, but in the week since the daguerreotype resurfaced, a picture of Portsmouth’s last "cocked hat" is evolving. We have rediscovered a celebrity. An 1850 obituary in the Portsmouth Journal says Capt. Fishley died at 91 and had become a familiar figure at public events. He entered the Continental Army in 1777, the paper says, under Gen. Poor and Col. Dearborn. He served three years and, according to his own account, was among the men who marched near Valley Forge wearing no shoes or stockings. Fishley was at Monmouth, the New Jersey confrontation led by George Washington. Monmouth is best known for the resulting court martial of Maj. Gen. Charles Lee and for the famous camp follower "Molly Pitcher" who took her husband’s place at a cannon when he was wounded in battle.
After the Revolution, Fishley served aboard a privateer, was captured and imprisoned in Halifax, according to the Portsmouth Journal. He later commanded a coaster shipping between Portsmouth and Boston. He was a popular figure in patriotic events for decades, and was one of the few surviving veterans to attend the opening of the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston in 1843. In another ceremony, dressed in his uniform, he commanded a miniature ship that was transported from Portsmouth inland to Concord, NH among a crowd of 300 celebrants. Invited to meet James Polk, Capt. Fishley at first declined to shake the President’s hand saying he had no political sympathies with the man. Born under the reign of King George, he lived under the first 13 American presidents, just missing New Hampshire born Franklin Pierce, who became President Number 14.
Capt. Fishley was among the three longest-surviving Revolutionary War veterans in Portsmouth and a patriot to the end, as this story from his obituary confirms:
"It is told of Fishley that when Adams and Jefferson were buried in 1826, and a procession was contemplated in Portsmouth, of which the Revolutionary heroes were to form a part, the committee came to Fishley requesting him to appear. He asked who were to be there. All were named until ----- was mentioned. "What" cried the old man. "He a patriot!" Why he was a d--- Hessian, and came over hear to fight us for six pence a day. No s-i-r, I don’t ride with such patriots as he!" And ride he did not on the solemn occasion."

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