Ordering Information

$30.00, 6 x 9, softcover, 160 pages, b/w images
ISBN: 978-0-9984754-1-7
To order copies visit the Portsmouth Athenaeum website or call 603-431-2538.

Money, Revolution, and Books; A multi-generational perspective on the Portsmouth Athenaeum’s Library of John Fisher

by Thomas M. Hardiman

Readers’ Comments

“This book redeems a precious legacy. Revealed here is the forgotten story of a family of loyalists whose allegiance was both to the Crown and to their home of New Hampshire. The treasure of the Fisher family lies unseen in land titles of many towns in New Hampshire; in elegant furnishings, with their origins usually unrecognized, that are exhibited in many American museums; and in a superb collection of rare volumes preserved in the Portsmouth Athenaeum, one of New England’s most venerable libraries.”

—James L. Garvin, retired State Architectural Historian

“Tom Hardiman has created an intimate portrait of John Fisher, Sr. and his namesake son, wealthy Revolutionary-era entrepreneurs based in New Hampshire and London who astutely played both sides during the American Revolution—and happened to be bibliophiles. There is plenty of drama here, and subterfuge, too, though Hardiman’s primary passion is Fisher Jr.’s substantial private library, and how we can know a shadowy historical figure through their books. An intriguing contribution to Atlantic History with a New Hampshire twist.”

—W. Jeffrey Bolster, Professor of History, Emeritus, University of New Hampshire


Books know far more than they reveal. Rapt readers see vastly more in written words than their authors could ever imagine. Facts are widely rumored to be unbiased and objective, yet they are known to flirt gleefully with almost any suitor who will embrace them. In evidence of these propositions stands the library of John Fisher, Jr. of London (1764–1838), preserved at the Athenæum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Fisher was a successful entrepreneur and public servant, like his namesake father. He was also a laconic chameleon who divulged almost nothing about his true feelings, allegiances, or real intentions, again, traits surely learned from observing how well they served his father. Fisher, Sr. shrewdly built a complex and sometimes contradictory web of family and political alliances in rising from relative obscurity in England to wealth and prominence in Colonial America, and to even greater wealth and status in late Georgian England. The books in Fisher’s library parrot the stories and statistics written in them, but a careful evaluation of the whole, and a close examination of promiscuous pertinent facts reveals a multi-generational, multinational tapestry interwoven with familial love, duty, and affection; social and political scheming; and a persistent love of books and the secret power they hold and hide.

About the Author

Thomas Hardiman Jr., Keeper of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, has more than 30 years of experience in the museum, library, and historic preservation fields. He has been Athenaeum keeper since 2000 and was previously curator of the Saco Museum. In addition to museum administration, Mr. Hardiman has significant experience with the management, exhibition, and conservation of art and artifact collections and with the sensitive conservation of historic buildings. Visit www.portsmouthathenaeum.org for more information.