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Fisk, Jonathan

JONATHAN FISK, perhaps the most distinguished of the early lawyers of Newburgh, was born at Amherst, N.H., Sept. 26, 1773. He was the son of Jonathan Fisk, who subsequently resided at Williamstown, Vt., and became a member of the Legislature of that State, and judge of probate, as well as the founder of that branch of the family of which the late James Fisk, of Erie Railroad fame, was a member. He left the home of his father at the age of nineteen years, and commenced the occupation of school-teacher, qualified, according to a letter of recommendation signed by Moses Bradford, Dec. 12, 1792, to teach "writing, English grammar, and arithmetic." We next find him at Ware, N.H., in 1795, with a certificate stating that he had lived for several months in the family of Amos Wood, of that place, where he had "read Greek and Latin, and attended to other branches of study, by which he appeared well qualified to teach a school," and that he "maintained a good moral character." In 1796 or ‘97 he entered the office of Peter Hawes, in New York, and commenced the study of law. He was without other means of support than such as his own industry could furnish, but he was enabled to complete his studies by occasional remuneration for services as an amanuensis, and by giving instruction to a class of young men in the evening. In 1799 he was admitted to practice in the Court of Common Pleas of Westchester County; in 1800, in the Supreme Court of the State, and during the same year, in the Courts of Common Pleas of the counties of Orange and Ulster. In 1802 he was examined by Chief Justice Morgan Lewis, and "regularly admitted as a Counsellor of Law in all the courts of the State of New York." Mr. Fisk removed to Newburgh, Feb. 4, 1800. In 1809 he was elected representative in Congress from the Sixth District, which was composed of the counties of Orange and Westchester, and again in 1814. Parties were then known by the titles of Democrats and Federalists. Mr. Fisk was a Democrat, and an ardent supporter of the administrations of Jefferson and of Madison. While in Congress he sustained the war of 1812, opposed the recharter of the Bank of the United States, proposed a plan for a national printing-office, and during his whole career he commanded the confidence of his friends and the respect of his opponents.

In 1815 (March 21st) he was appointed by President Madison attorney for the United States in and for the Southern District of New York, and this appointment was renewed Jan. 6, 1816. He was very diligent and efficient in prosecuting those who evaded the law in regard to the sale of foreign merchandise without a license, and so exasperated did this class of offenders become that they threatened him with personal punishment. Failing to intimidate him, they appealed to Congress on a question of fees, for the purpose of securing his removal from office. The subject was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, who reported that, while Mr. Fisk’s fees had been large, and in some instances unsustained by law, he had nevertheless been governed by the usage of the former incumbents of the office, and the subject died "on the table." He remained undisturbed until the expiration of Madison’s administration, in 1820, when his successor was appointed.

As a citizen, Mr. Fisk was highly esteemed. The town records, the files of the public journals, and his own manuscripts bear testimony to the commanding position which he occupied, and to the superiority of his abilities. The most important legal cases were submitted to his care, while on the various local questions of the times his views received the highest consideration. In person, he was large, and of a presence that impressed all with whom he had intercourse with a sense of his superiority,—

"A combination, and a form indeed,
Where every God did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man!"

His wife was a lady of more than ordinary personal attractions, lively, witty, and not without fair literary abilities. His family record is as follows: Jonathan Fisk, born Sept. 26, 1773; died July 13, 1832. Sarah Van Kleek, wife of Jonathan Fisk, born March 18, 1773; died June 6, 1832. Children: Theodore S., found dead in the street in New York in 1854 or ‘55; James L., died at Pensacola in 1835; Delaphine R.E., married J.C. Bisbee, died July 22, 1846; Mary M., died June 8, 1822; and an infant son, who died at the age of two months.


 

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