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  • Writer's pictureAlaina

Author Talk with Portsmouth Athenaeum Keeper Tom Hardiman

Keeper of the Portsmouth Athenaeum and local author Thomas Hardiman Jr visited us at the library to talk about his book Money, Revolution, and Books: A Multi-Generational Perspective on the Portsmouth Athenaeum's Library of John Fisher of London.

Tom Hardiman 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, he has significant experience with the management, exhibition, and conservation of art and artifact collections, as well as with the sensitive conservation of historic buildings.

The subject of Money, Revolution, and Books, John Fisher, appears in many history books, but his story is not in any of them; he is only mentioned in passing. His story exists in fragments in hundreds of books and letters like an encrypted message. Hardiman's book recombines those fragments to decode the significant hidden history of the Fisher family. John Fisher, Sr. was Naval Officer for Portsmouth, Newbury, and York, then Collector of Customs for Salem, and Under Secretary of State for North America near the close of the Revolutionary War. After the war he was a high-ranking bureaucrat in the British Excise Office. More importantly, he was the “fixer” for the Tory Wentworth family, using his unique status as a British official allowed by statute to hold and sell property in New Hampshire to rescue much of the family’s wealth and property seized in the war.

Fisher and his son, John, Jr., used family connections to acquire vast wealth and estates on both sides of the Atlantic. His daughter Sarah married the wealthiest merchant in New Hampshire, James Sheafe. Sarah was a major benefactor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum throughout her life, donating valuable books and paintings, and arranging for the gift of her brother’s important library in 1829. Her son, John Fisher Sheafe, married millionaire heiress Mary Lenox of New York and helped his brother-in-law build one of the world’s greatest libraries. Altogether, Money, Revolution, and Books traces five generations of this fascinating family that has contributed greatly to Atlantic history and culture, but has escaped notice until now.

Money, Revolution, and Books: A Multi-Generational Perspective on the Portsmouth Athenaeum's Library of John Fisher of London is available to borrow at the library!

Special thanks to Berwick Community Media for recording this library program.



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