I ran into someone with the last name “Fiske” yesterday. Knowing that was one spelling of an old family name of some of my ancestors, I speculated that we must be related. I did a little searching on the web and was disappointed that there isn’t more information on one of my more famous ancestors.
Moses Fisk was a pioneer settler of Middle Tennessee where I grew up. He founded the Fisk Female Academy at Hilham, Tennessee, in 1806 It was the first such institution in the South.
I have a copy of a the book, “The Life and Writings of Moses Fisk”, published in 1980, compiled by distant cousin Tim Barlow of Crossville, TN, as well as information on other relations in the compilation, “Record of the Families of Gilbert Christian and Moses Fiske,” by H. C. Christian c. 1969.
I’ve copied and pasted some information below (with links to original sources where available) for my reference and to assist anyone else who may be looking for this information.
From the “Cookeville Citizen” December 8, 1964:
“Lore and Legend of the Upper Cumberlands” by E. G. Rogers
Fisk Was Great Mathematician
Moses Fisk once planned his “Trans-Alleghenia” empire to be located at Hilham and including the surrounding area. His project was not unlike that envisioned by Thomas Hughes at Rugby, Tennessee, except reversed in the matter of time. Born in Grafton, Massachusetts in 1759, graduated from Dartmouth in 1786 where he taught until 1795, Fisk then came to Tennessee in the interest of land settlements. As land representative for one of the two agencies receiving large grants for the settlement of the Cumberland valley, he soon began to acquire extensive tracts of land of his own.
His holdings within about four years extended from Smith County to the Cherokee Indian line about three and one-half miles east of Livingston. He was employed by the Storm Agency out of New York which extended further grants to John Donelson and others.
As each of the counties, Smith in 1789, Jackson in 1801, and then Overton were carved out of Sumner, Fisk played a very personal role as a friend to the leaders concerned with the organization of each of the respective counties. He settled in Overton and established Hilham in 1803.
Hilham was located on a creek which flows into Roaring River and the Cumberland and was therefore located upon the reservation of North Carolina for her soldiers of the Continental line in the Revolution. Fisk therefore requested and received a renewal of his grant.
He began immediately to survey and build roads leading into his empire. He first constructed the “Meridian Road” which is known as the Fisk Road as it leads into Cookeville. He opened another road from Sparta to Hilham, and later extended this road on to Burkesville, Kentucky. Another was constructed from Hilham “to the highlands south of Roaring River.” He was surveyor in laying out the Walton Road in 1799-1801. He had planned another road connecting Hilham with Jackson County near Fort Blount.
Fisk was one of the greatest mathematicians and surveyors of his day, or perhaps of any period. As a business man he was a great promoter and organizer. In education he was an astute scholar. He and his friend Sampson Williams of Smith County decided to build a school at Hilham. This may have been a part of his earlier dream of Trans-Alleghenia.
Together they established Hilham Academy, the first school for girls south of the Ohio River. Williams [unreadable] contributed 2000 acres of land toward its establishment.
It is said that the school never had a very large enrollment. Financially-able parents were a bit skeptical about sending their daughters to school into what was then considered a frontier wilderness. And those less distant found frontier travel difficult.
The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1830. The buildings were restored, but the administration of the school passed into other hands as Fisk himself died in 1843.
There was an effort to re-establish the school as the Hilham Academy in 1902, as a memorial objective. The school was to be non-sectarian, coeducational, and college preparatory.
It operated as such for about twenty years or about 1925 since when it has been occupied as a residence. This is the building which presently stands to the right of the road about one mile out of Hilham as one approaches that town from Cookeville.
The empire of Fisk began to crumble before it matured. The great rush of frontier settlement may have been a factor.
Because of his skill as a mathematician and surveyor, much of his time soon became involved in this type of work, for which he accumulated quite a fortune in lands. But it was when he began to go into the mercantile business on the Cumberland as Jackson and Winchester had done around Nashville that his fortunes began decline.
In the book Barlow lists Moses Fisk as an educator, surveyor, author, pioneer, road builder, lawyer, postmaster, theologian, musician, land speculator, merchant, and farmer. A renaissance man of Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region during its frontier era. He founded the Fisk Female Academy at Hilham, Tennessee, in 1806 (the first such institution in the South). Barlow lists Moses Fisk as a descendant of Nathan Fiske who had emigrated from the County of Suffolk, England, to Watertown in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640. It shows his lineage can be traced to Daniel Fiske of Laxfield in Suffolk County, England, in 1208. Although in New England the family name was spelled “Fiske,” for some unknown reason Moses omitted the “e” when he moved to Tennessee. In England the different spelling included “Fisc,” “Ffiske,” “Fisk,” and “Fiske.”
The Life and Writings of Moses Fiske by Tim Barlow, c. 1980 and Record of the Families of Gilbert Christian and Moses Fiske by H. C. Christian c. 1969 (These two following the Moriarty lineage in England and Pierce here in America). I also have copies of all the back issues of the Fiske Family Association, some English lineages taken from the Visitation series books and lots of Misc. from the Watertown, MA area.
Did I leave anything out? Most of the wills are printed in the Moriarty articles from NEHGS – if you haven’t checked on these – remember the lineage updates in v. 92 or you will be lost. I plan to be posting to this list different data that I find that may help you, including where I found it so you can find it too. (I don’t mind sending snail mail copies, but some things are quite large and I don’t know how big this list will get.)
Hopefully also I will not be the only one posting things here – I’d like to hear from you too. Let me know what you want this list to be for you… It’s our list, not mine!
G. Andrews Moriarty, “The Fiske Family,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, v. 86 pp. 406-409, 426, 435 , v. 87 pp. 367-374, v. 88 pp. 142-146, 265-273, v. 92 pp. 287-88
Birth: Jun. 11, 1760, Grafton, Worcester County
Death: Jul. 26, 1840, Hilham, Overton County, Tennessee, USA
Moses FISKE, a son of Peter and Sarah (Perry) FISK was born at Grafton, Mass., June 11, 1760. He died at Hilham, TN. July 26, 1840. The FISK family of Mass., traces it lineage through Nathan FISKE, the immigrant to the Massachusetts Bay Colony about 1643, who became a Watertown, Massachusetts planter. Before that, the family of FISKE is traced to SYMON FISKE (1400-1443), Lord of the Manor of Standhaugh or ( Stodleigh), Laxfield, England, to Daniel FISKE in 1208.
June (Martin) WELLS of Plain View, TX. describes the FISKE ancestral home in a greeting to her cousin Harriett (Boatman) Oliver of Baxter, TN.: “I took a trip to Europe in September 1985 and you might be interested in knowing that after driving, left-handed, English style, a rent a car from the middle of London, out in the country, about eight-five miles to Laxfield, where I found the old manor house where our ancestors, the FISKES’ lived before coming to America. The date on the weather vane was 1602 on top of the large three-story house painted pink, trimmed in yellow, with several old old brick buildings in back and a big barn. A little brook ran through the yard and I was quite impressed with all of it.”
From “A History of FISK ACADEMY and Hilham, Tennessee” by Mary E. Robbins-Grubbs
Barlow lists Moses Fisk as an educator, surveyor, author, pioneer, road builder, lawyer, postmaster, theologian, musician, land speculator, merchant, and farmer. A renaissance man of Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region during its frontier era. He founded the Fisk Female Academy at Hilham, Tennessee, in 1806 (the first such institution in the South). Barlow lists Moses as a descendant of Nathan Fiske who emigrated from the County of Suffolk, England, to Watertown in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640. It shows his lineage can be traced to Daniel Fiske of Laxfield in Suffolk County, England, in 1208. Although in New England the family name was spelled `Fiske”, Moses dropped the final `e` from his signature in 1795 when he left Dartmouth College. In England the different spellings included `Fisc,` `Ffiske,` `Fisk,` and `Fiske.`
Most of the information regarding the Fisk Family is from; `The Life and Writings of Moses Fisk`, compiled by Tim Barlow of Crossville, TN.
Nancy Shultz Fisk (1790 – 1850)*
Elanda Fisk Gaw (1830 – 1896)*
Added by: Jim Little
Thursday 09/28/2000 2:07:09am
Name: Lynda Leeds
Homepage URL: http://
Referred By: Net Search
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Comments: I descend from Moses FISK b 1759 in Massachusetts, s/o Peter FISK. He was a graduate of Dartmouth College. He m Nancy SHULTZ in Tennessee. He founded the first female academy in Hilham, Overton, Tennessee, he was a postmaster, surveyed roads in that area, and was quite prominent. He d aft 1830 in Overton Co., TN. I was interested to see all that you have on the family in England.
Friday 03/17/2000 7:53:05am
Name: Joanne Fiske Love
Homepage URL: http://
Referred By: SimpleNet
Location: Murrieta, Ca., U.S.
Comments: My great-great-great grandfather was Moses Fisk born in Grafton, Mass. He helped survey the state boundaries of Tennessee and started the first school for girls in the South. Would be interested in any of you who also believe you are related. I’ve always beeen told Fisk University folks are not related to me. Would be interested to learn more about them.
Christian/Fisk cemetery photos: http://brendabova.com/cemetery.htm
UPDATE, 7 April 2017. Sparked by a question posted recently, I stumbled across a couple of new references, which I post here (JW):
This is from Audrey June Lambert’s “Cumberland Tales”:
link to article (reposted below): http://www.ajlambert.com/history/ct_mf.pdf
MOSES FISK: THE UPPER CUMBERLAND’S FIRST ANTIQUARIAN
By Randal D. Williams
Herald-Citizen, Cookeville, TN: Sunday, 1 March 2015
Moses Fisk was among the most renowned of the Upper Cumberland’s early settlers. A true Renaissance man, Fisk was the first scholar to study and comment upon the prehistoric remains encountered by early European settlers in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee.
Moses Fisk was born on 11 June 1760, in Grafton, Mass., and died on 26 July 1840, in Hilham, Tennessee.
He was descended from an old family of English Puritans who had emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640.
Fish was highly educated for a man for his time. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1786, and received an honorary M. A. from Yale in 1793. He taught at Dartmouth from 1788 until 1795, at which time he migrated to the frontier of Tennessee.
Fisk’s accomplishments were many. In today’s era of educational and vocational specialization, the breadth of Fisk’s knowledge is nearly inconceivable. Fisk studied theology at Dartmouth and became a licensed congregational minister. He was a land speculator, amassing upwards of 100,000 acres of land in several Upper Cumberland counties. Fisk also established numerous roads in the Upper Cumberland, most of which are still in use today. Fisk Road, which runs through Cookeville, was named for him.
Fisk studied law in Knoxville and was licensed to practice law in Tennessee in 1798. He was a mathematician and land surveyor, and in 1802 was appointed by Governor Archibald Roane as one of three Tennessee commissioners to survey the state line between Tennessee and Virginia. Fisk was also active in local affairs, serving as magistrate in several Upper Cumberland counties.
Fisk is widely remembered in the Upper Cumberland as one of the foremost educators of his day. In 1806 he established the Fisk Female Academy in Hilham, Overton County.
The school was chartered by the legislature specifically for the education of girls. The school was the first of its kind in the South. Fisk even wrote some of the textbooks used in the school.
Fisk was ahead of his time concerning social justice. As a New Englander, he was a staunch abolitionist and was concerned with the welfare of American Indians. While teaching at Dartmouth in 1795, he published an address entitled, “Tyrannical Libertymen: A Discourse Upon Negro Slavery in the United States.” By all accounts, Fisk applied this sense of justice to all his personal and professional dealings.
One are of Fisk’s research was especially intriguing; it was his study of the prehistory of the Upper Cumberland region.
Fisk was a charter member of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), which was founded in 1812 by Revolutionary War veteran and printer, Isaiah Thomas, The AAS’s original mission was to collect and disseminate knowledge concerning America’s prehistoric peoples.
Moses Fisk was an early AAS member, and contributed to the society’s first publication, Archaeological Americana, in 1820. Fisk’s essay was entitled, “Conjectures Respecting the Ancient Inhabitants of North America.” The essay was one of the first ever published concerning Tennessee’s prehistory. What is remarkable about the essay is its very modern approach to the subject of prehistory, anticipating the later discipline of anthropology.
Fisk was no adherent of the popular romantic theories concerning the origin of the area’s native peoples. Fisk wrote as an empiricist, collecting data for analysis, and drawing conclusions from it.
In the essay, Fisk focuses primarily on prehistoric mounds, which were fairly common in the area’s river and creek bottoms, until modern agricultural practices destroyed most of them. Fisk recognized two distinct types of mounds, the conical burial mound, and the flat top, pyramidal mound. He hypothesized that the flat top mounds were “to give eminence to temples or to town houses.” We now know the flat mounds were indeed Mississippian era temple mounds.
Fisk also addressed the idea of “Welsh Indians.” From the beginning of the seventeenth century there were reports of Welsh-speaking Indians in America. These Indians were supposedly the descendants of Welshmen who had come to America in 1170 under the leadership of Madog ab Owain Gwynedd, or Prince Madox. According to the legend of Madoc, he and his band of adventurers landed in what is now Mobile Bay and made their way into the interior.
Tales concerning Welsh-speaking Indians persisted well into the nineteenth century. Many ancient earthworks in the Mississippi Valley were attributed to Madoc and his men. Even John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, and a friend of Fisk’s believed the myth of Madoc.
[Sevier] wrote in 1810 of a conversation he had with the Cherokee chief Oconostota in 1782 about a white people called “Welsh” who had been driven from the Southeast by the ancestors of the Cherokee. Sevier also wrote about skeletons supposedly discovered in brass armor bearing the Welsh coat-of-arms.
Concerning the prehistoric inhabitants of the Upper Cumberland, Fisk stated
“It is absurd to suppose they are Welsh… Welsh Indians are creatures of the imagination.”
He went on to say,
“All Wales could not have furnished such a population as once inhabited this section of the country. Wales is a little nook of earth, not a quarter so large as the State of Tennessee, and not a fiftieth part so large as the territory occupied by those ancient inhabitants, who cannot be estimated at less than millions.”
At a time when many people accepted the story of Madoc, Fisk understood that the story was nothing more than a myth.
Fisk also used tree rings to date trees growing in and on ancient earthworks, thus determining how long the structures and sites must have been abandoned. Dendrochronology is still a viable tool of the modern archaeologist.
Even during Fisk’s time, just as today, valuable archaeological material was being lost at an alarming rate. Exactly two hundred years ago he wrote,
“It is to be regretted, that these ancient ruins and relicks have been exposed to so much depredation. Valuable articles are lost by being found. The finest specimen of statuary, that I have ever heard of in this country, was knocked to pieces, to ascertain what sort of stone it was made of. It was the bust of a man, holding a bowl with a fish in it, and was constructed of a species of marble.”
Fisk wrote these words in 1815. How sad that we face the same loss of irreplaceable cultural resources in 2015. Moses Fisk was a man ahead of his time. His article, “A Summary Notice of the First Settlements Made by White People Within the Limit Which Bound the State of Tennessee,” published in 1818, was the first effort by a Tennessean to discuss the early history of the state. This, along with Fisk’s discussion of Middle Tennessee’s prehistoric remains, uniquely qualifies him of the title of the Upper Cumberland’s first antiquarian.
Note: For a history of Moses Fisk, see Tim Barlow’s 1980 volume, The Life and Writings of Moses Fisk.
Randall D. Williams is a partner in Kwill Consultants. “Cumberland Tales,” created by
Calvin Dickinson and Michael Birdwell and sponsored by the Cookeville History Museum, welcomes any tale of this region’s history. For more information, contact
*Read more Cumberland Tales at: http://www.ajlambert.com
Moses Fisk b. 11 June 1760, Grafton, Worcester Co., MA – d. 26 July 1840, Hilham, Overton Co., TN, md
Nancy (Shultz) Fisk, b. 1790, VA – d. 1850, Overton Co., TN.
And this is from a post on the Facebook feed for the Tennessee State Library and Archives (link https://www.facebook.com/TNStateLibraryArchives/posts/1024660694332321):
Today we highlight the Moses Fisk Papers, located within our collections. Moses Fisk was born in Grafton, Massachusetts and migrated to Tennessee in 1795. He was an early settler of the Upper Cumberland in what is now Overton County, where he established the community of Hilham in 1797. Fisk believed Hilham was the geographic center of the United States. At the time, the Mississippi River was still the nation’s western boundary. Fisk platted Hilham so that roads radiated out from the center of the community to the north, south, east and west, believing that Hilham would eventually be the crossroads of the new nation.
In 1806, Fisk established the first school for girls in Tennessee, and one of the first in the South, known as Fisk Female Academy. Fisk wore many other hats. According to author Tim Barlow, who wrote “The Life and Writings of Moses Fisk”, Fisk was an educator, surveyor, mathematician, author, lawyer, postmaster, theologian, minister, musician, land speculator, merchant and farmer. Featured in our collection of Fisk’s papers are a field diary from 1802 of the Virginia-Tennessee line survey and a journal kept by Fisk in 1811. The journal consists of notes on legal matters, statistics, currency exchanges among neighboring states and miscellaneous data. Most of the information is written in a form of personal shorthand, or cipher. The key is given on the back page of the ledger.
Though Hilham never became the metropolis that its founder envisioned, Fisk still left quite a footprint on the Upper Cumberland area of Tennessee.
For more information about the Moses Fisk Papers, please see this catalog entry: http://bit.ly/2m3AKtn.
Image of Moses Fisk from “The Life and Writings of Moses Fisk” by Tim Barlow
Pages from Moses Fisk field diary, Virginia-Tennessee Line Survey, 1802. Moses Fisk Papers, III-G-3, Box 1, Folder 11
Photographs of the Moses Fisk home in Hilham. Photographer: Megan Spainhour.
Pages from the Moses Fisk journal, written in shorthand. Moses Fisk Papers, III-G-3, Box 1, Folder 12
Portion of a letter written by Moses Fisk to brother John Fisk regarding the town of Hilham. Moses Fisk Papers, III-G-3, Box 1, Folder 6