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The First History of New Brunswick by Peter Fisher

The First History of New Brunswick, Peter Fisher

Peter Fisher

Peter Fisher (merchant and historian) was born 9 June 1782 on Staten Island, New York. He claims to be the first New Brunswick historian and his claim for that rests upon his two books: Sketches of New Brunswick: containing an account of the first settlement of the province, with a brief description of the country, climate, productions, inhabitants, government, rivers, towns, settlements, public institutions, trade, revenue, population, &c., by an inhabitant of the province (1825, history) and Notitia of New-Brunswick for 1836 and extending into 1837: comprising historical, geographical, statistical and commercial notices of the province (1838, history). These two published works contain the first general outlines of the province, along with preliminary observations concerning the first settlements of New Brunswick.

Both of these books were written under the pen name “An Inhabitant,” and the motto that follows is the same in each: “Whatever concerns my country, interests me: I follow nature, with truth my guide.” His books, however imperfect, are “interesting to every person who possesses a feeling of interest for his own fireside” (Fisher, Sketches 100).

Fisher was not actually a “native” of New Brunswick because he was born in pre-Revolutionary New York (Vincent vii). However, his only two published books were the two about the history of New Brunswick.

Fisher’s family moved to New Brunswick when he was only sixteen months old. After a rough journey to the province, his family settled at St. Anne’s Point, which was later renamed “Frederickstown” and then “Fredericton.”

His father, Lewis Fisher, served on the side of the crown in the American Revolutionary War. He was a member of the New Jersey Volunteers, a brigade commanded by Brigadier General Cortlandt Skinner in 1776 (Condon). Lewis Fisher was taken prisoner for twenty-one months and returned to duty on 2 October 1778. Peter Fisher’s mother, Mary Barbara Till, recounted her early experiences of settling in the province of New Brunswick and her story is featured in William and Carole Spray’s book, New Brunswick: Its History and Its People.

There were three groups of Loyalists to arrive in then Nova Scotia in 1783, amounting to about fourteen thousand people in all. The Fishers arrived in September with the third group: “We sailed from New York in the ship Esther with the fleet for Nova Scotia. Some of our ships were bound for Halifax, some for Shelburne, and some for Saint John. Our ship was nearly lost” (qtd. in Spray 57). Soon after they landed, they joined a group to go up river in a schooner to St. Anne’s (Spray 60). Winter was quickly approaching so they needed to find a place to camp. Their tent had no floor and the winter was very cold with deep snow. Many people died from cold and exposure, but the Fisher family was extremely lucky: “Although life was hard at first, almost all the Loyalists got the free land they had been promised. A Loyalist could get anywhere from fifty acres (twenty hectares) to a thousand acres (four hundred hectares). The amount depended on where they settled, on the number of people in their family, and on their rank in society” (Spray 65).

Once in New Brunswick, Peter Fisher received a good education. His instructor was Bealing Stephens Williams, who was born in Cornwall but moved to Fredericton in 1790 and taught there for nearly forty years. Fisher was taught how to read, write, and do mathematics, and he developed an interest in human history, which inspired him to write his two books on the history of New Brunswick (Condon).

Fisher worked hard on his two books. In the preface to Notitia of New-Brunswick, it is stated that “In prosecuting this work, the writer has consulted the best sources of information, and where precise data could not be obtained, he has stated things as near the truth as possible” (Fisher iv). The tone of his two books is formal and his writing is very precise. Fisher wanted to give a concise and faithful view of the capabilities and the trade of New Brunswick. He briefly touches upon many subjects, including boundaries, minerals, climate, forests, productions, animals, agriculture, rivers, mountains, inhabitants, religion, education, government, revenues, and trade.

Fisher married the daughter of his instructor, Susanna Stephens Williams, in 1807 (Fisher 131). They had eleven children, many of whom were directly involved in the shaping of the province. One of his sons, Charles Fisher, studied law and became a Supreme Court of New Brunswick judge(Maxwell 175). Another son, Henry Fisher, was the Chief Superintendent of Education for New Brunswick (Maxwell 175). William Fisher became New Brunswick’s Indian Commissioner, and Lewis P. Fisher was elected the first mayor of Woodstock, New Brunswick. He founded the Fisher Memorial Hospital, the Fisher Memorial Public School, and the Fisher Public Library, all in the Woodstock area (Maxwell 175). Susanna Stephens Williams passed away in 1836, and Peter remarried in 1847, shortly before his own death, to Mary (Valentine) of Saint John (Condon).

Katie E. Tozer, Spring 2010
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of primary sources

Fisher, Peter. Notitia of New-Brunswick for 1836 and extending into 1837: comprising historical, geographical, statistical and commercial notices of the province. Saint John: H. Chubb, 1838.

Fisher, Peter. Sketches of New Brunswick: containing an account of the first settlement of the province, with a brief description of the country, climate, productions, inhabitants, government, rivers, towns, settlements, public institutions, trade, revenue, population, &c., by an inhabitant of the province. Saint John: Chubb & Sears, 1825.

Bibliography of secondary sources

Condon, Ann Gorman. “Fisher, Peter.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 2000. 7 March 2010. <http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?BioId=37505>.

Maxwell, L.M.B. An Outline of the History of Central New Brunswick to the Time of Confederation. Fredericton, NB: York-Sunbury Historical Society, 1984.

Spray, William and Carole. New Brunswick: Its History and Its People. Toronto: Gage Publishing Limited, 1984.

Vincent, Thomas B., ed. The Lay of the Wilderness. Ontario: Loyal Colonies Press, 1982.