Sue Young Histories

Eliza Middleton Fisher 1815 - 1890

September 11, 2008

Eliza Middleton Fisher 1815 - 1890 and her mother Mary Hering Middleton wrote to each other every week for seven years over the period 1839 - 1846.

Eliza and her mother consulted homeopath Constantine Hering, as did several other members of her family. William consulted homeopathy Joseph Thomas Curtis in 1843 for jaundice and was prescribed the remedy sepia. Arthur was also an advocate of homeopathy.

In the spring of 1839, Eliza Middleton (1815-1890), the youngest daughter of a wealthy South Carolina rice planter and diplomat, married Philadelphian Joshua Francis Fisher at Middleton Place, one of the most celebrated plantations in the South.

Soon after the wedding Eliza began a new life in Philadelphia. In her first letter home, she begged her mother, “Tell me everything when you write”.

Thus began a seven year conversation — on paper — between Eliza and her British born mother, Mary Hering Middleton (1772-1850), that would encompass some 375 letters.

The correspondence offers a sweeping view of antebellum Charleston, Philadelphia, and the fashionable resort of Newport, Rhode Island. The letters delineate a cultural and social life that bound together North and South at a time when sectional interests worked to sunder the nation.

These letters hold particular significance because they record the joys, sorrows, frustrations, and concerns of a mother and a daughter, and convey the opinions and actions of all their family members, including the men.

Eliza and her mother chronicle issues and events ranging from mental illness to musical performances, financial panics to children’s parties, pregnancy to politics.

In addition they introduce a notable cast of characters, including Charles Dickens, President Martin Van Buren, the courtly Philadelphian George Harrison, the scandalous actress Fanny Kemble Butler, the irascible diplomat Henry Middleton, the lovely Julia Ward Howe, and the African slave who was captain of the Middletons’ private schooner.

This amazing collection of letters is one of the largest collections of existing American archives. The letters date from Eliza’s marriage in 1839 until her father’s death in 1846, when her widowed mother came to live in Philadelphia.

The Collection came to light when Eliza Cope Harrison, a descendant of Eliza, collated the family letters archive and decided to publish.

Mary Hering Middleton belonged to a conspicuous Southern family, but she was brought up in England and spent ten years in Russia where her husband was US Minister. Mary returned to America and lived in Southern Carolina for forty years.

Eliza spent ten years in Europe and then lived in Philadelphia for fifty years.

Most of their family joined in the correspondence, such that their letters became a newsletter for a rather large group in Charleston, Philadelphia and Newport, in which they discussed politics, music, literature, religion and family events. The contents look back to the older generation in the late eighteenth century and set the stage for the many grandchildren and the future, the mid nineteenth century.

The letters form an extraordinary picture of the life and times of an influential family in America, and they record a unique record of society, customs, events and attitudes from this time.

The Letters discuss homeopathy, mesmerism, phrenology and hydropathy. They chat about Charles Dickens, Julia Ward HoweHenry Wadsworth Longfellow, Washington Irving, Abraham Lincoln, William Cullen Bryant, Charles Lyell and many other influential movers and shakers.


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