Letters of Eliza Middleton Fisher and Her Mother, Mary Hering Middleton, from Charleston, Philadelphia, and Newport, 1839 – 1846
Edited by Eliza Cope Harrison
In the spring of 1839, Eliza Middleton, 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, leaving her family and familiar surroundings behind. In her fist 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, that would encompass some 375 letters. Gathered in the volume with more than fifty illustrations and an introduction by Eliza Cope Harrison, the correspondence offers a sweeping yet intimate 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. Mary Hering Middleton (1772-1850), who was the wife of Henry Middleton and the daughter-in-law of Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, lived in Russia during her husband's ten years as U.S. Minister there and served as the central figure in one of South Carolina's most esteemed lowcountry families. Like her mother, Eliza Middleton Fisher (1815-1890) was well educated, well traveled, and musically gifted. These witty and opinionated women have left a legacy of animated letters illuminating many aspects of life in nineteenth-century America.
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 one to another a notable cast of characters, including Charles Dickens, President Van Buren, the courtly Philadelphian George Harrision, the scandalous actress Fanny Kemble Butler, the irascible diplomat Henry Middleton, the lovely Julia Ward, and the African slave who was captain of the Middletons' private schooner.
Hard cover with jacket. 532 pages.
About the Author
After a career teaching history in the classroom as well as through museum exhibits and programs, Eliza Cope Harrison returned to historical research in the 1990s when she discovered the Middleton-Fisher correspondence. The editor of Philadelphia Merchant: The Diary of Thomas P. Cope, 1800-1851, she is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and holds a master's degree in American history from the University of Michigan. Harrison lives in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
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