Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fisher, Samuel (1605-1665)

FISHER, SAMUEL (1605–1665), quaker, son of John Fisher, a hatter in Northampton, was born in Northampton in 1605. After attending a local school he matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, in 1623, and graduated B.A. in 1627. Being puritanically inclined he removed to New Inn Hall, whence he proceeded M.A. in 1630. Croese (Gen. Hist. of Quakers, p. 63, ed. 1696) says he was chaplain to a nobleman for a short time, and became a confirmed puritan. In 1632 he was presented to the lectureship of Lydd, Kent, a position variously estimated as being worth from two to five hundred pounds a year. Wood (Athenæ Oxon. iii. 700, ed. 1813) says he was presented to the vicarage of Lydd, but the register shows this to be incorrect. He rapidly obtained the character of a powerful preacher, and was a leader among the puritans of the district. In his 'Baby-Baptism' (p. 12) Fisher states that he was made a priest (? presbyter) by certain presbyterian divines after episcopacy was laid aside. While at Lydd Fisher took a warm part in favour of some anabaptists, attending their meetings and offering them the use of his pulpit, in which he was stopped by the churchwardens. About 1643 he returned his license to the bishop and joined the baptists, with whom he had for some time consorted, supporting himself by farming. He was rebaptised, and after taking an active part in the baptist community became minister to a congregation at Ashford, Kent, some time previous to 1649, in which year he was engaged in a controversy on infant baptism with several ministers in the presence of over two thousand people. He also disputed with Dr. Channel at Petworth, Sussex, in 1651, and was engaged in at least eight other disputes within three years, and is said to have been considered a 'great honour to the baptist cause' (Crosby, Hist. of the Baptists, i. 363). He wrote several tractates in defence of his principles, and 'Baby-Baptism meer Babism,' In 1654 William Coton and John Stubbs, while on a visit to Lydd, stayed at Fisher's house, and convinced him of the truth of quakerism. Shortly afterwards he joined the Friends, among whom he subsequently became a minister, probably before his meeting with George Fox at Romney in 1655. On 17 Sept. 1656 Fisher attended the meeting of parliament, and when the Protector stated that to his knowledge no man in England had suffered imprisonment unjustly attempted a reply. He was prevented completing his speech, which he afterwards published. He subsequently attempted to address the members of parliament at a fast-day service in St. Margaret's Church, ster. He appears to have laboured chiefly in Kent, in which county Besse (Sufferings, i. 289) says he was 'much abused' in 1658, and in 1659 he was pulled out of a meeting at Westminster by his hair and severely beaten. In May of this year he went to Dunkirk with Edward Burrough [q. v.], when the authorities ordered them to leave the town. They declined, and were then directed to be moderate. After unsuccessfully endeavouring to promulgate their doctrines to the monks and nuns for a few days they returned to England. During the following year Fisher and Stubbs made a journey to Rome, travelling over the Alps on foot, where they 'testified against popish superstition' to several of the cardinals, and distributed copies of quaker literature, nor were they molested or even warned. Wood (Athenæ Oxon. iii. 700) states that when Fisher returned he had a 'very genteel equipage,' which, as his means were known to be very small, caused him to be suspected of being a Jesuit and in receipt of a pension from the pope, and Fisher seems to have undergone some amount of persecution from this cause. Wood also states that this journey took place in 1658, and that it extended to Constantinople, whither Fisher went, hoping to convert the sultan. In 1660 Fisher held a dispute with Thomas Danson at Sandwich, in which he defended the doctrines of the Friends (see Rusticus ad Academicos), and later in this year he was imprisoned in Newgate. The rest of his life was chiefly spent in or near London, where he was a successful preacher. In 1661 he was imprisoned and treated with much severity in the Gatehouse at Westminster. In 1662 he was arrested and sent to the Bridewell for being present at an illegal meeting. He was again sent to Newgate for refusing to take the oaths, and was detained for upwards of a year, during which time he occupied himself in writing 'The Bishop busied beside the Business.' During part of this imprisonment he was confined with other prisoners in a room so small that they were unable to lie down at the same time. Shortly after his discharge he was again arrested at Charlwood, Surrey, and committed to the White Lion Prison, Southwark, where he was confined for about two years. During the great plague he was temporarily released, and retired to the house of Ann Travers, a quakeress at Dalston, near London, where he died of the plague on 31 Aug. 1665. His place of burial is uncertain. Fisher's works show him to have been a man of considerable erudition and some literary skill, but they are disfigured by violence and coarseness. They were, however, quaker text-books for more than a century. He was skilful in argument, had no little logical acumen, and great controversial powers. Sewel asserts that he was 'dextrous and well skilled in the ancient poets and Hebrew,' His private life appears to have been above reproach, and the 'testimonies' of the Friends unite in giving him a high personal character. William Penn, who was intimately acquainted with him, praises his sweetness and evenness of temper, his self-denial and humility, and Besse declares that he excelled in 'natural parts and acquired abilities,' and that he 'incessantly laboured by word and writing.' His more important works are: 1. 'Baby-Baptism meer Babism, or an Answer to Nobody in Five Words, to Everybody who finds himself concerned in it. (1) Anti-Diabolism, or a True Account of a Dispute at Ashford proved a True Counterfeit ; (2) Anti-Babism, or the Babish Disputings of the Priests for Baby-Baptism Disproved; (3) Anti-Rantism, or Christ'ndome Unchrist'nd; (4) Anti-Ranterism, or Christ'ndome New Christ'nd; (5) Anti-Sacerdotism the deep dotage of the D.D. Divines Discovered, or the Antichristian C.C. Clergy cleared to be that themselves which they have ever charged Christ's Clergy to be,' &c., 1653. 2. 'Christianismus Redivivus, Christ'ndom both unchrist'ned and new-christ'ned,' &c., 1655. 3. 'The Scorned Quaker's True and Honest Account, both why and what he should have spoken (as to the sum and substance thereof) by commission from God, but that he had not permission from Men,' &c., 1656. 4. 'The Burden of the Word of the Lord, as it was declared in part, and as it lay upon me from the Lord on the 19th day of the 4th mo. 1656, to declare it more fully,' &c., 1656. 5. 'Rusticus ad Academicos in Exercitationibus Expostulatoriis, Apologeticis Quatuor. The Rusticks Alarm to the Rabbies, or the Country correcting the University and Clergy,' &c., 1660. 6. ' An Additional Appendix to the book entitled "Rusticus ad Academicos,"' 1660. 7. 'Lux Christi emergens, oriens, effulgens, ac seipsam expandens per universum,' &c., 1660. 8. 'One Antidote more against that provoking Sin of Swearing,' &C., 1661. 9. 'Ἀπόκρυπτα ἀποκάλυπτα, Velata Quædam Revelata,' &c., 1661. 10. 'Ἐπίσκοπος ἀπόσκοπος; the Bishop Busied beside the Businesse,' &c., 1662. The foregoing works with many less important were reprinted in 1679 under the title of 'The Testimony of Truth Exalted,' &c., folio.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. iii. 700 ; Fasti, i. 430, ed. 1813; Croese's General Hist. of the Quakers, p. 63, ed. 1696 ; Sewel's Hist. of the Quakers, vols. i. ii. and iii. 1833 ; Gough's Hist. of the Quakers, i. 253 ; Besse's Sufferings, i. 289, 366 ; Wood's Hist. of the General Baptists ; Crosby's Hist. of the Baptists, i. 359 ; Britton and Brayley's Description of the County of Northampton ; Tuke's Biographical Notices of ... Friends, ii. 221, ed. 1815; W. and T. Evans's Friends' Library, vol. ii. ; Hasted's Kent, ii. 517; Fox's Autobiography, p. 139, ed. 1765; Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Book ; Swarthmore MSS.]

A. C. B.