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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Thomas Fish

Thomas Fish’s ancestors have been documented in England as early as 1555, arriving in Connecticut about 1656. Later his family moved to Pennsylvania where he was born, January 4, 1777.  He married Martha Reed in the early 1800’s and settled on the Little Miami River in Ohio.


When the War of 1812 broke out, Thomas enlisted and was promoted to Sergeant in the Kentucky Volunteers acting as a military Scout. He was captured and taken to Canada. The Research library has a copy of a letter written by his commanding officer to General Henry Harrison, advising him that “Sgt Fish, having been rescued from the British, had valuable information about military operations there.”


When land became available in Illinois territory Thomas relocated to what became Lawrence County, Illinois. He brought with him his wife Martha, their daughter Sally, 5-year-old Josiah, and John who had been born just a few weeks before their departure from the Little Miami River area. Notes from earlier interviews with older relatives, state that Thomas made at least three trips from Butler County, Ohio to Illinois during the 1817-1818 period.   Recollections of Lester Fish were that Thomas came down the Ohio River on a raft on one such trip, then stopped at what is now Evansville, Indiana and from there came overland to Lawrence County. Guy Fish remembered stories told of the trip wherein Thomas brought his family along the Ohio River in a wagon camping one night in Indiana where Forbes Knob is now located.


Once here Thomas settled on the SW quarter of Sec 18 T3R, R12 in 1818 (west of Shiloh Church) and perfected his land patents in 1825 and 1835.  In an abandoned log cabin, he taught the first subscription school in the Springhill area in the 1820’s. According to family stories told by his son John, John would run home over the hill to tell his mother that he had not been spanked by his father that day because he had successfully recited his lessons. 


 His wife Martha died September 10, 1840, age 53 yrs. She had been born in 1787, the daughter of John and Mary Reed of Tyrone Co, Ireland.  In 1960 a foot marker remained on her grave at Spring Hill cemetery, but the old head marker had crumbled and been removed.  This sandstone marker only read “53,” her age. Thomas died February 12,1851.  In 1960 the old stone was still there.  It was inscribed “Thos Fish Dyed Feb 185_   74.” Both stones have now been replaced.  Neither Thomas nor Martha was a member of the Springhill congregation, but their encouragement of religion and education was well known. On June 6 1835, Thomas Fish and his wife donated a parcel of land to the Trustees of the Spring Hill Christian Church. 


John, the 3-week-old baby who had traveled with his family to Illinois grew up on the farm and married Susannah Combs on April 29,1841. He became a Deacon in the Springhill Church where both he and Susannah were members. The next year their first son, Thomas Jefferson Fish was born, followed in 1843 by Andrew Jackson Fish (Andy). Susannah died two years later leaving these two little boys and their father alone.  She is buried near her mother-in-law’s grave at Spring Hill.


Stories recorded by older family members tell of John’s two-room log cabin where all of his children were born.  The floors were made of split logs called puncheons and between the rooms was a large fireplace.  Will Fish remembered that a large log would be rolled to one door. Then a chain would be passed through the cabin to the opposite door and attached to horses standing outside.  The horses would then pull the log inside where it would then be rolled into the fireplace.  This cabin was said to have set northwest of a later frame house, which burned in 1966. 


John later remarried and both he and Emily were very active in the church as long as they lived. Both are buried at Shiloh Cemetery.


Susannah and John’s son, Andy Fish, earned a scholarship to U of I in April,1864, a testament to the excellent early education in Lawrence County at that time. The Civil War was being fought and many in the church community had strong feelings about the abolition of slavery. 


The governor of Illinois enlisted the state militia into federal service for a period of 100 days to provide short-term troops for rear echelon duties because he was afraid that the Confederates would invade the north, as John Morgan had done in Ohio.   These “100-day men” were to free up more veteran units for combat duty.  To induce enlistment, substantial bounties were offered.


At age twenty, Andy enlisted in the Union Army on May 2,1864, at Bloomington fully expecting to be home in the fall to attend college with money in his pocket.  He mustered in June 9,1864 as a Private in Co. I of the 145 Ill Regiment and was ordered to St Louis on June 12. He contacted typhoid fever and was transferred to Camp Butler near Springfield Illinois. He was discharged September 23,1864 and died at his home on October 7,1864. His father applied for his pension. Andy’s grave is in the northeast corner of the Spring Hill cemetery near his grandparents and the mother he never knew.


Sources:    Lawrence County Historical Society Research Library- Fish Family Files, BR Lewis notes, Fish Family Bible 1850 & 1860 Census, History of Edwards, Lawrence and Wabash Cos. Il (pub 1883) page 104,327; Reed Family History of Butler Co, OH published 1882)


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