"In 1867 the Society was registered at the City Hall under the name of Greek-Russian-Slavonic Church and Philanthropic Society. The first president of the Society was the Russian consul in San Francisco (Martin Klinkovstrem); one of the members of the Society was the Greek consul (George Fisher)." - The One-hundredth Anniversary of the First Eastern Orthodox Parish in San Francisco, 1868-1968. San Francisco, 1968, p. 14.
THE LATE GEORGE FISHER,
who for some years before his death held the honorable position of Greek Consul at this port, and whose death within the last few days has been announced in the papers of the State, was a gentleman of sterling worth and unimpeached integrity; and whose life was so singular and interesting in its character and variety as to invest it with the elements of a romance. The greater portion of his years had been attended with so many personal perils, that the manner of his death, which was peaceful, attended by the care of an affectionate wife and loving friends, and at the advanced age of seventy-eight years seems to those who are familiar with his history almost miraculous.
The following brief sketch of the life and adventures of Judge Fisher was published in Washington while he was Secretary of the Land Commissioners in this city in 1853, and those who have only seen him in later years and who have observed his gentlemanly demeanor and blameless life, and particularly the Greek residents of the State, who manifest for him the greatest affection will no doubt take an interest in reading and perhaps in preserving it:
George Fisher, Secretary and Translator to the California Land Commission, is a native of Hungary, born in the city called Stuhi-Weisenburg in the month of April, 1795.
This city is about ten German miles from Buda, the ancient capital of the country. Besides being the birthplace of the subject of this sketch, it has the honor to claim amongst its sons the renowned Captain John Smith, celebrated for his single-handed conflict with three Turks, whom he slew in the war between Turkey and Hungary, and subsequently made still more famous by the interposition of the noble Indian maiden, Pocahontas, for his salvation; and among its daughters, if public rumor be true, the devoted wife of Louis Rossuth, the Hungarian patriot.
The father of Mr. F. was also a native of the same city, and was a "Polgar" in the Magyar, and "Burgher" in the German language (which in English means a citizen), and died during the infancy of his son, leaving him little besides his name.
After the decease of his father, he entered the college of Carlowitz, under the auspices of His Excellency, Stephen Stratimirovitch, the Archbishop, and Metropolitan of the Greek Church in Austria, ex officio a member of the House of Magnates (House of Lords) of the Hungarian Diet (Parliament), having his Archi-Episcopal See at Carlowitz, in Slavonia. He was here educated in the tenets of that church, which appear to be those of his family, and according to their desire, he was to have been devoted to it by investing him, at the proper age, with holy orders. But Providence had otherwise ordered; and in 1813, becoming wearied with the monotony of student life, and feeling a decided repugnance to taking orders, he left the college, and joined the revolutionary ranks of Servia, under the command of George Petrovitch - the celebrated "Black George" of history.
Here, at the age of seventeen. commences his adventurous career, which, when we look upon it, forces us to exclaim:
"Truth is strange - stranger that fiction."
The valor of George Petrovitch and his adherents was not proof, however, against the overwhelming forces of the Sultan; and after the desperate contest of Belgrade, the adventurous lad was driven with the retreating Slavonians across the Danube, and sought a refuge within the inhospitable confines of Austria.
The Austrian Government, to rid itself of men whom it both hated and feared, but dared not slay, authorized the organization of the Slavonian Legion, and in it the youthful soldier was again enrolled, making with it the celebrated campaign of Italy. But a year had not elapsed, when orders came for the immediate disbanding of the Legion (then far in the interior), leaving the young adventurer again alone, his sword his only support - his courage his sole capital. With these he made his solitary way along the banks of the Danube, through a part of hostile Turkey, to Adrianople, along the Adriatic, and after many adventures he again crossed the Austrian frontier, between Landscrone and Mittelwalde, in Austrian and Prussian Silesia; he resolutely pushes on through Breslau, Dresden, Magdeburg, Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen to Amsterdam. Here he determined to try if fortune might not be more propitious in the western world, and embarked on a Dutch ship bound for Philadelphia. He entered the Delaware river the month of September, 1815, and was detained on board the ship as a redemptionist, which is the term applied to a person liable to be sold for his passage money. Again his adventurous spirit arose, and being overpowered in an attempt to regain his liberty, he was confined on board until nearly the end of the year, when, growing desperate, he with two other companions took possession of the ship's boat, and landing above the city, escaped.
Their landing, nevertheless, attracted the attention of some persons on the shore, who approached them suspiciously, but soon turned back, apparently satisfied, saying to each other, "Fishers!"
It may have appeared strange to some, that the name of Fisher should be borne be one of Slavono-Servian descent, and we may as well inform the reader that it was not patronymic of the subject of this notice. A poor orphan, escaping from the patronage of a powerful Archbishop, whose zeal for proselytism would have extended any means to have secured the deserter from the church, caused the ardent boy to use only his baptismal name; and afterward when an exile on a foreign shore, just liberating himself from a prison ship, the first word that greeted his ear was that of deliverance - viz.: "Fishers;" that is, they are fishermen (showing him to be unsuspected and consequently free.) It was a pious and a grateful thought that prompted him to take the name (similar to that which governed the preserver of Moses,) as an acknowledgment and remembrance of providential preservation.
Mr. George Fisher - for we can safely call him so now - having assumed that name with his adopted country, after struggling through those harassing trials which the stranger only knows, and the stranger with a foreign tongue most keenly feels, but which his iron will and sturdy courage soon overcame, pursued his fortunes to the great West, then, and even now, the proper sphere for spirits such as his; and after many wanderings, selected the State of Mississippi as a residence, and there, having declared his intentions, became a citizen of the United States. And when we think upon his yearly sufferings under Austrian tyranny, we may imagine with what sincerity he threw off all allegiance to foreign potentates.
In the year 1825, impelled by the love of adventure, Mr. Fisher visited the city of Mexico, where he remained until 1830, when he accompanied the Hon. J. R. Poinsett, American Minister, to New Orleans, having been engaged in procuring material for Mr. Poinsett's work on Mexico.
In this same year, after parting with Mr. P. as above, Mr. Fisher repaired to Galveston, Texas (then a Mexican port), when he received the appointment of Collector of Customs. This position he held until 1832, and it was during his administration of that department, that the germ was placed from which a few years later sprung the tree which is now yielding such abundant fruit to the American Republic of the North; and, as one of the consequences of its growth and possession, producing the war which shook the golden apple of California into her lap.
When Mr. Fisher resigned his collectorship at Galveston, he proceeded to Matamoras, where he was engaged in various offices under the Mexican Government - having been Commissary General, Collector and Comptroller on Customs, etc., etc., until the autumn of 1834, when he retired to private life. But his active mind could not long be dormant, and to employ it he become the editor and publisher of a Democratic newspaper in the Spanish language, called the Mercurio del Puerto de Matamoras.
This journal appears to have been too liberal for the "powers that were;" and to exemplify this we will copy from a long article published in the Mercurio, No. 24, 16th April, 1835, under the head of "Communicados," the following significant words, addressed by Mr. Fisher, for himself and associates, to General Martin Perfecto de Cos, Commandante General of the Eastern Internal States; they are part of a reply to a communication from General Cos, in which he accuses the Mercury of diverting the attention of the supreme government (of Mexico) with "odious and noisy questions." "In such circumstances as these," says the Mercury, referring to the conduct of Vital Fernandez, the Governor, and Lojero, the political Chief of the Department, "in which Tamaulipas is placed, being only subject to the insolence of a tyrant, there are but two ways left for her to pursue. * * * You know them both, and you see that the worst one against tyranny has not been adopted; a remonstrance has been made to government, and yet the people have not resorted to extremity." This plainly worded article concludes with an assurance to the General that the Mercury will always, for the benefit of the people, inculcate ideas to make them great and respectable!
As a natural consequence, Mr. Fisher was banished, and, in keeping with the magnanimous character of his persecutors, allowed but six days to leave.
His goods and chattels were then seized and placed at once under the hammer, and before they were even distributed an order was received by the auctioneer for the amount of sales; the net proceeds of which, when handed over, were $960; $1,000 having been expected by the judge, as appears in the official document. And what became of this sum? As shown by another official paper, it was divided among the postmaster, collector, and this greedy judge! Can we wonder that the money was required in such haste from the auctioneer?
With the taste of Mexican justice, Mr. Fisher obeys the order of banishment and sails for New Orleans. He reaches that city when the excitement for the liberation of Texas was at fever heat, and at once lends both heart and hands to the cause. He had resided ten years in Mexico, believing it a republic - had held high offices under the pseudo-Democracy - had collected its revenues, and controlled its accounts - placed millions of dollars in their treasury; and yet, for the words which could not have been restrained by one of his noble nature, he received a peremptory order to leave the republic (?) within such a time as would hardly have been sufficient to have arranged the affairs of a cordelier, and his property was seized and sacrificed, and the proceeds divided among his judge and his accusers.
But the amount was dearly earned by the Mexican Government. Sagacious and observing, Mr. Fisher was more conversant with Mexican politics than his persecutors imagined; and fortunate for him, perhaps, this ignorance on their part, else his order had been to the city of Mexico, under an escort, to have shared the prison with his noble and unfortunate friend, Stephen F. Austin.
He discloses the particulars of a contemplated invasion of Texas by Mexico, shows that Santa Anna had long been making preparations for that purpose, but cheered the hearts of his hearers by prophesying a successful issue to the Texans; and that a proof of his military genius might not be wanting, he then pointed put the course which did subsequently lead to the battle of San Jacinto and the capture of Santa Anna and Cos.
Nor were words the only aid and comfort given; for when the storm thickened, and ballast was needed to keep the ship upright when its force should strike, his means were freely tendered. At the critical moment he was on deck - his encouraging voice heard - his powerful arm felt; and when the gale had lulled, but the vexed waves still tossed the straining vessel, he was amongst the first to see the necessity of lashing the little bark to the larger ship, that she might repair damages under her lee. Perhaps wee deal too largely in metaphor - in plain prose, then, Mr. Fisher, upon his arrival in New Orleans, was liberal towards the cause of Texas. Robbed as he had been, he gave what he had, and like the widow's mite it was blessed. When the war broke out he was active in the field, and his military talents came opportunely into play.
He brought with him from Matamoras an invitation from the Governor of Tamaulipas, to General Jose Antonio Mexia, to join him in taking the field against the usurping administration of Santa Anna, accompanied that general in his descent upon Tampico, and is honorably mentioned by him.
Honorable S. F. Austin, the founder of Texas, a man whose good word was valuable, writes to Mr. Fisher thus: "The only time to try friendship is when a man is an misfortune and persecuted by powerful enemies, as I am. You have interested yourself for me, even at the risk of injuring yourself. I wish my family to know this; they will not forget it."
The lamented John L. Stephens makes a very favorable mention of Mr. Fisher in his "Travels in Yucatan." He styles him "the citizen of the world," and properly too, as the foregoing pages testify; he describes his various adventures more graphically that we dare attempt; and was there no other record than that of the talented traveler, it would alone have been sufficient to have sent his name down to posterity.
But Mr. Stephens was not writing his biography, and of course had no occasion to set down more than was immediately apparent to himself. We allude at present to Mr. Stephens' derivation of Mr. Fisher's name, and to correct an error which appears in his work (not Mr. Stephen's error, however, as we will explain, but still an error), which we have no doubt the subject of our sketch will be proud to see set right, even by the hands of his self-appointed biographer, for
"Good name in man or woman
Is the immediate jewel of the soul;"
and no one can appreciate the sentiment better than Mr. Fisher.
We have previously stated that he adopted the name of Fisher from the fact of his having been mistaken for a fisherman on his escape from the Dutch ship. This is true; he did assume the name as we relate. But Mr. Stephens says, "His Slavonian name is 'Ribar,' which in the German language means a 'fisher,'" etc., etc. Now Mr. Stephens was correct, as far as he had been informed, Mr. Fisher having been his informant; but the reason why he gave him this name and derivation, was because it was not then expedient to reveal the whole truth in relation to his name, and his statement could not injure Mr. S., while it shielded himself.
It will be remembered on his first departure from his native land, when he renounced the authority of the Archbishop, he declined the name he then bore. In that memorable but unfortunate campaign, ending in the decisive battle of Belgrade, in which the Servians under George Petrovitch were defeated, he was compelled to pass as a Turkish subject, otherwise he would not have been allowed to have left the Austrian territory; and as it had then become his fixed intention to seek a safer home in America, he was forced to resort to some stratagem to successfully carry out his project. Hence the necessity of assuming the title of a Turkish subject, which sided still better with his views, as his forefathers had been under the rule of Turkey; and Slavonian-Servian language having been his vernacular, he could easily pass as a Servian and a subject of the Grand Sultan; and this is why he gave the name of "Ribar" to Mr. Stephens.
To quote from Mr. Stephens in relation to his meeting with Mr. Fisher: "He was of course at home in the politics of Yucatan, as he had some little personal interest in watching them ----------; for should Santa Anna regain the ascendancy, the climate would be altogether too warm for him." Which fully accounts for Mr. Fisher's desire not to be traced through any name known to his enemies; and thus we hope that we have satisfactorily explained any difference that may have appeared between our humble sketch and Mr. Stephens' statement. Mr. Fisher is heart and soul a Texan. With his strong instincts, he bears towards the country, he has assisted to make free a feeling akin to paternity. He had resided in Texas under Mexican mismanagement; and, as we have seen, first planted the seeds of revolution at Galveston. From Matamoras he was banished for upholding Democratic principles, and at the sacrifice of his interests, personal liberty, ay, even at the risk of his life, striving to make a people great and prosperous, by making them free.
From the first tap of the rappel, which called the oppressed Texans to arms, to the joy-notes which proclaimed them free and independent, Mr. Fisher never wavered. Throughout that long and doubtful struggle he never faltered, and when the alarms of war had ceased and bright-eyed Peace went smiling o'er the land, Texas was still the object of his care, and continued to be until he had the satisfaction of beholding the Lone Star mingling its beams in the constellation - the lost Pleiad restored!
To affect this his pen was not idle; and from his midnight lamp, when others sought repose, he issued breathing thoughts and burning words, which, through the columns of the southern and western press, have taken the hearts of the people, and were as useful in procuring he election of Mr. Polk, and consequently the annexation of his adopted State, as any other means.
We have called Mr. Fisher a Texan, and with reason; for if any one has a right to that title, it is the subject of this notice. His history is embodied in the history of that country from its infancy to the present day. When its affairs became settled, Mr. Fisher commenced the practice of law at Houston, with license from the Supreme Court of the Republic. He has acted in various capacities in civil authority: has filled the offices of Justice of the Peace, County Judge, Recorder of the city, Notary Public, Commissioner of Deeds for almost every State in the Union, etc. From 1846 to 1848 he was translator and keeper of the Spanish records of the General Land Office of Texas, having been previously interpreted to the Convention for framing the Sate Constitution.
Prior to its annexation he was at various times interpreter and translator to the Senate of the Republic, holding the same position when it became a State.
In the year 1851, Mr. F. went to Panama to engage in commercial pursuits, and there he has, on many occasions, rendered important services to the authorities in assisting to quell those disturbances inseparable from the condition of a mixed and shifting population; and in more than one instance has his life been in danger in his interference to prevent bloodshed between Americans and natives - his coolness and address favoring him with both parties, whilst his knowledge of the Spanish language gave him authority with the natives.
Mr. Fisher is a member in high repute of the Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons. He was initiated in 1818, and in 1823 became a Royal Arch Mason. Zealous in everything he undertakes, he was active in establishing Lodges, a Grand Lodge Chapter and Grand Chapter, in the city of Mexico in 1825, being assisted by the Hon. J. R. Poinsett, American Minister, and Governor Vidal, formerly of Louisiana. In Texas he assisted, in conjunction with Generals Sam Houston and Thomas J. Rusk, in forming Lodges and Grand Lodges as early as 1837.
At Panama (N. G.) he was also the initiator of a lodge and, if we are correctly informed, he was active in different Lodges in California.
With the exception of a few, whose lives have been devoted to scholastic pursuits, Mr. F. is conversant with more languages than almost any other man, and is perhaps the best linguist living. He is a Greek and Latin scholar, and in addition to knowledge of the Russian, Polish, Bohemian, Moravian, Slovack, Croatian, Dalmatian and the language of the Montenegrins, speaks with fluency the following tongues: his vernacular, the Slavono-Servian, the Hungarian or "Magyar," the German, the Greek, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian.
With all these accomplishments - with all these honors - having in less than fifty years undergone more than fifty ordinary men of greater age, he remains a plain, unassuming, active gentleman, unpretentious of fame, and only anxious to have his name descend untarnished to the children; and as a proof of this he is now quietly performing the arduous duties of Secretary of the Board of Land Commissioners to ascertain and settle the private land claims in California and ex officio, interpreter of said Board, its translator, and keeper of its archives.
Judge Fisher, after the Land Commission was dissolved in 1854, became a permanent resident of San Francisco, where he has been greatly respected by all who have known him. He was here elected in 1860 to the office of Justice of the Peace of San Francisco, and became ex officio one of the Judges of the County Court, which office he held for several years. Soon after retiring from that office he was appointed by the King of Greece as Consul for that nation, to reside at San Francisco, which office he held down to the time of his death, and which he filled with honor to himself, and to the satisfaction of every Greek resident in the State. Judge Fisher was four times married, and leaves children in the State of Mississippi, but non here. He has left in San Francisco, however, a bereaved widow and many warm friends to mourn his loss. The habits of Judge Fisher were always exemplary. He was never addicted to intemperance or other vice, but throughout his whole career lived a pure, temperate, blameless life, and in his daily habits and precepts, aid to the world around him.
"Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty;
For in my youth I never did apply
Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood.
Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo,
The means of weakness and debility;
Therefore, my age is as a gusty winter,
Frosty, but kindly -"
Daily Evening Bulletin(San Francisco), June 18, 1873
Reprinted in the Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE, Vol. 3, No. 10, June 1996.