The Fish Family and FPCN

Written by Elder Marjorie Melikian, Church Historian

Since our founding in 1652 as the town church in Newtown, many remarkable people have led both the church and the community. One family with a long history in our church is the Fish family, which is famous not only for work in Newtown but throughout the Northeast and the United States. Here is a short summary of Jonathan Fish and his descendants, originally written in 2015 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of three special events in our congregation’s history:

1. In 1715, the original Puritan church (founded 1652) turned officially Presbyterian.
2. In 1715, land was given to the church by member and prominent citizen Jonathan Fish for its first two churches, and its cemetery.
3. In 1715, our oldest, and still existing, book of records was begun.

(1st Generation) Jonathan Fish

Born in England, Jonathan Fish was one of the first settlers of Newtown, a town magistrate, and one of our first church members. Born in England, he became a devout Puritan. He first came to Massachusetts in 1637 to seek religious freedom.

In 1659, he joined the group led by the Rev. John Moore in Newtown, a new settlement on western Long Island then under Dutch rule. The Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant, allowed them to settle because they also were of the Reformed faith. Stuyvesant’s daughter would later marry into the Fish family.

The settlers first called their settlement Middleburgh in gratitude to the town in Holland that had previously offered refuge to Puritans fleeing persecution in England. However, Stuyvesant did not trust the English since England and Holland were on the verge of war. He would not give the settlers a right to the land they were on. They wanted legal protection, so they bought the land as a group from the local Indians, paying them in produce, English items, and livestock over two years. The record of that deed is in Albany, New York. It took two years to pay off. Jonathan Fish paid 20 English shillings for his share. They also had to give the Dutch 1/10 of all produce for tax every year. The first harvest, in the fall of 1652, was a cause of great thanksgiving. The food was also a necessity to live through the winter. A person of character, Jonathan Fish was elected as a magistrate of the town. He died around 1663.

(2nd Generation) Nathan Fish

Nathan Fish was the son of Jonathan Fish. Little is known of him. He lived in Newtown all of his life as a farmer. His 14 children intermarried with other first settlers of the area. One of his sons, Nathaniel, died during the worship service in 1769 at our Old White Church. Another son, Samuel, was an elder in our church and a magistrate.

(3rd Generation) Jonathan Fish

Jonathan Fish donated the land for our old church and cemetery and built the old Corner House, the scene of many historic events in our neighborhood.

As the oldest son of Nathan, Jonathan inherited the homestead and considerable land in the village of Newtown. He was born in 1680 and was town assessor for several years, beginning in 1709. In 1715, he donated land that he owned (located across what is now Queens Boulevard from our current church) for our Old White Church, which was also built in 1715. It included land for our 1822 cemetery. On special occasions, we put this 1715 sheepskin deed on display in our church.

In the 1700s, Jonathan Fish also built the Old Corner House. It was bought in the early 1800s as a parsonage for our church. It lasted until the early 1900s. The enlargement to 12 lanes of Queens Blvd. in 1924 covers the site. It was two lanes from the present Broadway and Queens Blvd.

The Corner House was also famous in the 1700s for two things. It became a refuge for French citizens fleeing English persecution in Nova Scotia, Canada. In addition, a wanted American soldier in the Revolution was reportedly hidden in the very large Corner House and escaped while British soldiers were being given free drinks in the tavern downstairs. The owner at that time was Abraham Rapelye, another hero of Newtown. Either he or James Renne, a French Huguenot member and elder/clerk of our church, may have hidden our 1715 church records book as the British soldiers took over our church and Renne’s home. British General Lord Howe wrote a report to Parliament there about his victory at the Battle of Brooklyn. Our church suffered greatly during the Revolution. The British used this church as a prison, finally destroying it for wood for soldier’s huts. Rapelye is believed to have hidden the draft of a resolution to form a Committee of Correspondence our members drafted there before the war, wanting independence from England, and agreeing to cooperate with the Continental Congress in the cause of liberty – treason in a town controlled by Tories! A later bar bill was on the other side, which strongly links the Old Corner House and the fact that both the book and document were returned to our church after the war, kept safe while the British were camped around us. Other patriots had either fled, been arrested, or killed. The British had torn down our church and everything in it was destroyed. Rapelye had British trust so he was unlikely to be searched.

(4th Generation) Jonathan Fish

Nephew of third-generation Jonathan Fish, he was a merchant in New York City.

(5th Generation) Lt. Col. Nicholas Fish (1758-1833)

Son of the fourth-generation Jonathan Fish, Lt. Col. Fish was a Revolutionary War hero and friend of George Washington. He served in the Battle of Long Island, was wounded at the Battle of Monmouth, and shared in the victory over the British at Saratoga and Yorktown. His wife Elizabeth was the daughter of the former Dutch governor of New York, Peter Stuyvesant. He was also an adjutant general of New York, candidate for U.S. Representative, and governor of New York.

(6th Generation) Hamilton Fish

Hamilton Fish was secretary of state under Abraham Lincoln. He was also governor of New York and a U.S. senator.

Later Descendants

The Fish family instilled a love of public service in their descendants and began a political dynasty that lasts until the current day. Here is a list of descendants:

Nicholas Fish II (1848-1902): son of Hamilton Fish. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires to Switzerland, 1877-1881. U.S. Minister to Belgium, 1882-1885.

Hamilton Fish II (1849-1936): son of Hamilton Fish. New York Assemblyman, 1874, 1876-1879, 1889-1891, 1893-1896. Delegate to the Republican National Convention, 1884. U.S. Representative form New York, 1909-1911.

D. Maitland Armstrong (1836-1919): nephew by marriage to Hamilton Fish. U.S. Consul in Rome, Italy, 1869-1871. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires to the Papal States, 1869. U.S. Consul General in Rome, Italy, 1871-1873.

Alfred C. Chapin (1848-1936): father-in-law of Hamilton Fish III. New York Assemblyman, 1882-1883. New York Comptroller, 1884-1887. Mayor of Brooklyn, New York, 1888-1891. U.S. Representative from New York, 1891-1892.

Hamilton F. Kean (1862-1941): grand-nephew of Hamilton Fish. New Jersey Republican Committeeman, 1905-1919. Delegate to the Republican National Convention, 1916. Republican National Committeeman, 1919-1928. Candidate for U.S. Senate from New Jersey, 1924. U.S. Senator from New Jersey, 1929-1935.

Hamilton Fish Armstrong (1893-1973): son of D. Maitland Armstrong. U.S. diplomat. Editor, Foreign Affairs, 1928-1972.

Hamilton Fish III (1888-1991): son of Hamilton Fish II. New York Assemblyman, 1914-1916. U.S. Representative from New York, 1920-1945. New York Republican Committeeman, 1936.

Robert W. Kean (1893-1980): son of Hamilton F. Kean. Delegate to the Republican National Convention, 1936. U.S. Representative from New Jersey, 1939-1959. Candidate for U.S. Senate from New Jersey, 1958.

Hamilton Fish IV (1926-1996): son of Hamilton Fish III. U.S. Representative from New York, 1969-1995. Delegate to the Republican National Convention, 1984.

Thomas H. Kean (1935- ): son of Robert W. Kean. New Jersey Assemblyman, 1968-1977. Governor of New Jersey, 1982-1990.

Hamilton Fish V (1952- ): son of Hamilton Fish IV. Candidate for U.S. Representative from New York, 1998, 1994.

Thomas Kean, Jr. (1968- ): son of Thomas H. Kean. New Jersey state senator.