North American Scholar
BREWER, Fisk Parsons
A.B. Yale, 1852; study in Greece, 1858-9.
- Professional Experience:
Tutor, preparatory schools, Yale, & Beloit, 1852-8; principal, American Freedmen's Union Commission School (Raleigh, NC), 1865-7; North Carolina School for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, 1867-9; librarian and professor of Greek, University of North Carolina, 1869-71; U.S. consul to Greece (Piraeus), 1871-3; prof. ancient languages and secretary pro tem of faculty, University of South Carolina, 1873-7; prof. Greek and Latin, Iowa (now Grinell) Coll., 1877-83.
Roman Family Coins in the Yale College Collection (New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1860); Memoir of Hon. David Lowry Swain, LL.D (Boston: David Clapp, 1870); The Library of the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill: n.p., 1871); Peculiar Usages of English—Observed in North Carolina (New York: Joseph H. Richards, 1873); "The Coins and Currency of Modern Greece," American Journal of Numismatics (1877); Sketch of the Life of the Rev. Josiah Brewer; Missionary to the Greeks(n.p., 1880).
Fisk Brewer, the son of two missionaries, was named for two missionary friends of his parents: Pliny Fisk (1792-1825) and Levi Parsons (1792-1822). His parents came from old New England families and after they returned to the United States in 1858, Fisk was educated in Massachusetts and Connecticut. at Yale he twice won the Greek prize and developed a lifelong interest in numismatics, which became the focus of his major publications. After a period of tutoring schoolboys, he spent a year in Greece studying modern Greek and archaeology. His familiarity with the language and the landscape served him well in later years during his consulship, served largely in the Piraeus. Upon his return to America, he married Julia Richards, herself the daughter of missionaries to Hawaii.
In 1860 he was diagnosed with a form of tuberculosis called "slow consumption" and advised by his doctors to move south for his health. After the Civil War, he led the all-black Freedmen's School in Raleigh, then the North Carolina School for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind. The University of North Carolina was reorganized in 1869 under its radical president Solomon Pool (1832-1901). Brewer became a charter member of the APA in 1869. He greatly expanded the university library, but also suffered abuse from whites as a New England abolitionist who socialized with blacks. The University was closed from 1871-5, during which time President U.S. Grant named him consul to Greece. There he was able to enlarge his study of Greek and visit the great sites. Upon his return in 1873, he took a position at the University of South Carolina, then the first integrated college of the Old South, as professor of ancient languages and secretary pro tem of the faculty. As he put it,
"The black boy...who has learned the long paradigms of Greek and Latin, and read in the original of Caesar's wars and of Xenophon's march, Cicero's patriotic orations and the poetry of Virgil and Homer—is no longer a cornfield negro. He has a platform of common knowledge and sentiment with his white classmate. Either there is no virtue in the humanities, or he has acquired something of true courtesy."
Brewer found a Latin manuscript in the University's collections which he deciphered and shared with his colleague Richard T. Greener (1844-1922), the first black graduate of Harvard. In 1875 successfully sponsored Greener for membership in the APA, making him the first black member of the Association.
By the time the University of South Carolina was closed in 1877, Brewer's health was deteriorating, but he took a position at Iowa College, which he navigated in a wheelchair until his illness forced him to retire. Bedridden for the last decade of his life, he nevertheless read and gathered examples for Liddell and Scott's Greek dictionary, until tuberculosis took his life at the age of 57.
"'South Carolina University: 1876' of Fisk Parsons Brewer," (editorial note by William P. Vaughn) South Carolina Historical Magazine 76,4 (Oct. 1975) 225-31; W.F. Brewer, "Sketch of Fisk Parsons Brewer," (ca. 1939) Manuscript Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
- Author: Ward Briggs