A diarist for much of his life, Fithian is known best for the journal he kept in Virginia from October 1773 to October 1774 while working as a tutor for Robert Carter III at his Westmoreland County mansion,Nomony Hall (as Carter nearly always wrote its name, although it is usually spelled "Nomini" or "Nominy"). Fithian's detailed account of plantation life in Virginia on the eve of the Revolution has become a classic source. The diary offers insights into everyday life on Carter's plantation and is especially revealing for what it says about slavery, religion, family life, education, gentility, and intellectual life. It also reveals much about the social differences between eighteenth-century Virginia culture and that of the mid-Atlantic communities where Fithian was raised.
Fithian was an active participant in Nomony Hall life and quickly became a trusted friend of the Carter family. Not only did he teach Carter's children, but he also attended the family's elaborate social events, mingled with the unmarried young ladies who frequented the plantation, and attended services of the Church of England with the Carters. As an ambitious and well-educated young man, Fithian spent long periods of time in Carter's impressive library, reading everything from Greek and Latin literature to the latest gentleman's magazines from London. He told his successor as tutor that his Princeton education allowed him to "come, & go, & converse, & keep company" in the wealthy and influential family as if he had been a gentleman worth £10,000. Fithian was appalled by the way Carter and his fellow plantation owners treated their slaves. He also never quite adjusted to the brief Anglican sermons and the habits of Virginia planters who conducted business on Sundays. Fithian's bouts with homesickness were so severe that he declined to stay with the Carters so that he might return home to his friends and family in New Jersey.
December 29, 1747 - Philip Vickers Fithian is born near Greenwich, New Jersey.
1767 - A year after experiencing a religious conversion, Philip Vickers Fithian matriculates at Enoch Green's Presbyterian academy in Deerfield, Connecticut.
1770 - Philip Vickers Fithian enrolls in the junior class at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University).
September 1772 - Philip Vickers Fithian receives his degree from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University).
October 1773–October 1774 - Philip Vickers Fithian keeps a journal while working as a tutor for Robert Carter III at Nomony Hall in Westmoreland County.
December 22, 1774 - Philip Vickers Fithian may have taken part in and organized the burning of a cargo of tea near Greenwich, New Jersey.
May 1775–February 1776 - Philip Vickers Fithian preaches to Scots-Irish-Presbyterian congregations along the Susquehanna River and in the Shenandoah Valley.
October 25, 1775 - Philip Vickers Fithian and Elizabeth Beatty marry in Deerfield, New Jersey. They will have no children.
June 1776 - Philip Vickers Fithian receives an appointment as chaplain of a battalion of New Jersey infantry.
July 2, 1776 - Philip Vickers Fithian writes his will before leaving to serve in the Continental army.
October 8, 1776 - Philip Vickers Fithian dies in an army camp near Fort Washington, New York.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Fea, J., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Philip Vickers Fithian (1747–1776). (2019, May 2). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Fithian_Philip_Vickers_1747-1776.
- MLA Citation:
Fea, John and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Philip Vickers Fithian (1747–1776)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 2 May. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 3, 2019 | Last modified: May 2, 2019
Contributed by John Fea and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John Fea is professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.