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James Fisk

James Fisk
Born April 1, 1835(1835-04-01)
Bennington, Vermont
Died January 6, 1872 (aged 37)
Nationality American
Occupation Stockbroker, corporate executive
Years active 1850-1872

James Fisk, Jr. (April 1, 1835 – January 6, 1872), known variously as "Big Jim," "Diamond Jim," and "Jubilee Jim," was an American stock broker and corporate executive.


Early life and career

Fisk was born in the hamlet of Pownal, Vermont in the township of Bennington on April Fool's Day. After a brief period in school, he ran away in 1850 and joined Van Amberg's Mammoth Circus & Menagerie. Later, he became a hotel waiter, and finally adopted the business of his father, a peddler. He applied what he learned in the circus to his peddling and grew his father's business. He then became a salesman for Jordan Marsh, a Boston dry goods firm. A failure as a salesman, he was sent to Washington, D.C., in 1861 to sell textiles to the government. By his shrewd dealing in army contracts during the Civil War, and, by some accounts, cotton smuggling across enemy lines (in which he enlisted the help of his father), he accumulated considerable wealth, which he soon lost in speculation.

Business career


In 1864 he became a stock broker in New York and was employed by Daniel Drew as a buyer. He aided Drew in the Erie War against Cornelius Vanderbilt for control of the Erie Railroad. This resulted in Fisk and Jay Gould becoming members of the Erie directorate, and subsequently, a well-planned raid netted Fisk and Gould control of the railroad. The association with Gould continued until Fisk's death.

Fisk and Gould carried financial buccaneering to extremes: their program included an open alliance with Boss Tweed, the wholesale bribery of legislatures, and the buying of judges. Their attempt to corner the gold market culminated in the fateful Black Friday of September 24, 1869.

Personal life

Fisk married Lucy Moore in 1854; he was 19, she 15. Lucy was an orphan, reared by an uncle, from Springfield, Massachusetts. She tolerated Fisk's many extramarital affairs and lived with a woman friend, suggesting the possibility that she was a lesbian.[1] Regardless, they remained close, with Fisk visiting her in Boston every few weeks and spending summers and vacations with her.

Josie Mansfield

In New York, Fisk had a relationship with Josie Mansfield (d.1847), a show-girl. Fisk housed Josie in an apartment a few doors down from the Erie Railroad headquarters on West 23rd Street and had a covered passage built linking the backdoors of the headquarters and her apartment building. Fisk's relationship with Mansfield scandalized New York society. Mansfield eventually fell in love with Fisk's business associate Edward S. Stokes (1840-1901), a man noted for his good looks. Stokes left his wife and family for Mansfield and Mansfield left Fisk.

In a bid for money, Mansfield and Stokes tried to extort money from Fisk by threatening the publication of letters written by Fisk to Mansfield that allegedly proved Fisk's legal wrongdoings. A legal and public relations battle followed, but Fisk refused to pay Mansfield anything. Increasingly frustrated and flirting with bankruptcy, Stokes shot and killed Fisk in New York city on January 6, 1872. Fisk gave a dying declaration identifying Stokes as the killer, and Stokes served four years of a six year prison sentence for manslaughter. Fisk is buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery in Brattleboro Vermont. [2]

Fisk was vilified by high society for his amoral and eccentric ways and by many pundits of the day for his business dealings, but was loved and mourned by the workingmen of New York and the Erie Railroad. During the Stokes trial, his quick assistance to the victims of the Great Chicago Fire was remembered in a song, "Jim Fisk (He Never Went Back on the Poor)". He was known as "Colonel" for being the nominal commander of the 9th New York National Guard Infantry Regiment, although his only experience of military action with this unit was an inglorious role in the Orange Riot of July 12, 1871. [3]

Fisk's life was fictionalized in the 1937 film The Toast of New York.

Further reading

  • Adams, C.F.; Adams, Henry (1871). Chapters of Erie
  • Ackerman, Kenneth D. (1988). The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, Gould, and Black Friday, 1869. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. ISBN 0396090656.  
  • Renehan, Edward J. (2005). The Dark Genius Of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons. New York: BasicBooks. ISBN 0465068855.  
  • Swanberg, W. A. (1959). Jim Fisk: The Career of an Improbable Rascal. New York: Scribner.  


  1. ^ Renehan, Edward J (2005). The Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons. Basic Books.  
  2. ^ James "Jim" Fisk Image of grave at Prospect Hill Cemetery.
  3. ^ Mulligan, Robert E. Jr. (March-April 1983). "Ninth's new colonel, The". Military Images IV (5). Retrieved 2008-12-20.  

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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