Author Frances Fisher Tiernan was widely known by her pen name, Christian Reid. In a career spanning from Reconstruction through the First World War, Tiernan published forty-six books. Her best-known novel was Land of the Sky, a title that eventually gave western North Carolina its famous moniker.
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Frances Fisher was born in 1846 (note: the date on the marker is in error) in Salisbury, the eldest child of Charles and Elizabeth Fisher. Her ancestors were among the founders of Rowan County, and the family held a prominent position locally. Orphaned by the early 1860s, Frances and her younger brother and sister went to live with their aunt, Christine Fisher, who had an enormous influence on her life, encouraging her work as a writer and her conversion to Catholicism.
During Reconstruction, Fisher began to write under the pen name. Deliberately choosing an unpretentious and gender-neutral pseudonym, Fisher in 1870 debuted with her novel Valerie Aylmer. Her novels were considered “polite literature” that celebrated the antebellum period, a style typical of the time in the South. She gained stature in the literary world following the publication of Valerie Aylmer, which sold 8,000 copies and bolstered her reputation among fellow Southern authors.
Fisher’s best known work, Land of the Sky, also called Adventures in Mountain By-Ways, was published in 1876. It told the story of travelers in western North Carolina, where Tiernan had vacationed as a young woman with her aunt. She continued her writing, traveling to Europe in the 1880s to gather information for new books.
Frances Fisher married James Marquis Tiernan in 1887 at the age of 41. Tiernan owned silver mines in Mexico and, shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to Mexico for ten years, during which time they traveled extensively. They returned to Salisbury in 1897. James Tiernan became ill and died in January 1898. In 1908 Frances Fisher Tiernan was awarded the Laetare Medal for her contributions to American society as a Catholic. She eventually returned to writing again to support her family, and wrote regularly until her death in 1920. She is buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Salisbury.
Kate Harbes Becker, Biography of Christian Reid (1941)
James Brawley, Rowan Story, 1753-1953 (1953)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, VI, 34—sketch by Richard Walser
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)