History of the Fire Department of the City of New York

Chapter 4, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



1783-1797. -- The British Evacuate the City.--Henceforth New York was to move on her Marvelous Career. -- Address of the Firemen to Governor Clinton. -- Formation of a new Fire Organization. -- The Fresh Water Pond. -- New Companies Organized. -- Fire Buckets and Their Uses.--Location of Fire Houses.

On the twenty-fourth of March, 1783, Robert R. Livingston, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, notified General Washington, then at West Point, of the agreeable intelligence of a general peace, and on the ninth of April following, at twelve o'clock, peace was proclaimed from the steps of the City Hall by the town major. On the twenty-fifth day of November the American Army, under the command of Major-General Henry Knox, marched from Harlem to the Bowery Lane, where they remained until one o'clock, when, the British posts being withdrawn, the American column marched in and took possession of the city. The new era began upon this day; henceforth New York was to move on her marvelous career. In a few years she appears reorganized, rebuilt, with her new architecture, facile princeps, the imperial city of the continent. The compact part of the city extended to Chambers Street on the north and to Catharine Street on the east. Fort George stood on the north end of the Battery, and barracks for soldiers on the south end. The upper barracks were in the park, on Chambers Street. The prison, new prison, and house of correction were in the park, the latter where now stands the City Hall. The fresh water pond on Centre Street was in part surrounded by hills. The hospital building stood near Broadway and Duane Streets. A line of fortifications extended from the high grounds on the east part of the city to Bunker Hill, near Grand Street, between the Bowery and Broadway, and westward across Broadway to another eminence, fortifications were also erected farther across Broadway, near the river, on a line with Fourteenth Street. All beyond was cleared fields.

In the lower parts of the city there was little to be seen except heaps of ruins. By far the greatest part of the buildings were composed of wood and covered with shingles, bricks and stones being very little used. Washington and West Streets were not in existence, and the project of making new grounds by encroachments on the river had been scarcely thought of. In a secluded spot, in the present Reade Street, near Broadway, was a burying ground for people of color; in the neighborhood of which there was scarcely to be found a single house; and immediately to the northward stretched fields and meadows, which extended far and wide. Very few streets were paved, and the workmanship of these few was performed in such a manner as would now be deemed very awkward; one gutter running through the center, which was the lowest part of the street, and the elevation on both sides being towards the houses. Of banks and insurance offices there was not on in the city. At the commencement of the revolutionary war there were nineteen places of public worship; but at its close there were only nine. Trinity and the old Lutheran Church were consumed by the great fire, November 21, 1776, and the other churches, as well as the college, were used by the British for barracks, jails, hospitals, and riding schools.

The Bank of new York was the first banking institution established in the city, commencing operations in 1784, although not chartered until 1791, the banking house being located on the corner of Wall and Williams Streets. It was followed by the Manhattan company, incorporated in 1799, located at No. 23 Wall Street; by the Merchants' Bank, incorporated in 1805, located at 25 Wall Street; by the united States Bank, located at 38 Wall Street, about 1805; by the Mechanics' Bank, incorporated in 1810, located at 16 Wall Street. These were the pioneer banking institutions, which were soon after rapidly increased in number.

Insurance companies were in existence in this city still earlier than banks. "We believe," says Valentine, "the first institution of the kind after the Revolutionary War was called the Mutual Assurance Company. We find that in 1815 there were already thirteen insurance companies established in Wall Street."

The principal event which settled the character of Wall Street as the center of interest in the city, and which brought about it the leading men of business and professional life, was the erection of the old City hall, opposite Broad Street, in 1700; which building became afterwards the Capitol of the United States, and the sire of which is still used for public purposes, thus perpetuating the influence of the original selection of that site down to the present day. The City Hall remained in use for the objects for which it was erected about a century. After the Revolutionary War this building received additional historic interest as the first place of meeting of the Congress of 1789, and the inauguration of George Washington as president.

What was recognized as the upper extremity of Broadway in 1784, and the utmost limit of the city pavement, was the site of St. Paul's Chapel. The fields were open to the north as far as a line ranging eastwardly from Warren Street, where the prospect was bounded by those more useful than agreeable objects, the bridewell, the poorhouse, the goal, and the gallows. Towards the west, however, there was nothing to obstruct the view of the North River but two low houses at the corner of Vesey Street and the college building. The "fields" as the area comprised in the park was then called, were neither enclosed now planted. The streets leading from Broadway to the river had been laid out as high as Warren Street, yet they were but partially built upon, and, for the most part, with houses of an inferior description. None above Dey Street had been regulated and paved; nor had the ridge, commencing near the Battery and extending the length of the island, been dug through as far even as Cortlandt Street. Great Dock Street, or that part of Pearl between Whitehall and Coenties Slip, with the other streets in the neighborhood in the immediate vicinity of Fort George, within which the Colonial government House was situate, had long been considered the court end of the town. But, even before the revolution, Wall Street was regarded as a rival seat of fashion, to which it established an exclusive claim, and maintained it until superseded by Park Place (or Robinson Street). Little Dock Street, now merged in Water Street, and that part of the original Water Street which lay adjacent to the Albany pier, were occupied by the river trade; while the remainder of Water Street, and such parts of Front Street as had already been recovered from the river, formed the emporium of foreign commerce. This, indeed, was the case as far up as the coffee House Slip, and gradually extended to Maiden Lane, at the foot of which was the Vly market and the Brooklyn Ferry; whilst at the head of it stood the Oswego Market, fronting on Broadway. Above, on the East River, as far as Dover Street, the wharves were chiefly occupied by down-easters with their cargoes of notions, or by Long Islanders, with their more substantial freights of oysters, clams, and fine white sand. Beyond Dover Street, the shipyards commenced, extending at first no farther than to the "New," or, as it is now called, "Pike" Slip. Crossing from Dover to Great Queen (since Pearl) Street, and following the latter beyond its intersection with Chatham Street, and along that part of Pearl then called Magazine Street, the "Kolch," or "Fresh Water Pond" was reached; whence, through the "Tea Water Pump," in Chatham Street, the city was supplied with water for domestic use, distributed to the inhabitants by means of carts surmounted by casks. Nor was this the only use made of the "Collect," as it was called in English. Its southern and eastern banks were lined with furnaces, potteries, breweries, tanneries, ropeworks, and other manufactories, all drawing their supplies of water from the pond.

Numerous fire buckets had disappeared from time to time--expropriated or irremediably damaged. So great had the deficiency thus created become, by the commencement of 1784, that the Common Council appointed a committee to ascertain the number wanting, and to make contracts for new buckets.

The first regular organization of the Fire Department of the city of New York appears to have been effected on the fifteenth of February, 1786, when it was ordered by the Common Council that the following persons be appointed firemen, during the pleasure of the Board:

William Ellsworth, John Stagg, Francis Bassett, Isaac mead, and John Quackenboss, engineers.


Company No. 1.--David Contant, Edward Lowvier, John Vernon, Gilliaum Cornell, Jacob Abramse, Edward Patten, Christian Stamler, Thomas Underhill, Anthony Abramse, Abraham Schenck, Thomas Skaats, Rinior Skaats, and Daniel Fagan.

Company No. 2.--William Wright, Timothy Russell, Christopher Halsted, George Deiderich, Thomas Lubbary, John Hacbain, Daniel Lawrence, Samuel Carmen, James Russell, Matthew Bird, Henry Rogers, and David Rosette.


Engine Company No. 1.--Benjamin Birtsell, Thomas Ash, James Tyler, Peter Demilt, John Buskirk, Richard Davis, Jurden Lawrence, John Van Varick, Theodorus Deforrest, William Carman.

Engine Company No. 2.--Jotham Post, foreman; Jeremiah Ackerly, Frederick Shober, Daniel Kingsland, John Simpson, John Titus, Peter Shop, John DeGroot, William Nicols, Patrick Seamons.

Engine Company No. 3.--Guillaum Varick, foreman; Bartholomew Skaats, William Covenhoven, Gerard Smith, Jacob Brower, John Kemper, John De Le Montague, William Van Dolsem, John Henry, George Gozman.

Engine Company No. 4.--Sylvester V. Buskirk, John Rarsi, Thomas Bruen, John Philips, Elbert Anderson, Burger Van De Water, William Hunt, John Van Voorhis, Elias Stillwel, John Houseman. (Its engine was removed in February, 1793, from the City hall to the theater in John Street.)

Engine Company No. 5.--Frederick Eachart, George Peck, Garret Van De Water, William McKinney, Peter Thompson, John Cole, Abraham Eachart, William Remmey, Nicholas Hillman, and Caleb Pell.

Engine Company No. 6.--Abraham F. Martlings, foreman; William Day, Joseph Smith, William Jennings, Conrad Heasner, Thomas Campbell, Valentine Vaughn, Jacob Day, Joseph Smith, Jr.

Engine Company, No. 7.--John Post, Jacob Tabley, James Townsend, Thomas Hazard, Elijah cook, Anthony Ford, John Day. John Smith, William Mooney, William Dean, Stephen Coles, Jacob Smith, Abel Hardenbrook.

Engine company No. 8.--David Morris, Henry Spingler, Anthony Brown, James Quackenboss, Dowe Talman, David Van Derbeck, Isaac Sherdewine, Abraham Brevoort, Philip Smith, Christopher Fegenhan, Isaac Austin, John Rose, Frederick Mabie, Andrus Cole, Abraham Riker, Charles Hardenburg.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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