History of the Fire Department of the City of New York
Chapter 5, Part I
By Holice and Debbie
IMPROVEMENT IN FIRE EXTINGUISHING METHODS
1798-1811. -- Act of Incorporation (1798). -- Formation of Fire insurance Companies. -- Additional Fire Engines. -- Description of the City about the close of the eighteenth Century. -- Rapid Extension of New York. -- Great Fire of 1804. -- Fire Plugs. -- another Destructive Conflagration (1811).
The act of march 19, 1787, limited the number of firemen to three hundred, to be nominated and appointed by the mayor and Common Council, and they were by its provisions enjoined to be ready at all times, as well by night as by day, to manage, control, and use the fire engines to be provided, and were exempt from service as constables, jurors, and militiamen, and placed generally under the regulation of the city government. In 1792 the number was increased to four hundred and fifty. On the twentieth of march, 1793, however, upon a petition of the firemen praying to be incorporated, the more effectually to enable them to provide adequate funds for the relief of disabled and injured firemen, and for the purpose of extinguishing fires, they were incorporated under the name of the Fire Department of the City of New York.
The members of the Department and their successors were accordingly rendered capable of suing and being sued "in all courts and places whatsoever, in all matters of actions, suits, complaints, causes, and matters whatsoever, and that they and their successors may have a common zeal, and may change and alter the same at their pleasure."
By this act, the firemen belonging to any of the engines of the city of new York were declared to be and to continue as such until the year 1818 a body politic, by the name of the "Fire Department of the City of New York." They and their successors were declared capable of purchasing, holding, and conveying any estate, real or personal, for the use of the said corporation, not to exceed the sum of twenty thousand dollars. The said representatives, on the second Monday of December in every year, elected by ballot, out of their own body, a president and vice-president, and out of the whole body of firemen, three trustees, a treasurer, secretary, and collector. The first representatives, as named by the act, were Daniel Hitchcock, Thomas Tom, Nicholas Van Antwerp, James Parsons, Jr., William Hardenbrook, Matthias Nack, Samuel Lord, Nicholas Roome, Leonard Rogers, Cornelius Brinckerhoff, Joseph Smith, Israel Haviland, John Pritchett, James Robinson, Robert McCullen, Augustus Wright, William Hunter, Elijah Pinckney, Isaac Hatfield, Garret Debow, John Lent, John Utt, Uzziah Coddington, Jr., Peter Embury, James Van Dyck, Thomas Timpson, Joseph Newton, William Degrove, William Baker, Thomas Demilt, William A. Hardenbrook, Isaac Tirboss, Henry Rogers, John Dominick, and Joseph Webb. Daniel Hitchcock was named as the first president; Frederick Devoe, Jacob Sherred, James Stewart, John Striker, James Tylee, Benjamin Strong, Thomas Brown, Stephen Smith, and Christopher Halstead, trustees; Nicholas Van Antwerp, treasurer; James Parsons, Jr., secretary; and Martin Morrison, collector.
The trustees were divided into three classes; the first class to go out of office the first year; the second, the second year; and the third, the third year. These trustees managed the affairs and disposed of the funds of the corporation according to the by-laws, rules, and regulations.
The funds of the corporation were obtained from chimney fines, certificates, donations, etc.
The incorporation of the Fire Department appears to have acted as a signal for the formation of fire insurance corporations. That arm of the commerce of our great city, now grown so powerful and far-reaching, holding within its sweep untold millions of capital, was represented at this period, so far as the statutes of this state indicate, only by two companies, known as "The United Insurance Company" and "The Mutual Assurance Company."
The latter company was incorporated in 1798, March 23, on the mutual plan, and among its incorporators are to be found names familiar to all insurance men, many of which will be found intimately associated with the history and progress of life, as well as fire insurance in this city. They embrace such names as Thomas Pearsall, Nicholas Gouverneur, Abraham Varick, Wynant Van Zandt, Samuel Franklin, John Thompson, Robert Lenox, Gulian Verplank, Samuel Borne, and Leonard Bleecker.
The first intimation in the municipal records of the Fire Department, of trouble arising from personal disagreements among members of a company, is given in the proceedings of the Board of Aldermen dated February 12, 1798. Therein it is set forth that the foremen and other members of Engine Company No. 7 complained against Jacob Tablie, one of their number, for rude and improper conduct, and disturbing the harmony thereof. The Board heard Mr. Tablie in his own defense, and, concluded that the best interests of the company and the department demanded his removal, which was immediately effected, and John Drake was appointed in his stead.
A new fir engine was "imported" from Philadelphia in February, 1798, and placed in charge of engine Company No. 16, stationed at the City Hall, and their old engine was packed off to the Seventh Ward.
Two fire engines arrived from Hamburg in the spring of 1799, and measures were taken for the erection of a house for them in the yard of the almshouse. In the month of September the following persons were appointed to take charge of those engines:
The jail bell of the old bridewell possessed a peculiar sound, known from all others. "I remember," writes an old New Yorker, "its sounding for a break-out by the prisoners, about the year 1800. Old Peter Lorillard, the tobacconist, was shot by a prisoner whom he tried to arrest. It was some months before he recovered." The shooting caused quite a sensation at the time.
About the year 1800 New York fairly overleaped the boundaries that seemed for a while to confine it. A line of low grounds and watercourses extended quite across the island, from the great swamp on the East River, through the Fresh Water Pond and Lispenard's meadows, to the Hudson, cutting off the city from the high ground beyond. For a long time the only public highways over this low ground was the Boston Road (now called the Bowery), which passed over a bridge neat the head of Roosevelt Street. Recently a passage had been made on the shore of the Hudson, pretty nearly answering to the present Greenwich Street. But the growth of the city naturally caused it to expand beyond its former limits, and with the beginning of the nineteenth century the city began is progress "up-town."
About this time St. Paul's steeple was on fire, and was saved by a sailor climbing up the steeple. The great tea-water pump in Chatham Street was, when an emergency arose, utilized to extinguish the flames. Hundreds of water carts supplied housekeepers with this pure water, and as the fire occurred on a Sunday, all these water carts were employed in taking water to St. Paul's and the fire engines.
In January, 1800, the small Engine No. 21 was removed from the engine house in Gold Street, near the Baptist Meeting House, to the house of Greenwich Street, near the Industry Furnace, in the place of the old engine No. 1, which had been removed to engine House of No. 23, in Broadway, near the hospital.
On the thirteenth of this month Uzziah Coddington, attached to Engine Company No. 14, was appointed a fire warden. On the twenty-seventh of the same month, Nicholas Van Antwerp, of Engine Company No. 11, was promoted to the position of an engineer.
Thomas Howell imported two fire engines from London in December, which the corporation purchased from him for the sum of four thousand dollars. At a conference between the engineer and a committee of the Common Council, held in the same month, the following disposition of the new engines and alteration of some of the old ones was agreed upon:
The large engine (imported) was placed in the corner of the yard of the City Hall, and an engine house built adjoining the house of Mr. Verplank. It was numbered 3, and allowed a complement of twenty-four firemen. The other lately imported engine was placed in the jail-yard in the house where No. 8 lay, receiving that number, and being allowed twenty men. Old No. 8 was removed to the Furnace at the North River, and numbered 1, and its company increased to thirteen men. Engine No. 3 was removed to the Hospital, and numbered 23, to replace the engine send to Poughkeepsie--No. 1--then at the Hospital, being out of order and useless. Engine No. 21, then at the Furnace, was returned to its original stand in Gold Street, near the Baptist meeting House. The company of the old Engine No. 3, consisting of ten men, was put in charge of the new engine in the yard of the City hall, and its strength increased to twenty-four men. The company belonging to No. 8, consisting of thirteen men, was placed in charge of the new engine in the jail-yard, and the force was increased to twenty men.
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
HTML by Debbie
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