Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 28, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

JOHN BETTS, born in New York on January 11, 1823, was one of the organizers of Americus Engine Company No. 6, and went with the company on its famous excursion to Canada. Mr. Betts was the father and founder of the famous Americus Pleasure Club, which was organized in 1850, was its first president and remained a member of the club until it was disbanded in 1874. For many years Mr. Betts was a member of old Engine 33. No member of he Department was more popular then Mr. Betts. He formerly did a good business as head carman for Vanderworth & Dickerson, in Cliff Street. He now lives in Brooklyn.

FLETCHER HARPER, of the firm Harper and Brothers, was one of the best looking firemen of his time. He was a member of Engine Company No. 7, and became its secretary and foreman. He was a man of most affectionate disposition. Mr. Adam P. Pentz said that at the destruction of the Harpers' building in Franklin Square Mr. Fletcher Harper watched the fire and said to him (Mr. Pentz) that the great loss did not affect him as much as the recent death of a grandchild. "Property," said Mr. Harper, "we can restore, but life, never."

WILLIAM M. TWEED, whose parents were of Scotch descent, was as famous as the foreman of Americus Engine Company No. 6--Big Six--as he was as a politician. He was born on April 3, 1823 at No. 24 Cherry Street. He was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker, subsequently became salesman or clerk in various stores, and then set up in business for himself as a chairmaker at his father's old place, No. 5 Cherry Street. In turn he was alderman, school commissioner, deputy street commissioner, commissioner of public works, congressman, and practically "Boss" of the city of New York. He was first a member of Fashion Hose 25, next a member of Oceana Hose 36, then of Fulton Engine Company No. 12, and of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12. He organized "Big Six" in 1849, and was its foremen from 1852 to 1854. His fall from his political shrine is a matter of history. He died in Ludlow Street Jail, April 12, 1878, having been one of the commissioners who built that prison.

JOHN TYSON, now in charge of the horse hospital of the Jersey City Fire Department, has ever been a great collector of fire souvenirs, and possesses some very curious and rare relics of the olden time. He was a volunteer of Engine Company No. 21, and went to the war in Company A, Second Regiment, New Jersey Volunteers.

PETER R. WARNER belonged to a fire family. His grandfather, Peter Roome, was foreman of Engine Company No. 7, and Peter's sons were also firemen. Mr. Warner was born March 18, 1804; he joined Engine Company No. 23 in 1824, when less then twenty-one years old, and was six years its foreman. He was afterwards a fire warden. Mr. Warner was president of the North River Fire Insurance Company.

JAMES Y. WATKINS, SR., a successful merchant was successively a member of Engine Companies Nos. 21 and 14, having joined the first in 1828. He was a trustee of the Fire Department. His sons were also firemen, James Y., Jr., of Engine Company No. 42, and John O., of Hose Company No. 38.

JAMES Y. WATKINS, JR., was born in the Fourth Ward in 1830. He joined Hose Company No. 10 in May, 1849, then located in Dover Street. He remained with her until the organization of Hose Company No. 50 in 1851, when he helped to launch the latter. On the first night of the meeting of Hose 50 Mr. Watkins was elected secretary. Subsequently he was assistant foreman of Hose 50 for five years. When Mr. Cregier ran for chief engineer he formed Engine Company No. 42, serving as active or honorary member till 1865. Mr. Watkins was a member of the Exempt Engine Company for many years. He was elected treasurer of the Association of Exempt Firemen, serving from 1869. When the New Department was inaugurated the first engine company was located in old No. 42's house, and the Volunteers had charge of it, and worked at the first fire till the new company was thoroughly organized, when old 42 was relieved. Mr. Watkins is in the furnishing business and still retains the same place his father had in the Fourth Ward.

JAMES R. MOUNT was born in 1826 in New York in the Fourteenth Ward. In 1840 he began to run with Engine Company No. 15. On June 6, 1850, he became a regular member of the Department, joining Hose Company No. 14. When that was disbanded in 1857 he joined Engine Company No. 30. Subsequently he helped to reorganize Hose Company No. 15. He retired from the Department about 1860. On October 17, 1859, Mr. Mount received a compliment from the members and friends of Atlantic Hose company No. 15. Since the inauguration of Chef Engineer Howard he had been a foreman of the Corporation Yard, and his pleasant attentions to the wants of the firemen had made him many friends. The compliment took the form of a fine gold medal, valued at two hundred dollars, having engraved on one side the fac-simile of the Firemen's Discharge Certificate, and on the other an appropriate inscription. The medal was presented by John T. Tindale, ex-president of the Fire Department. Mr. Mount's exploits and experiences as a life saver are mentioned in a preceding chapter (pages 186 and 187).

WILLIAM H. WEBB is one of New York's famous old shipbuilders who belonged to the Old Fire Department. Many are the runs he had with old Live Oak Engine No. 44 before he entered Engine Company No. 47. He was also a member of Hose Company No. 34, and a fire warden. When only fifteen years old he worked for his father, Isaac, as a journeyman, and so acquired a thorough knowledge of every branch of the shipbuilding business. In 1849 he built the three decker "Guy Mannering," for the American packet service. At the invitation of the Russian Government he built the "General Admiral," a first-class propeller frigate. The celebrated steam ram, the "Dumberberg" was also his design. It was launched in 1865, and sold to the French Government.

SAMUEL WILLETS as a boy ran with an engine. When twenty-one years old, he joined Engine Company No. 18. He was born on Long Island on June 15, 1795, came to New York in 1812, and made a name for himself as a successful merchant.

BENJAMIN STRONG--born in 1770, died on January 27, 1851--was thirty-one years in the Fire Department. He first entered in 1791, and served until 1822. He joined Engine Company No. 13, and was its foreman for several years, was assistant engineer for nine years, and treasurer of the Fire Department Fund for eighteen years. He was the founder o the first savings bank in this city and for sixteen years president of the Seaman's Savings Bank.

JOHN W. TOWT was the foreman of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, who in 1830 bought a horse to draw the truck. He was formerly a merchant doing business at the corner of Old Slip and Pearl Street. He had several miraculous escapes, and was noted for his bravery.

JOHN P. BAILEY, foreman of Engine Company No. 23, treasurer of the Fire Department, became prominent through his expulsion from office by the Common council in 1828. Mr. Bailer refused to recognize at a fire an officious assistant alderman until the latter showed his badge. The company threatened to resign if their comrade was not reinstated; public feeling ran high on the injustice done, and finally Mr. Bailey was reinstated.

JOHN S. BELCHER was a foreman of Hydrant Company No. 2 in 1850. In 1854 he was selected representative and secretary of the Board of Representatives. In 1855 he became vice-president, subsequently president, and was elected to the latter office three times without opposition.

J. J. BLOOMFIELD, a well-known statesman and member of the Firemen's Ball committee, was a foreman of Engine Company No. 42 at the time of the Jennings fire. He was born November 27, 1827.

THOMAS CLEARY was born about 1826 in Ireland, his father, on account of his patriotism, being obliged to emigrate. He was foreman of Engine Company No. 20. He was elected engineer February 27, 1865, and was on that occasion presented by his company with a sixteen cone hat. In 1883 Mr. Cleary was elected to the Board of Aldermen for the First Ward, and was re-elected in 1884. He was an assistant engineer in 1864.

ANDREW CRAFT joined Engine Company No. 41 in 1829. He was in succession steward, secretary, assistant foreman, foreman and finally fire commissioner. His connection with the company lasted until 1865. Mr. Craft was present at the burning of the Lafayette Theatre in Laurens Street in 1829.

JOHN W. DEGRAUW was born a fireman, as he himself expressed it. His father, two uncles and three brothers, were members of Engine Company No. 16. He was born in the First Ward May 21, 1797. He used to play with the Ewings, Goelets, the Roosevelts, General Morris and Mr. Drake, the poets, and Mr. Hackett, the actor. In 1816 he joined Engine Company No. 16, and served continuously for twenty-one years. Mr. Degrauw became foreman of his company. He was chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Fire Department for many years, and was president for several years. He was a most indefatigable fireman. After the fire of 1835 he organized two hose companies. At that time he was an assessor from the third ward, and raised in five hours one thousand seven hundred dollars to purchase the apparatus. When Lafayette visited the city Mr. Degrauw was instrumental in making a success of the ball tendered the great Frenchman. On resigning the office of president he was presented by the members of the Department with a large silver urn. It was he who rang the alarm for the big fire of 1811, which was so destructive. He was the father of the Fire Department Fund. In 1833 he was elected a member of the Assembly, and was instrumental in obtaining the city charter for Brooklyn. He was the recipient of many flattering presentations, among them being a handsome came made from the timber of the first Methodist Church, erected in this city in 1768. He has written a history of New York, held to be of high merit. Mr. Degrauw's son, Mr. A. J. Degrauw, was also a fireman. The young man, who had much capacity, and gave promise of great things, was president of the Brooklyn Volunteer Fire Department. His end was untimely; he was killed at a fire in 1856 while saving the lives of the occupants of a tenement. It was a great blow to his father.

DANIEL C. SILLECK was born in July, 1815, at Oyster Bay, L. I. In April, 1828, he came to New York, and in the spring of 1832 became associated with Columbia Engine Company No. 14, located at the corner of Church and Vesey Streets. In the fall of 1835 Mr. Silleck was elected assistant foreman, in the following year treasurer, and in 1837 assistant engineer under Chief Anderson. In the year 1838 he was re-elected to the same position and served up to the spring of 1841. Mr. Silleck, notwithstanding his great age, has a well preserved appearance.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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