Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 33, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



When They Were Organized. -- Where Located at Different times. -- Their Officers and Prominent Members. -- Engines They Used, How the Most Famous Were Painted or Decorated. -- Changes in the Organization. -- "Hudson," "Excelsior," "Forrest," "Niagara," "Protection," "Big Six," "Lexington."

NO. 1. -- Hudson ("Hayseed").--This is the first fire company of New York. It received its apparatus in the year 1731. Its engine ws one of two brought over from London in that year.

Two small frame buildings were erected for the two engines in Wall Street on the north side of the City Hall. No. 1 house fronted on what was known than as King Street. Peter Rutgers, a brewer, and assistant alderman of the North Ward, was appointed Overseer (a title given in those days for Foremanship). Every one was then supposed to act as firemen, buckets having been previously used. The two imported engines were looked upon with as much pride by the firemen of those days as were the silver mounted carriages by the boys who lived nearly a century afterwards. In 1735 Anthony Lamb ws appointed Overseer. In 1738 John Mann was at the head of the engine, but in 1772 the engine was allowed twenty-one men, Johannes Vriedenburgh being made foremen. During the war the Department, numbering one hundred and sixteen men, was detailed as a home guard under General Washington, but Jacob Stoutenburgh was chief in command at fires. Few of the original twenty-one survived the Revolutionary War. As soon as the British evacuated the city--November, 1783--the question of reorganizing the Fire Department was considered, and early in 1784 several new companies wre formed, No. 1 at that time having at its head Overseer Peter Van Doland. The company soon mustered twenty-five new men, and took the name of "Hudson," after Henry Hudson, the first explorer of the North River. At this time the engine was kept under a small shed in a lane running down to the North river which was then known as Reynolds Farm, now Barclay Street. In 1795 and 1796 they moved to Barclay Street, opposite to which, it was said, was a brewery owned by a man named Groshon. Henry J. Hardtwell was foreman,. Previous to Hardtwell, Thomas Ash is reported to have served in the same capacity.

Among the members in those days were Theodorus De Forest, John Bedient, John Titus, Caleb Havilhand, Anthony Steenback, Henry Verveleen, John P. Gooshen, Thomas J. Campbell, John T. Campbell, Jacob Evans and David Heckle. In 1810 the engine lay in a new frame house on Duane Street, formerly Barley, opposite an alley. On March 8, 1827, Francis Joseph, who had been a member only about one year, was killed at a fire in Maiden Lane, and his funeral was one of the largest ever held by the Department in those day.

During 1829 there were found on the roll the names of Benjamin Abrahams, Robert Johnson, Charles L. Shriver, Caleb F. Lathrop, Josiah Foot, John Beam, Jr., and Cornelius V. Anderson. In 1830 Anderson was made foreman, and served in that capacity until 1837, when he was elected Chief Engineer of the Fire Department. During Anderson's foremanship John Beadell, Jr., Wm. W. McMullen, William Howard, and Peter B. Lawson became members. No. 1 had a new house built at the expense of the company and citizens of the Third and Fifth Wards on what was called Clinton Square, Duane Street. It was here they were dubbed the "Hayseed," and many of the leading citizens down town did duty with her. At the old Duane Street Methodist Episcopal Church all the firemen and their "young ladies" used to be in attendance on Sunday nights. When an alarm of fire was sounded, such a rush was made for "One" that many a time the house was cleared and the services closed. The girls would turnout and wait on the sidewalks for the boys to come home.

The volunteer roll was as large as the active. Among the volunteers were the McCoys, one of the Henry brothers, Henry Reynolds, Wm. McCardy, and James and Philip Burke.

At the Erie Canal celebration on November 4, 1825, this company made a magnificent display. On their banner was painted a view of the city of New York from the Jersey shore: buildings in the center of the city represented in flames to which the Genius of America is pointing to direct the firemen; over her head is seen hovering an eagle bearing the motto: "Where duty calls, there you will find us." On the reverse was a painting of Washington.

In the later years of the company this pugnacious qualities increased and continued until they were disbanded August 5, 1846.

HUDSON (the second company of the number and name) was reorganized on December 26, 1846, from Engine Company No. 9. It was located at the corner of Forty-eighth Street and Eighth Avenue, and afterwards in Forty-seventh Street, west of Eighth Avenue. It went out of service in 1865. William M. Guest, a former foreman of old No. 1, moved uptown and reorganized Dolphin Engine No. 9 as Hudson No. 1. Among those who assisted Mr. Guest were Leonard H. Rieger, Joseph Whiteman, Joseph Churchill, Samuel L. Cox, Theodore Myers, Richard M. Mott, Charles Simpson, William Holden, Augustus Rainier, and James M. Burns. At the first meeting Wm. M. Guest was elected foremen and served for two years; following him came Leonard H. Rieger, for one year; Richard M. Mott for one year; James M. burns for two years; John Lamberson for one year with John F. Feitner as assistant foreman. John Hammil was foreman for ten years; he had as assistant foreman Jacob Morgan for one year, and Michael Morrissey for one year; Charles Feitner and Michael Morrissey were the foreman and assistant foreman from 1863 until the disbandment in 1865. This company purchased the old engine and all appurtenances from the city for six hundred dollars.

NO. 2. -- Chatham Engine Company No. 2 was one of the two engines brought from London in 1731. Its foreman or Overseer as it was termed in those days, was John Roosevelt, who was well known as a merchant, also as alderman of the East Ward. In 1748 his brother, Nicholas Roosevelt, at that time assistant alderman of the West Ward, became Overseer. The members in those days were the people at large. It was housed like No. 1 Engine, in Wall Street, on the north side of the City Hall. In 1762 one Hazleworth was in charge. He was superseded by James P. Ovendyke. In 1772 it was decided by the City Fathers to grant each engine a certain number of men--No. 2 being allowed twenty-one. At this time Jacob Stoutenburgh, soon after chief engineer, was overseer or foreman.

In 1776 the Department was organized into two military companies, with Chief Stoutenburgh at the head, but directly under the command of General George Washington.

In 1780 Jacob Delamontagne was in command, and so remained until 1784, when the Department was virtually reorganized; although steps were taken to place the Department on a solid basis immediately after the British evacuated New York. In the early part of 1784 the engine was removed to the head of the old Boston Post road, now Chatham Square, and was called "Chatham," after Mr. Chatham, who owned a vast amount of property in that vicinity, and from whom Chatham Street derived its name. At that time John Lyng is reported to have been foreman. In 1796 Benjamin North was chosen as the head of the company, and they moved to new quarters in the rear of the old Methodist Church grounds, now Forsyth Street. James W. Dominick followed as foreman, serving several years; and in 1817 was elected an assistant engineer, serving until 1825. Among the members at this time were Pine Hopkins, John .G. C. Lord, David and Richard Lewis, who were running an engine built in 1807. In 1825 and 1826 Samuel Johnson, C. E. Turnbull and William D. Lord joined; and the following year William D. Hunt, Charles R. Pearsall, Henry Boyce, and Isaac Harrow were made members.

The company now proposed to build an engine at their own expense. Efforts were made to increase the roll as much as possible, and many names were added to the list. Among those joining were Ogden Price, Ed. Purcill, Edgar Morris, Matthew McBeath, Ed. Newkirk, William Tyson, and John W. Adams. In 1832 the company removed to Eldridge Street Jail, the boys of No. 2 forcing cork in the nozzle of their pipe in order to throw a higher stream. About 1840 John C. Blake was elected foeman; he was followed by John Parsons, both serving several terms. Among the runners were Captain John Mount, who was foreman of the volunteer roll for several years. In 1845 they were continually in hot water with Engine 26, and hardly an alarm sounded but was a signal for a battle with their antagonists. This continued until July 18, 1845, when both companies wre run in tongue first and locked up. This occurred the night before the great fire of 1835, and both were disbanded on September 22 of the same year.

EXCELSIOR.--Immediately after the holidays several of the old vamps assembled and proposed reorganizing No. 2, as an engine was very much needed in the vicinity of Henry and Catharine Streets, so, on the sixteenth day of January, 1846, Engine Company No. 2 was re-established under the name of "Excelsior," and located on Henry Street. Among the incorporators were, Erastus W. Brown, George E. Cowperthwait, John Barry, Asher E. Havens, Franklin Waterbury, Seth B. Kneeland, Joseph Baker, Richard M. Jessups, Samuel P. Titus, and Francis H. Macy. John Barry was elected foreman. They resumed duty with a double decker "hay wagon" built for them in the year of their reorganization by John Agnew, of Philadelphia. When they first received the engine it set very low, and the wheels were no larger than those on the old style New York engines, but the company afterwards had her running gear reconstructed and larger wheels put under her. The company received the nickname of "Quakes" owing to the fact that most of the members were from old Quaker families, Henry Street and it vicinity being noted for that class of people. In the meetings the Quaker members were conspicuous for their methodical manners and precise ways. One old citizen stated that he counted seventeen on Sunday morning going to a fire with canes. He wondered what they would do with them in case of a working fire.

Among the members in 1846 was Edward Wood, President of the Bowery Savings Bank. He was born in the Fourth Ward, and never had to pay a fine for absence from a fire day or night while serving out his seven years. Samuel P. Titus followed Barry a foreman, Barry having been elected assistant engineer, serving until 1850.

William A. Jennings was the third foreman of the company. He afterwards went to California, where he kept a saloon. One day a drunken miner came in, and after a little shouting drew a chalk line on the floor and said he would cut the man in two who crossed it. Jennings was out at the time, and on his return unconsciously crossed the tine, and the miner kept his work by cutting him to death. Robert H. Ellis, who was afterwards President of the Board of Fire Commissioners, joined this company in 1847. Franklin Waterbury, afterwards captain of the Insurance Patrol, became foreman of the company in 1852. Adam P. Pentz, who was Treasurer of the Fire Department Fund for four years, President of the Fire Department for five years, and Secretary of the Fireman's Ball Committee, was a member of this company, as were many of the solid Quaker residents of the Seventh Ward, all of them being men of standing and character.

On February 14, 1853, Delancey W. Knevals was elected foremen, and on the same night John T. Sloper was presented with a handsome fire-cap as a token of appreciation of his meritorious services as pipeman. Knevals held the office of foreman for several years and was followed by Edward J. Knight, in 1859, in which year the company abandoned their double deck engine for a Shanghai style of apparatus built by James Smith. This engine carried a magnificent signal lamp that cost one hundred and fifty dollars, and was claimed to be the handsomest in the Department at the time. On Knight's retirement from the office of foremen, Delancey W. Knevals was recalled to that position again, serving two years. It was during this second term of his service that the company, in 1861, received a new steam engine built by the Amoskeag Company of New Hampshire. He was succeeded by John McDermott. Robert H. Jones Succeeded McDermott and was the last foreman of the company.

While proceeding to a fire one night in 1854, a stranger who was pulling on the rope was run over and killed instantly. The company took charge of the body and buried it at their own expense, holding the funeral services at the engine house. It was not until sometime afterwards that the identity of the stranger was discovered, and it was ascertained that he a wife living in the Seventh Ward. His name was Michael Carvet. He had caught hold of the rope, when he tripped and fell. It was another death caused by the carelessness of the municipal authorities--the street being suffered to remain in a horrible condition, there being quite a deep hole where Carvet fell. He would have come into considerable property in Dublin when he came of age.

The engine house of Excelsior Engine Company No. 2 could boast something very attractive. The meeting room was artistically furnished, and was ornamented by two beautiful paintings. One was a well-executed portrait of Mr. C. V. Anderson, who had been chief engineer, encircled by a magnificent gold frame, upon which was presented every emblem of the Fire Department and the coat of arms of the State--"Excelsior." The other painting was "Christ appearing before Mary Magdalen." This last was purchased by the Art Union for three hundred and seventy-five dollars, and fell to the lot of the Company through the liberality of Mr. Henry Griffen, a treasurer of the company, who presented them with the ticket. There (in 1850) was to be seen the cap of J. M. Forrester, who lost his life through the fire of the Woolsey Sugar Works in 1849. This company had in its possession a copy of the first Fire Department certificate issued in this city, and also a copy of the second.

Besides those already named as officers were: A. E. Havens, F. H. Macy, Joseph Baker, and John McDermott, who foremen, and Daniel Cosgrove, one of the assistants. In 1863 they had on the roll forty-three men among whom were Hugh Gillen, David Prothero, Roday S. Brassel, Wm. A. Smith, George Gormley, Robert A. Jones, Patrick H. Keenan, who was councilman, George Corbett, John G. Harris, Thomas Healey, John Conway, James Waite, Terrence T. Tracey, and Timothy Farrell. While among the last members were, John J. Harris, Dennis Dunn, Patrick H. Stewart, assistant foreman, Timothy J. Bergen, Jeremiah Toumey, Thomas and Patrick Loftus and John G. Burke. Robert H. Jones was the recipient of a silver trumpet and cap before retiring.

During the draft riots in 1863 their houses afforded shelter to some of the unfortunate victims of the rioters, and the company did their share of duty in the downtown districts during those troublesome times. Just before the disbandment of the Old Department the company took up their quarters in a new house that has been built for them at 55 East Broadway, but they did not have time to feel at home in the location before the organization of the Paid Department.

Excelsior Engine Company No. 2 will always occupy a front rank in the annals of the old Fire Department. Its steam engine was transferred to Engine Company No. 11 of the New Department.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

You are the Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site´┐Ż Since March 9, 2001.

March 2001

[Firefighters Index][NY AHGP][NY ALHN]