Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 34, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

No. 13. -- Eagle. -- This company was in existence at the time of the reorganization of the New York Fire Department in 1733. In 1790 she lay in Maiden Lane and was called "Continental Eagle First Engine Company No. 13." Wm. Bockay was the foreman at that time, and the company meetings were held at Jacob Brower's tavern in Nassau Street. In 1791 James J. Beekman was elected foreman, followed in 1797 by James Woodhull. At that time they changed their place of meeting to Crook's tavern. About this time they removed to a location near the "Ferry Stairs Fish market," which is the Burling slip to-day. Benjamin Strong became foreman in 1798, and served as such until 1812, having for his assistants Wm. Allen, Thomas Stevenson, and David I Hubbs. Strong was made an assistant engineer in 1812, serving until 1821, making twenty-three years of continuous service as an officer in the Fire Department. He was also treasurer of the Fire Department Fund in 1811 and 1812, and the report of those years showed twelve thousand one hundred and forty-eight dollars and three cents on hand. David I. Hubbs succeeded him as foreman in 1812, becoming an assistant engineer in 1815 and serving until 1824. Then came Valentine Vandewater, who served as foreman of the company from 1815 until December 10, 1822, when he, too, was appointed an assistant engineer, which office he held for two years. Samuel G. Smith was elected foreman in 1822, and followed by David T. Williams, who was an assistant engineer from 1832 to 1835. "In 1830," writes Zophar Mills, "the company was mostly Quakers of the highest respectability. They were generally merchants and merchants' clerks. They had their new engine--the first one in this city that was silver-plated. The engine was painted black, gold striped, highly polished, and the back had Jupiter hurling thunderbolts painted on it in the best style of art. She was the most elegant engine ever seen in those days, and all this expense of decoration was paid for by the company and their friends. Mr. William L. Jenkins, late president of the Bank of America, and Mr. John S. Williams,. late of the firm of Williams & Guion, were members of 13 engine company in those days. This engine did very important work at the great fire of 1835." On October 19, 1832, after an alarm of fire at the corner of Pearl and Elm Streets, Zophar Mills, was proposed by R. S. Underhill and unanimously elected a member of this company. Wm. M. Haydock was the foreman in 1832, and Wm. S. Moore in 1834. Zophar Mills was elected foreman November 11, 1835, serving until July 11, 1838, when he was appointed an assistant engineer, which office he held until 1842, Henry S. Fleury succeeding him as foreman in 1838, and Wm. Williamson succeeded the latter in 1840. In 1817 the company moved their quarters to the Firemen's Hall in Fulton Street, and held their meetings in the engine house.

In 1830 the company was at 3 Dover Street, from 1857 to 1864 at 5 Duane Street, in 1864 at 261 William Street. Disbanded in 1865.

No. 14. -- COLUMBIAN. -- This company, which was undoubtedly one of the most efficient and best organized companies in the old Fire Department, was in existence before 1783, for in that year it was represented by its foreman, Benjamin Birdsall, in the report made by the officers to Governor George Clinton. They afterwards were located on the corner of Church and Vesey Streets, on the grounds of St. Paul's Church. When Engine Company 39 was organized in 1812, that company was also stationed on the church grounds, but on the corner of Partition, now Fulton Street. Later on the church wanted 39's location, and in 1825 built a double house on 14's location, which was used by both companies, 39 lying nearest Broadway, and after they were moved up to Doyers Street the church built 14 a house in Church Street, a little south of the corner of Vesey Street, the upper portion of which was used by the church as mission rooms.

Abraham Brouwer was one of the earliest foremen of this company, and John P. Roome was another. Roome was appointed an assistant engineer in 1808, serving until 1824. Ezra Dennison and Jacob Anthony, who followed Benjamin Haight as foreman, joined the company about this time, and Charles H. Haswell, who afterwards organized Engine Company 16, up-town, was one of the volunteers, and was in the procession in honor of General Lafayette September 9, 1824. Owen W. Brennan carried one of the torches in the procession. Samuel Y. Coles and James H. McKenzie joined the company in 1825, and William Wallace and Conklin Titus, afterwards bell-ringer at the City Hall, joined in 1826. When Titus was bell-ringer at the hall, "Bill," Demilt, one of 14's members, climbed up the lightning rod one evening to ask him over to Harry Venn's place, at No. 13 Ann Street, to have a drink. The boys had bet that he would not come down. Titus came down, however, and not by the lightning rod either, and took his favorite "gin and sugar," without winking. Titus afterwards kept the place at 13 Ann Street, when Harry Venn went up to the "Gotham," and afterwards moved around in Nassau Street.

In 1827 and '28 Andrew and Thomas Wallace, John Colgate, James Pine, Andrew Mount, and William Cisco, who is classed as a "news collector," became connected with the company, and in 1829 Daniel R. Mabbett, the west side coal merchant, and assistant alderman in 1853, joined with Henry T. Gratacap and James A. Chapple. Gratacap will be remembered as the famous fire-cap manufacturer, so long located in Grand Street, near Elm. When Ebenezer Silleck was elected foreman of Engine Company 14, Mr. Gratacap made fro him the first "stitched front" made in this city. He afterwards made the first "raised letter" fronts used by the firefighters, and continued in business for many years. John L. Mills joined the company in 1830 with Benjamin G, roe; and Theo. Mercer, and peter M. Ottignon, and Richard H. Wentworth the following year; Cyprian L. Taillant, James Y. Watkins, and Theodore Keeler were also members of the company a little later on. When Engine Company 16 as disbanded at the Corporation Yard in Leonard Street, in 1833, 14 applied for and got the new engine that had just been built for them. This engine was run by the company until they got their double-decker in 1847. Captain James Lines and Joseph Venn, a volunteer of 14, and brother to harry Venn, left this city on an expedition about the year 1840, and were supposed to have been shipwrecked, as they were never heard from afterwards.

18434, the company, to enable them to compete with rival fire engines, who were their chief opponents, hired rooms in Vesey Street for ne of their members, a printer, named Tyrrell, and established a bunk room there. The company in the '40's made several excursions to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. On one of these excursions, under harry Venn, in 1844, while in Philadelphia under escort of the Neptune Hose company, the company got a little behind in the line, and while running to regain their place one of their members, James A. Chapple, fell, and was run over by their engine. From their frequent trips to the South, as well as from the numbers and high reputation, 14 usually had the honor of receiving the companies from that section, among other the celebrated Mechanical Engine Company , of Baltimore, who visited this city in 1853. Alfred chancellor, now and for many years past the master baker on Blackwell's Island, served thirteen years with this company as a member, joining in 1839, having been for along time on the Volunteer roll. James W. packer, foreman, and Andrew D. Purtell, assistant, were the last officers of the company. Purtell had been foremen of the company in 1860, and at the breaking out of the war commanded a company in Ellsworth's Fire Zouaves. In 1863 the vestry of St. Paul's Church wished to use the building occupied by the company, and they had to vacate their quarters. They were out of service for two years, and just before the disbandment of the Department were furnished with a new house in Fulton Street, opposite Church Street. The paid system having been adopted, the company did not have a chance to become very well acquainted with their new location.

No. 15. -- Peterson (Old Maid) -- Wreath of Roses. -- the first Engine company No. 15 was one of the typical companies of the old new York Fire Department. It was organized about 1785. The first record of her location is in 1796, when the company was known as "Wreath of Roses," and "lay' in Nassau Street opposite Federal Hall. They ran an old square box engine with a wreath painted on the back. In 1813 they removed to Chatham Square, and adopted the name of "Peterson," in honor of William Peterson, her foreman, who died from over exertion and injuries received at the great fire May 19, 1811. This fire commenced on the northwest corner of Duane and Chatham Street, and destroyed a large number of houses. Foreman Peterson expired ina few hours after being conveyed to his home, and was the first foreman in New York who lost his life in discharge of his duties. His name was revered by the members of 15 Engine Company during its existence, being handed down from member to member as a price less heirloom, and on the back of their engine, and on their banners the name and portrait of Peterson were the most prominent features. In 1830 they removed to No. 49 Christie Street, where they continued until disbanded, in September 27, 1849. When in its prime this company had one of the largest volunteer rolls of any company in the Department. These volunteers were composed of young men who stood ready to become full-fledged members when ever a vacancy occurred on the regular roll, and most of them in after years did become members. At one time they were divided into two parties, the "Fly-by-nights" being headed by Joe Johnson and the "Bloods" by Nick Wilson. Among these volunteers were Sam Skinner, John McCleester, Country McCluskey, Sam Banta, who afterwards went to California with Yankee Sullivan, but who, unlike Yankee, returned to New York; bill ford, Ed. Sprague and others. Old Jim Kent says that at that time "they could lick any other fire company in New York." They were often called the Dock Rats, from their habit of making for th river to get their water first, and any engine who took their water was very liable to get washed. They claimed to have "washed" more engines than any other company, and earned the name of "Old Maid" on account of never having been "washed" themselves. They always ran a gooseneck engine, and the last one of that style they ran was built by harry Ludlam and was a very powerful engine for those days. They took her to Philadelphia under Nathaniel Bradford as foreman and Charles Colliday as assistant, on September 12, 1836, and participated in a playing match. They were the only company who succeeded in playing over the cupola of the Exchange building. Nathaniel Bradford, William Freeland, William Ford, N. F. Wilson, and John J. Tindale were members, who afterward became foremen, and Wilson was elected assistant engineer in 1846. Harry Howard left this company to join Hose 14, which then lay in Elizabeth Street back of the Bowery Theater. The Chanfraus--Peter, Henry, Joseph, and Frank--the latter being the original "Mose" in "A Glance at New York," were also members, together with George R. Nicholl, afterward of 19 Engine, and one of the organizers of Adriatic Engine Company 31, and Mart Cregier, the hard hitter. Four target companies were the outgrowth of this company, namely, the Peterson Blues, the Peterson Guards, the Freeland Guards, and the Wilson Guards, the latter being in two companies and under command of John J. Tindale. The Peterson guards one-year went to West Point under command of col. William W. Thompson, United States Army. The Pickwick Club was also organized from this company. They gave their first ball at Columbian hall, in Grand Street between Allen and Eldridge Streets, and afterwards for many years at the Apollo Rooms. The members dressed in the costume of the club, the following being some of the most prominent characters: Mr. Pickwick, Elijah F. Purdy; Nathaniel Winkle, Joseph H. Johnson; Augustus Snodgrass, N. F. Wilson; Sam Weller, martin Cregier; Fat Boy, William Work; Tony Weller, John Carland; Tracy Tupman, John Woods; Dr. Slammer, A. J. Fisher; Gardener, Joseph Chanfrau. They were a great success while they lasted, and invitations to their balls were eagerly sought for.

St. Stephen's Church, corner of Broome and Christie Streets, was a favorite place for the members of 15 to exercise their engine, after which they would adjourn to Toby Hoffman's, corner of Bayard and Bowery, or Pete Asten's, corner of Hester and Bowery, for refreshments. The tavern of Peter Asten was one of the landmarks of old New York. He established it in 1826, when Hester Street was lined on both sides with poplar trees, and kept it as a hotel for fifty years. In 1844 the company, in violation of orders, took part in a political procession, and in 1849 was disbanded, principally on that account. Ben Baker, now treasurer of the Actors' fund, and the author of "A Glance at new York," was a volunteer of old 15; he used to sleep curled up on the floor under the tongue and carry the signal, and many a time did he get whipped on reaching home for having oil in the back of his clothes, where it had dripped from the lamp.

After 1830 the company was located at 49 Christie Street; disbanded September 27, 1849; reorganized March 3, 1852; disbanded again on July 11, 1855.

Chatham -- Hibernia. -- Organized October 9, 1855; located temporarily in Ninth Avenue near Thirty-seventh Street, later in thirty-sixth Street between Ninth and Tenth venues; disbanded in 1865.

No. 16. -- Aetna -- (Hounds) -- Chelsea -- Croton (Cit) -- Gotham -- Mohawk.--Engine Company No. 16 (organized on April 19, 1786). John B. Dash, Jr., foreman; William Parker, Francis Child, John Peter Ritter, Daniel Boivie, Peter Ritter, Thomas Lawrence, Walter Frazer, Benjamin Haight, and Charles Stewart. She was located in Liberty Street in the rear of the Old Dutch Church, which was afterwards used as the Post-Office; the same location was afterwards used by City Hose Company No. 8. John B. Dash, Jr., was elected as assistant engineer in 1803, serving until 1815. Their first new engine was built for them in 1806, and on the back of this they had painted a representation of Mount Aetna, the company having adopted the name of "Aetna Fire Engine Company." Among the other old members of the company appear the names of John W. Degrauw, William C. Titus, John Cobby, Joseph B. Bradshaw, Leonard L. Johnson, Henry B. Greenwood, Oliver Osborne, Edward F. Randolph, Samuel C. Titus, Henry McCaul, Andrew S. Titus, John W. Betts, Jared Williams, Thomas Halliday, Samuel Cox, David Theall--"Uncle David"--who, when he joined the company in 1830, was a grocer in Broome Street; Benjamin R. and John Guest. In 1832 the company moved to the Corporation Yard in Leonard Street. They did not prosper; they got a new engine at that time, but did not have it long enough to run it, and threw up the organization the following year.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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