Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 41, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



Organization and Incorporation of the Fund. -- The First Beginnings. -- Quaint and Strange Methods Adopted to Create a Fund. -- Names of the Early officers. -- Legislation Looking to the Creation of A Charitable Fund and Its Distribution. -- The Beneficiaries. -- The Amount of Money Received each Year. -- Revenue Derived From Annual Balls. -- A Tax of Two Per Cent License Fees Exacted from Insurance Agents. -- The Metropolitan Fair. -- Firemen's Monument. -- Fire Commissioners.

At the meeting of the engineers and foremen of the Fire Department, held on the Twenty-ninth of October, 1789, it was resolved that the balance of the fund on hand, received from fines for chimney fires, should be divided among the members of the department. It was accordingly done, two hundred and eighty-three men received one shilling and four pence each. In May, 1790, a resolution was adopted by the same body to deposit the funds (20 pounds) in the hands of a treasurer, who invested that sum in the purchase of ten tickets of the New York City Lottery for the benefit of all the firemen. It appears that the net profits of the investments amounted to 8 pounds, 00s. 10d, which, with a balance in the treasury of 6 pounds, 7 s., was divided among two hundred and ninety-three men, at the rate of one shilling and one-half farthing per fireman. Afterwards the fines arising from chimney fires were deposited in a common fund for the purpose of assisting such firemen or their families as might be in straitened circumstances. These were the preliminary steps taken to form a charitable fund.

In 1791 representatives of the Fire Department convened at the house of Jacob Brown, in Nassau Street, for the purpose of raising a fund that might be beneficial to indigent, sick and disabled firemen, and their widows and orphans. At that time, due to the limited extent of the city, the Fire Department was in consequence comparatively small; but even then the founders of the fund foresaw the necessity of an institution of some kind to afford relief to those of their unfortunate associates, a majority of whom wee recruited from the hard working class of the community.

The minutes of this meeting furnish an account of the proceedings, from which is copied the following:

Persons elected, viz.: 

John Stagg, president
Ahasuerus Turk, vice-president
William J. Elsworth, treasurer
Abram Franklin, secretary

Christopher Halstead
James Beekman
Gabriel Furman
James Taylor
Isaac Mead
John B. Dash
George Warner
Peter Cole

This voluntary organization continued until the Fire Department was chartered in 1798. The first report of the treasurer of the Fire Department Fund was made to William J. Elsworth, at a meeting of the representatives held at the house of Edward Bardene, on the twelfth of April, 1793, when the following report of the state of the fund was made:

On loan on approved security 130.00
In hands of the treasurer 110.00
Total 240.00 Pounds

At this meeting John Fabley was appointed collector of chimney fines. These fines appear to have been an important source of revenue:

"At a meeting of the Representatives from the Fire Department in the City of New York, on the twentieth day of December, 1791, authorized by their different companies, they proceeded to form a constitution for the purpose of establishing a fund for the relief of unfortunate firemen, whose misfortune may be occasioned while doing their duty as firemen."

The following gentlemen composed the meeting, of which John Stagg was appointed chairman, viz.:

James Tyler  Jeremiah Ackerly B. Skaats
Sylvester Buskirk Frederick Eikert James Smith
William Mooney Gabriel Furman David Morris
Willett Seaman Daniel Hitchcock James Beekman
James Woodhull Abraham Brown Peter Cole
A. H. Turk George Warner John B. Dash, Jr.
Archibald Reilly Abraham Franklin  
Wm. Bowne Daniel Contant Christopher Halstead

At this meeting it was decreed to establish a fund, which shall be called the "Fire Department Fund," said fund to consist of the money arising from chimney fires, certificates, donations, and with such other moneys as may hereafter be agreed on by such fire companies as have already agreed or may hereafter agree to fund the same.

"The trustees shall have the sole disposal of the moneys in the funds, which shall be fore the relief of such disabled firemen, or their families, as may be interested in the fund, and who may, in the opinion of a majority of trustees, be worthy of assistance."

The first annual report, presented by the treasurer in 1793, showed an accumulation of funds of 293 pounds 15 shillings. These sums were collected for the years specified:


























This last amount equal to $1,800. The accounts were made under the State currency of the day, a pound being equal to $2.50 of the present currency.

Wm. I. Elsworth was treasurer from 1793 to 1797.
Nicholas Van Antwerp, 1797 to 1798.

At the fifth annual meeting Nicholas Van Antwerp was elected treasurer in place of William I. Elsworth, who resigned on the thirteenth of October, 1797. At this meeting a committee was appointed to draft a petition to the Legislature for an act for incorporation. These are the names of the committee:

James Van Dyck Joseph Newton
James Robinson Mathias Nack James Parson, Jr.

At a special meeting held at Hunter's Hotel, December 18, 1797, the committee submitted a petition, which was read and agreed to unanimously, and the committee instructed to lay the same before the Board of Incorporation for their inspection, and afterwards to forward the report to the Legislature at Albany. At a special meeting of the representatives held at the house of Joseph Crook, No. 259 William Street, on the thirteenth day of April, 1798, the new act was considered and approved. This was entitled "An Act to incorporate the Firemen of the City of New York." A charter was at the same time granted, to continue in force until the first Tuesday in April, 1818, and limiting the capital to $20.000. The corporation thus created was authorized to receive certain fines, penalties, certificates and donations arising from violations of the corporation ordinances relative to fires, and the fund thus obtained was directed to be applied towards the relief of indigent or disabled firemen or their families, and was designed as a recognition of an equitable claim grounded on the faithful discharge of a highly meritorious public service, and at the same time as an inducement to secure the co-operation of reliable citizens. Subsequent acts of the Legislature continued the Fire Department of the City of New York until March, 1865, when an act was passed to create a Metropolitan Fire District and to establish a Fire Department therein. In 1849, however, the legislature gave to the Fire Department then existing certain two per cent tax license fees exacted from insurance agents, and which became a part of the benevolent fund which was commenced in 1798, and was designed for the benefit of disabled or indigent fireman and their families.

In 1820, Isaac Hatch, James Hopson, Edward Dayton, Valentine Vandewater, and Oliver S. Hewlett were appointed a committee to devise and report such ways and means as they should deem proper to increase the funds of the Department. The first bequest to the Fire Department was made July 1, 1821, by the will of Dr. John Charlton, dated June 23, 1804 (Frederick de Payster acting executor) amounting to two hundred and fifty dollars. The above bequest elicited a lengthy notice in the National Advocate. The notice was directed to be copied in full upon the minutes.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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