Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 47, Part VII

By Holice and Debbie

Perhaps the best refutation of many charges made against the Volunteers is the fact that nearly all the members of the Paid Department were selected from those who were legislated out of honorary, arduous, and unpaid office on March 20, 1865.

While the Volunteers acquiesced in the act of the legislature, Democratic New York in a certain sense took up the cudgels for them, and grumbled at legislative amendment. The manner of appointments of the commissioners was especially offensive to many. "Why not," asked some, "appoint the mayor and Common Council in Albany?" Friends of the Volunteers regretted its demise mainly on account of its social features, its balls, enthusiasm, esprit de corps, romance, surprise parties, picnics and what not. They also remembered how they stemmed the ride of anarchy in the riots of 1863, and were not yet prepared to make room for "a staid, slow-horse methodical, paid concern." Chief Decker, in a circular, urged all to do their duty "until such time as the Board of engineers and Foremen shall determine upon certain matters of interest to the Department in its present condition."

Governor Fenton acted promptly on the fifth of April, four days before General lee surrendered. He sent the names of Charles C. Pinckney, Martin B. Brown, Samuel Sloan, and Thomas W. Booth to the Senate for confirmation. Horace Greeley was disappointed in not securing a nomination for his candidate, Harry W. Genet, afterwards known as "Prince Hal."

Mr. Pinckney, a Republican, who is yet in business, and appears to be but little older than he was a score of years ago, was ex-president of the Board of Councilmen, and in the insurance and real estate business. He was a member of the Union League Club, and had done active duty in Phoenix Hose Company No. 22. He was active and adapted to executive business.

Martin B. Brown, also a Republican, the well-known printer, if of course active and rejuvenated, as all good anglers and sportsmen are. He had been a member of United States Engine Company No. 23.

Samuel Sloan, then ex-state senator and president of the Hudson River Railroad, is the present head of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad. At the time of his nomination he has no leaning towards any political faction, but was claimed as a Democrat.

James W. Booth, a Republican, whose death occurred several years ago, was a dyer and contractor. He afterwards was elected state senator.

Clamor was raised in Albany and New York when the names were published, because of the alleged partisan complexion of the board, and on April 11, the New York delegation refused to report on the confirmation of the commissioners. The commissioners were, however, confirmed, but on the thirteenth of April, through trouble between certain senators and Governor Fenton, the Senate rejected the nomination by the following vote:

AYES.--Allen, Angel, Bailey, Cole, Cook, Dutcher, Folger, Hastings, Hoyt, Jaliand, Laimbeer, Low, Munger, Strong, Williams--15.

NAYS.--Allaben, Ames, Andrews, Beach, Bell, Chrystie, Cornell, Cozans, Fields, Hawes, Hobbs, Humphrey, Murphy, Shafer, Smith, White, Woodruff--17. To confirm them , a week later, May 13, 11865, Commissioners Pinckney, Brown, Engs and Booth were sworn in at Albany by Secretary of State Depew, Samuel Sloan having declined to serve, and drew by lot the following terms of office:

Pinckney-two years.
Booth, four years.
Engs, six years.
Brown, eight years.

Mr. Engs, in drawing his lot, said he was aged, and would not live to serve out the term. The commissioners who were sworn in came to New York with the Secretary of State by the Albany boat, on which they had an informal meeting, and on the afternoon of Thursday, May 4, 1`865, held the first meeting of the Metropolitan Fire Department, in the office of the Hanover Fire Insurance Company, of which Mr. Engs was vice-president, at No 45 wall Street, after a second informal meeting at Mr. Pinckney' s office, No. 8 Pine Street.

Mr. Engs, a Democrat, who was a wine merchant and a member of an old firm, was a member of Volunteer Engine Company No. 21, Fulton Engine Company in 1813, and assistant engineer of the Old Department from 1824 to 1833. He was an officer in various corporations and a member of the Legislature, and president of the Association of Exempt Firemen. He died on the nineteenth of May, 1875, widely regretted.

Charles E. Gildersleeve was born in New York City in 1827, and was a lover of fire duty from his earliest remembrance. As soon as his years would permit he became a member of Oceanus Engine Company No. 11 in 1846; served four year with the old machine, during which time his was secretary and assistant foreman. He resigned in 1850 and joined Mutual Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. This company was in a poor condition, from a firemen's point of view, when Mr. Gildersleeve joined. There was no life, no enthusiasm, no push; but in a short time all this was changed, new blood was infused, the roll was filled, and No. 1 became one of the quickest and best truck companies in the city, and an indispensable addition to the down-town working force. Mr. Gildersleeve served faithfully with No. 1 as member and officer. When Zophar Mills was foreman of the Exempt Engine, Mr. Gildersleeve thought he would try a little more fire duty, and, although he head already passed through sixteen years of service, he joined under the old veteran, and was shortly afterwards made secretary, and then promoted to assistant foreman. At the organization of the new Department Mr. Gildersleeve was made clerk to the commissioners, and remained with the Metropolitan from 1865 to 1875. He is still in good condition, looking as if he could stand twenty years more of fire duty.

Commissioners Pinckney, Engs, Booth, and Brown knew that--although the volunteers acquiesced in the public sentiment that nothing illegal should be done--the law would be invoked and the constitutionality of the act of march 30, 1865, would be tested. So, at the meeting of the fourth of May, they perfected their organization. Mr. booth presided, Mr. Brown was secretary pro tem, and after two ballots, Mr. Pinckney was elected president, and Mr. Engs Treasurer. On a second ballot for secretary, Mr. Charles E. Gildersleeve was elected. Then a resolution that Messrs. Pinckney, and Brown call on comptroller Matthew T. Brennan and Street commissioner Charles G. Cornell, state their views, and if necessary, make a demand for the property of the city belonging to the Fire Department, was adopted. The Volunteers had since the fourth of April been conferring with the members of the Common council on the proper steps to the be taken in reference to the "Metropolitan Fire Act." The Common council was composed as follows:


Morgan Jones, president Peter Masterson John Moore
John Brice Bernard Kelly Michael Norton
Ignatius Flynn William H. Gedney Peter McKnight
B. W. Van Voorhis Joseph Shannon Terence Farley
Lewis Ryers James O'Brien George A. Jeremiah
John D. Ottiwell - -


James Hayes Patrick H. Keenan Isaac Robinson
John Stacom Edwin M. Hagerty John Healy
Charles Koster  Bernard Kenny James G. Brinckman
Thomas Brady Samuel P. Patterson William A. Taylor
John Houghtalin Thomas Leavy George McGrath
J. Wilson Green Abraham Lent Michael Smith
Thomas O'Callaghan Patrick Russell William Joyce
Hugh Reilly David Fitzgerald Valentine Cook

Next day the commissioners were served with notice of two legal actions taken by John Cochrane, state attorney general. One was an injunction in the name of the mayor, aldermen, and Commonalty, and Chief Decker, restraining the commissioners from taking possession of any real estate then used by the Fire Department. The other was in the form of quo warranto proceedings to compel the commissioners to show by what warrant they held office. Waldo Hutchins and Judge Allen were engaged as counsel by the commissioners, and it was argued that the proceedings before them should be friendly, and on the twelfth of May judgment against the commissioners was taken pro forma before Judge Foster, and on the twenty-fifth of May Judges Ingrahm, Clerke, and Barnard decided "that the New Department is merely local, and confined to the City of New York, and in substitution of the former one, and is hence unconstitutional." On this the case was taken to the Court of Appeals.

On the third of May a special meeting of the Board of Engineers and Foremen of the Volunteer Department was held at Firemen's Hall. Chief Decker was in the chair, and Alexander V. Davidson was secretary. The chair announced the news from Albany, and said tht in his opinion the old officers were the only legal ones, and Commissioners John J. Gorman, president, William M. Tweed, Thomas Lawrence, Edward Bonnell, and Thomas Flender would go on a if nothing has been done. The appropriations for the had been cut down by one-half to cripple it, but the new fire ordinances of the Common Council would be carried out. It was time that some action was taken, as there were signs of insubordination in the Department. On a vote, the following companies voted to support the Old Department;

Engine Companies 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31, 32, 36, 39, 42, 44, 46, 47, 48.

Hose Companies 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 24, 27, 28, 32, 33, 37, 38, 41, 42, 47, 50, 55, 56, 59, 60, 61.

Hook and Ladder Companies 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14.

Hose Company No. 21 recorded a vote in favor of the anew Department. Cries of "Put him out," "Disband the company" were raised, and Chief Decker is reported as saying that if he found any company going back on the Old Department he would disband it, and lockup its quarters and apparatus. Others favored allowing any company to vote as it thought fit. A notice was sent to companies not represented to report their choice.

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]