Stokes, I. N. Phelps The iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 (v. 5)

(New York :  Robert H. Dodd,  1915-1928.)



Jump to page:

Table of Contents

  Page 1020  



1776    inhabitants who had fled, or been compelled to leave the city, before
Sept.    th6 King's troops took possession of it, are not returned; we have
zo   it not yet in our power, even were it expedient In the present
moment, to effect the compleat re-establishment ot the Civil Gov-
ernraent of this district."—Canif/i/ Retrospect, 21-22, citing the
Parliamentary Register for 1778.
"          Writing to Gen. Schuyler from the Morris house, Washington

briefly reviews events since the retreat frora Long Island. Of the
battle of Harlera Heights, he says: "This little advantage has in¬
spired our troops prodigioudy; they find that it only requires
resolution and good officers to raake an enemy (that they stood in
too much dread ot) give way." He adds: "The British army lies
encamped about two miles below us; they are busy In bringing
over their cannon and stores from Long-Island, and we are putting
oursdves In the best posture of defence that time and circumstances
will admit of,"—5 Am. Arch., II;  416-17.

The British orders of the day provide that "the 3d & 4"!

Brigdes will send  one Careful! woman------to attend the Gen'

Hosp' at Hdl gate the woraan will be paid & Reliev'd weekly any
one that Quits her duty will be immediatdy sent Home,—all the
faclnes & Pickets made tor the 3'* & 4'h Brigades ot British & the
Brigade of Stern will be Carried in the Waggons belonging to the
Corp's to Joneses House near the north River, those Made by the
Brigade of Gds jd g. (,ih Brigades to be sent in the sarae Manner to
Major Musgroves advanc'd Post to the Ldt of Mi^Gowens House."
—From Orderly book, British Array (MS.), in N, Y, H. S.
21         A large pait of New York City is destroyed by fire.—Winsor,

VI: 334. The many references to it in contemporary publications
give a composite picture ot the catastrophe which no modern sum¬
mary of the facts could so graphically present. These are contained
in the following excerpts from letters, newspapers, official docu¬
ments, and other authoritative sources:

Kemble records in his journd: "Everything quiet till 12 at
Night of the 20th & 21st in the morning, when the Town ot
New York took fire. TheWmd blowing hard a South East. Thefire
was first discovered between 12 & i o'Clock in that block of Houses
fronting Mr. Watts's and near the Exchange, in a House facing the
Water; from thence It ranged up the Broadway and Broad Street
to the City Hall, one way, and near Smiths, the other, at Flatten-
berg Hilh The other side of the Broad way was all consumed from
Cortlands House to Hills Tavern and from thence to St, Paul's
Church, with all the buildings back ot that to the North River.

"Many People taken up and confined on suspicion ot setting
the Town on fire, and It is not to be doubled; but it was done by
design. Combustibles, Matches, Sic. having been found in Houses
since, hid under stairways, and ready for another Conflagration."
—Kembie's Jour., 89-90. See dso Stedman, Hist, of ike Am. War,
(1794), I: 208-9; The German Allied Troops in the No. American
War of Independence, translated from the Gerraan of Max von
Eelking by J. C. Rosengarten (1893), 42.

Fitch records In his diary: "About one oClock in y^ Morning
We Observ'd a Considerable Light up toward y^ Northward, which
we sopos'd to he y^ burning of some Buildings; this Light continued
whileDay,&someTime in ye Morning we were Informed y'it was
in y^ City of N. York, & y' a considerable part of y^ City was
Burnt, but we are yet Scarcely able to believe this Repott."—
Diary of Jabez Fitch (MS.), 46.

A letter, written by a loydist in New York on Sept. Z3, states:
"I flattered mysdt that the City would soon be peopled again, and
that Matters would speedily be restored to their former State; but
the^Autbors of our Calamities were determined to frustrate this
Expectation. The Destruction of the City was resolved on, and a
Number of Villains remained in the City concealed to execute this
most diaholicd Purpose. Accordingly, on the Thursday following,
when every Thing was very dry, and a brisk southerly Wind blew,
some of them set Fire to the Houses near Whitehall, The Fire in¬
stantly spread and raged with inconceivable Violence. There were
few Citizens in Town; the FIre-Engines and Pumps were out of
Order.3 Two'Regiments_of Soldiers were immediately ordered into
Town, and raany Boats full ot Men were sent from the Fleet; to
these, under Providence, it is owing that the whole City was not re¬
duced to Ashes. The Destruction was very great; between a third
and fourth ot the City Is burnt. All that Is West of the New Ex¬
change, along Broad streat to the North River, as high as the City
Hall, and frora thence dong the Broad Way and North River to
King's College, is in Ruins.  St. Paul's Church and the College were

saved with the utmost Difficulty. Trinity Church, the Lutheran Sept.
Church, the Parsonage, and Charity School, are destroyed. Many 2 [
of the Villains were apprehended, with Matches in theu- Hrnds
[sic] to set Fire to the Houses. A Fellow was seized, just ahout to
set Fire to the College, who acknowledged he was employed for the
Purpose. A New England Captain was seized, with Matches in his
Pocket, who acknowledged the same. Between 1000 and 1500
Houses are burnt; and we are under the most dismd .Apprehension
that there ate sorae more of those Villains concealed in Town to burn
what is yet left. Our Distresses were great before, but this Calaraity
has encreased them tenfold. Thousands are hereby reduced to Beg¬
gary. This internal Scheme was confessedly executed to prevent the
King's Troops from having any Benefit by the City, and to distress
the Friends ot Goverimient . . . the Continental Congress gave
express Orders to burn this City if not tenable against the British
Fleet and Array [per contra, see S 3]. The City was set on Fire in
four different Places at the same Time. Poor Trinity Church, a
prlnclpd Object of Republican Independent Malice, was set on Fire
in three Places."—5(./amej'iC/i™n.,N 7-9, 1776. Mr. Shdton, in
The Jumel Mansion, 47 and 64, cdls attention to the tact that the
portion of this account referring to "A New England Captain"
wasomitted from the transcription in the 5 Jm.vircA., II: 463. He
presents other significant records which tend to confirm the opinion
that the "Captain" referred to was Nathan Hale,

Ezra Stiles states in his diary, under date of Nov. 25, 1776, that
of the raany different reports of the fire, the most authentic, "we
believe," was the one published in "Mr Gaines' N, York Mercury
of 28, Sept. printed at Newark."—Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles,
II:  83-84. That account states:

". . . That the fire originated at or near Whitehall,soon ex¬
tended to the Exchange, took its course up the west side of Broad-
street as far as Verlattenberg Hill, consuraing dl the blocks from
the Whitehall up. The flames extended across the Broadway from
the house of Mr. David Johnston to Beaver Lane, or Fmcher's
Alley, on the west, and carried all before it, a few buildings ex¬
cepted, to the house at the corner ot Bercley-slreet, wherein the
late Mr. Adam Vandenberg lived, sweeping all the cross streets in
the way. The buildings left standing on the west-side of the Broad¬
way are supposed to be Captain Thomas Randall's, Capt. Kenne¬
dy's, Dr. Mallat's, Mr. John Cortlandt's sugar house and dwdling
house, Dr. Jones's, Hull's tavern, St, Paul's, Mr. Axtell's ^d Mr,
Rutherford's, The cause of the fire is no[t] known. Wei^piaglne
about a 6th part of the whole city is destroyed, and many families
have lost their All."—W. Y. Merc (Newark ed,), S z8, 1776.

Stiles dso stated that "There is another N York Mercury
printed In the City of N Y. at the printing office Mr. Gaines left
when he removed to Newark. By a Kings Printer. In that ot 7"'
Oct, this Burning is ascribed to the N EnB'tl pple, as that of Rome
was to the Christians,"—L/rerary Diary of Ezra Stiles, II: 83-84,
The mention of the fire, to which Stiles refers was as follows: "The
savage burning of this City by the New-England Incendiaries, will
be a lasting Monument of their inveterate Malice against the
Trade and Prosperity of this Colony, as well as their rooted Dis¬
affection to British Law and Government. They had long threat¬
ened the Performance of this villainous Deed; and this Is the best
Return that the People of Property in this City, who have espoused
their Cause, are to expect for their heedless Credulity."—N. Y.
Merc, O 7, 1776.

The same paper of two days later (Sept, 30) gives the following
full account: "On Saturday the 21st Instant, we had a terrible
Fire In this City, which consumed about One Thousand Houses, or
nearly a fourth of the whole City. The following is the best Ac¬
count we can collect of this mdancholy Event. The fire broke out
first at the raost southeriy Part ot the City, near White-Hall; and
was discovered between 12 and i o'Clock in the Morning, the Wind
blowing very fresh frora the South, and the Weather exceedingly
dry. The Rebel Army having carried off all the Bells ot the City,
the Alarm could not be speedily comraunicated; and very few of the
Citizens were inTown, most ot thera being driven out by the Calam¬
ities ot War, and several ot the first Rank sent Prisoners to New
England, and other distant Parts, A few Minutes after the fire was
discovered at White-Hall, it was observed to break out in five or
six other Places, at a considerable Distance,

". . . Major Generd Robertson, who had the Chid Com¬
mand, sent immediatdy for two Regiments that were encamped
near the City, placed Guards in several Streets, and took every
  Page 1020