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Washington D.C. Genealogy Trails
The Volunteer Fire Companies of D.C.


1800 - 1870

By John Sharp

Introduction: The District of Columbia volunteer and professional fire services have a long and proud tradition. The transcribed early newspaper accounts below provide a glimpse of their history and accomplishments. The transcribed documents also reveal the Capitol’s somewhat inconsistent efforts to combat and suppress the ever-present danger of fire during its first six decades. Deadly fire was a regular occurrence in early Washington where most private and many public structures were of simple wood construction. District buildings, even those on Capitol Hill such as the War Department and Treasury buildings, (For accounts see below Universal Gazette, November 13, 1800 and Washington Federalist, January 21, 1801.) burned down repeatedly. Buildings that housed the cities many mechanics and laborers were the most vulnerable since they were built close together and their fire places and chimneys often faulty. The most important fire hazard though was the District’s lack of a public water system. High fire risk led the District to finally take a rudimentary preventive action in 1803 when the City Council made it obligatory for householders to provide themselves leather buckets to be used exclusively in case of fire. Despite this precaution, water for extinguishing fires, had to be drawn from public and private wells and cisterns. The real key to fire protection in these early years was the volunteer fire company. During the 18th and 19th century, every large city in the America relied exclusively on volunteer effort; principally, companies of young men formed the urban fire fighting cadre. Fire trucks were rudimentary pump action, most often pulled by the firemen themselves or in some cases among the more affluent cities by teams of horse.

The District of Columbia was home to numerous volunteer fire companies e.g., Anacostia or Navy Yard, The Columbia, The Firemen’s Insurance Company, The Franklin, The Union, The Perseverance, The Western Star and The Vigilant. Each of these companies was located in one of the District’s six; later seven wards. These largely now forgotten volunteer organizations played a crucial role in protecting an assigned part of the city, for they provided a local organized quick response to fires at minimal cost to the tax payers. The companies response to fire often involved enormous physical effort, for instance, in the “Great Georgetown Fire” of 1840, the Anacostia Fire Company, quick marched their fire apparatus to the scene in a remarkable twenty five minutes (see below Baltimore Sun, March 9, 1841).


Fire company volunteers received no pay, accident or death benefits; yet these volunteer companies were popular especially, in the first four decades of the nineteen century. Some fire companies had organizational sponsorship such as the Firemen’s Insurance Company and Columbia Fire Insurance Company whose namesakes: The Columbia Fire Company and The Firemen’s Insurance Fire Company both received substantial start up funds to offset the costs of engines, equipment and uniforms. In the early 19th century insurance companies that wrote fire insurance policies for large urban cities often were the major sponsors of fire companies.

The infant federal government too provided assistance, companies like the Anacostia (Navy Yard), received support (albeit limited) from the Department of the Navy, which allowed its employees some official time to respond to alarms. Fire company popularity arose directly from the fact that most companies had strong neighborhood association. The volunteers protected and stood watch over the property of their families, friends and acquaintances. Fire companies and fire houses also served as social gathering places. At the fire or engine house young men of the various wards could make friends, gain recognition and make important civic and business connections. Influential older men of financial standing were frequently elected as leaders in return for their support and clout. For example see the Daily National Intelligencer October 30, 1837 below which lists the Navy Fire Company leadership all WNY officers like Sailing Master Marmaduke Dove and Naval Purser William Spieden and senior civilians Master Mechanics; Master Plumber, John Davis of Abel , and Chief Engineer, William Ellis. ( see: John Davis bio )


John Davis of Able                      Marmaduke Dove

The picture on the left is Master Plumber, John Davis of Abel. The picture on the right is Sailing Master, Marmaduke Dove.

Inducements to volunteer included elaborate fire uniforms, pageantry (Daily National Intelligencer April 10, 1840) and most of all a sense of adventure and camaraderie in a good cause. Fire company balls, excursions and dances also gave the volunteers an opportunity to entertain and show themselves and their engine houses to the local community while raising much needed funds (Daily National Intelligencer August 15, 1846 and Baltimore Sun January 6, 1849). All of these factors gave the volunteers substantial encouragement to persevere in a very dangerous civic occupation (see Daily National Intelligencer November 11, 1837). Monies paid to the company went into the company fund rather than to individuals, but local custom allowed for small gratuities (beer and sandwiches) or gifts from local merchants to help offset the cost of fire equipment, and uniforms. Such support combined with copious amounts of beer and food delivered at the scene of the fire made the job somewhat less onerous.

   The District of Columbia’s largest employer, the Washington Navy Yard, was one of the few government institutions to have its own fire engines and organized fire company to respond to fire and disasters. Fire always remained a central concern for the Yard, first during its days as a shipbuilding yard and later when it became a major manufacturer of ordinance. Both of these occupations made WNY highly vulnerable to fire. Many of the early WNY volunteers had personal memories of the great conflagration in August 1814 which destroyed some of their homes and all of their livelihoods. At first, the Yard fire engines were staffed by WNY volunteer mechanics and laborers and their mission largely confined to the Yard itself. In the event of large neighborhood fires however, the Commandant, could order all hands to the scene as Commandant Tingey did in the 1827 Great Alexandria Fire

Free and enslaved African Americans like Michael Shiner were ordered on occasion to support large scale fire fighting efforts such as that at Alexandria (see Shiner Diary extracts below). Tragically blacks however remained barred from joining the ranks District of Columbia volunteer and professional fire companies for the next one hundred and fifty years.

Over time as the District grew more urbanized with building ever taller and constructed closer together, fires grew larger and more dangerous to control. Starting in the 1840’s the number of mature volunteers began to fall and District fire companies depended more and more on younger men and teenage boys to staff the engines. Attempts by the Congress to attract volunteers by granting exemptions from militia duty and the privilege of buying insurance at reduced rates failed. Throughout the District the number of volunteer firemen plunged, in response companies such as the Perseverance Fire Company placed notices in local papers appealing for volunteers see Daily National Intelligencer March 10, 1845 but ultimately this decline could not be reversed.

Beginning in the 1840’s throughout the major cities of the United States such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., public concerns regarding the quality of volunteer companies became more vocal with newspapers comparing them to competing gangs. Companies in the District faced mounting criticism for their alleged rowdy behavior, public intoxication and fighting over territory. Local newspapers began to carry frequent accounts of fire companies sounding alarms to frighten citizens and "squatting" on a fire hydrant by placing a barrel over it so other fire brigades could not use it. See below the Daily National Intelligencer

September 25, 1844 account of one such violent incident, which took place in broad daylight on Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the White House.

D.C.’s volunteer fire companies served the City heroically and well for decades, and volunteers continued to provide fire assistance and a vital help in the greater metropolitan suburbs and rural areas. The public and the District business community by mid nineteenth century finally came to recognize the need for establishing a professional fire service. This dramatic change in public attitude, signaled a new willingness to provide firemen pay and benefits, and led to the creation of the District’s first professional firefighting service. An act of Congress to organize a paid D.C. Fire Department was approved in 1864 and implemented on July 1, 1884.



Transcription: The following are transcriptions of early newspaper accounts e.g. Daily National Intelligencer and the Baltimore Sun regarding District of Columbia fires, firemen and their activities. I have also transcribed some of Department of the Navy documents related to the Washington Navy Yard’s own on site Fire Company. Additionally I added some entries from my transcription of the Diary of Michael Shiner. Everywhere, I have attempted to adhere as closely as possible to the original in spelling, capitalization, punctuation and abbreviation including the retention of dashes, ampersands and overstrikes. Where I was unable to print a clear image or where it was not possible to determine what was written, I have so noted in brackets. Where possible, I have attempted to arrange the transcribed material in a similar manner to that found in the original news accounts, articles, letters and the Shiner Diary.

This article and the accompanying transcriptions are respectfully dedicated to the District of Columbia firefighters past and present.

John G. Sharp December 9, 2009

Concord, California


Bryan, Wilhelmus Bogart A History of the National Capital. From its foundation through the period of the adoption of the Organic Act. 1790-1878. New York Macmillan, 1916.

Coggon, James, in the early 1900’s wrote a valuable series of articles on Washington D.C. volunteer firemen for Evening Star, now accessible at Congressional Cemetery web page

Embrey, Jim District of Columbia Fire Station History

Green, Constance McLaughlin. The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation's Capital.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.

____. Washington: A History of the Capital 1800 -1950.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1962.

Hibben, Henry B. Navy Yard Washington: History from Organization, 1799, to the Present Day. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1899

McCreary, George Washington The Ancient and Honorable Mechanical Company of Baltimore. Kohn and Pollock, Baltimore 1901

Peck, Taylor Round-Shot to Rockets A History of the Washington Navy Yard and United States Naval Gun Factory.
United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland 1949

Sharp, John G. History of the Washington Navy Yard Civilian Workforce 1799-1962.
Stockton, CA: Vindolanda Press, 2005.



Universal Gazette

November 13, 1800

Fire Offices of the War Department

On Saturday night at about 7 o’clock the three stories building in which were offices of the War Department, were temporally held took fire; and was in a few hours entirely consumed, with the adjacent building of the same size. The lost occasion by this fire may be irreparable, as all the papers belonging to the war department, except those of the accountant were burnt. The papers of the accountant, being in an apartment not in imminent danger from the flames, were fortunately saved by a removal of them. It is not ascertained from what circumstances the fire arose.



Washington Federalist

January 21, 1801




On Tuesday evening last, a few minutes after sunset, the City of Washington was again illuminated with documents of a public office. We understand that the fire broke out in the S.E. corner of the Treasury Office, in one of the rooms occupied by the Auditor, on the lower floor.


It is but a few weeks since, that under very extraordinary circumstances; the building occupied by the War Office, was consumed. Our suspicions that it was done by design, were very disturbing but fearing, that it was done by delight, was very strong; but fearing that in some measure, they might be the fruits of our prejudice, from the injuries received from a now departed faction, and an observance of their past villainies, we were cautious in communicating them to the public. Such circumstance however had been mentioned, before this last illumination, as had ripened those suspicions into convictions.


The unaccountable manner in which the present fire originated, and the extraordinary circumstances attending it induced a firm belief, that it is the work of some unprincipled incendiary.


It is said that the fire originated in a room where no fire had been kept for some days.


That those who first entered the apartments discovered unusual quantities of loose papers upon the floor: And we have the names of three gentlemen., who went to the door of an apartment; to which the fire had not communicated with an intention to remove any furniture of papers which might be deposited in it; they found the door locked and saw a light through the key hole; they immediately forced the door, and let the reader judge what their astonishment; to find three men quietly closeted during the commotion, and ready at moment to open the door, and join the bustle, the trio extinguished the light before their persons were recognized.


We should be glad to know how this fire will affect the solicited investigation of Oliver Wolcott’s official conduct.


Washington Federalist

April 18, 1803

FIRE; War Office


We understand that on Sunday the 10th inst. between the hours of four and five in the morning, a Fire broke out in a small wooden building, between the War –Office and Seven Buildings, owned & occupied by a Mr. king , as candle shop and after burning with great rapidity, for about half an hour was destroyed, consuming at the same time a quantity of ready made Candles, Tallow and Utensils &c – We are sorry to observe that by this accident an industrious citizen is deprived of his all.



Washington D.C.

March 23, 1809.



The Columbia Fire Company having appointed a committee to make a contract for a fire engine, it is hoped that all persons indebted to them for fines or subscriptions, will pay without further delay to enable the committee to make the purchase.


The following is the state of funds of the company:

Cash in hand of the treasurer $ 202.25

Due on the Subscription list 156.00

Due on fines 106.00

Dollars 464.25

A good engine will cost 600 dollars. There will be some additional expenses. Those who have not subscribed are earnestly called upon to make up this deficiency. It would be insulting both the understanding and the public spirit of the citizens to suppose that, so important an object should be further delayed for want of the funds in hand. Every citizen is deeply interested and every one should cheerfully contribute his mite. Mr. Nicholas L. Queen is appointed to collect and received subscriptions; and Mr. Griffin Coombe and Mr. Tims, to collect the fines.

By order, and on behalf of the Company.

JOHN COYLE. President

Washington City, March 15, 1809.



City of Washington Gazette

April 17, 1819




The undersigned officers of the Fire Companies of Washington, in order to inform every citizen of the powers invested in them by the laws of the Corporation, have published the above and here by give notice that they are determined to enforce the same.


Anacostia Fire Company - 4th Ward

Alexander McWilliams, President

John W. Brashears Vice President


Navy Yard Fire Company

M. Dove President;

John Davis of Abel Vice President


Union Fire Company – 1st Ward

John Moulders, President

Thomas Sandiford. 1st Vice President

William O Neal, 2nd Vice President

Star Fire Company -1st Ward

Wm. W. Billing, President

Chas. L. Coltman, Vice President

Patriotic Fire Company – 2nd Ward

Andrew Coyle, President

David Ott, 1st Vice President

Henry Smith, 2nd Vice President

George Smith, 3rd Vice President

Columbia Fire Company – 3rd Ward

Daniel Rapine, President

Andrew Hunter, Vice President


Daily National Intelligencer

January 7, 1820



At a meeting of the above Company, held at Moss’s tavern on Wednesday evening, the 5th inst. the following officers were elected for the ensuing year:


Alexander McWilliams, President.

Robert M. Besha, Vice President.

William Spieden, Secretary.

William Prout, Treasurer.

Thomas Haliday, Director of Engineers.

Robert Brown, do. Axmen.

Thomas Wheat, sen. Do. Laddermen.

George Adams, do. Sentinels,

Matthew Wright, do. House or Furniture men.

E.W.Clark, do. Linemen.

W.M. SPEIDEN, Secretary.

January 6th 1820


Daily National Intelligencer

December 24, 1825,

Fire at the Capitol

About 12 o’clock Thursday night, the 22nd instant, ------- Vincent, sergeant of the guard on duty at the Capitol, being apprised of an unusual light in the apartment of the Library of Congress, alarmed the librarian, who instantly came to the spot and on opening the doors perceived part of the gallery of wood, which runs around the apartment, to be on fire. He immediately removed the books to the alcove adjoining, and the alarm being spread the citizens promptly assembled. An engine and hose were brought and by very active exertions of the firemen, aided by a number of members of Congress, who vied with one another in their exertions to save the Library, the flames were extinguished in less than an hour.

Very few books, and those of little value, were consumed. Some others, of course, were injured by the wet and by their hasty removal; but the loss was trifling as to what might be expected. The ceiling of the saloon is partly destroyed and one of the alcoves of this beautiful apartment. It is believed that the fire originated from a candle left in the gallery by a gentleman who was reading there until a late hour and which being upstairs was not noticed when the library was closed. The unusual light was perceived by Mr. Edward Everett of the House of Representatives, who was returning to his lodging from an evening party, and who indicated it to the guard. Among the earliest roused and most active were Mr. Houston, Mr. Webster, Mr. Dwight and Mr. Wickliff. Mr. Ward of New York narrowly escaped injury from falling plaster. Few of the citizens were aroused and members of Congress are entitled to much of the credit for having saved the library and all the perishable part of the building.”

John P. Ingle, in a letter to the Intelligencer, published January 8, 1826, says that the engines and hose referred to belonged to the Columbia Company whose engine was at the fire. The engine house was where the statue of Washington was afterward located. This is the only fire noted in the public press in that year.

As quoted by James Croggon, writing in The Evening Star, August 5, 1911 [pt. 2 p. 7]


The Washington Navy Yard Daily Log for 1827 provides the official Yard account of the fire at Alexandria, then part of the District of Columbia Thursday, 18 January 1827 –

These 24 hours fresh gales from the N.W. very severe cold frost morning. Laborers Riggers Ordinary Men Carts & Oxen working as above until half past 11 o'clock A.M. when Bell rung a letter from the Secretary of the Navy read aloud to the Workmen requesting Commandant Tingey to send all the force within his power to Alexandria to extinguish a large fire that took place there; the men took two fire engines and proceeded to Alexandria where they arrived about two o'clock; at about 3 o'clock they had orders from Capt. Booth to proceed home with the fire engines as all fire was extinguished by the exertions of the people of Alexandria City of Washington & Georgetown; they got the engines back to the Navy Yard about 5 o'clock PM. One of the Engineers got broke in some respect in going down but was temporary mended.



Daily National Intelligencer

July 6, 1837



FIRE AT THE NAVY YARD – Yesterday afternoon about 2 o’clock, another fire broke out in one of the out buildings attached to the dwelling of Mr. John Bohlayer, butcher, near the Garrison, at the Navy Yard. The flames spread with great rapidity, and, in short time, destroyed a meat – house stable, and another small building. We are sorry to learn that one of Mr. Bohlayer horses was so severely burnt, that he got out of the stable, that it will probably not recover. The Anacostia Engine rendered essential service in saving the dwelling of Mr. Bohlayer. It was the most admirably worked by the mechanics in the Navy Yard. The marines were on the spot immediately, and kept the engine well supplied with water. Two or three other engines arrived from different parts of the city, whose firemen deserve great for their promptness in turning out. The alarm given was not generally spread through the city, and, for sometime, it was supposed that there was no fire of any consequence, if any at all in the city.

Daily National Intelligencer

December 1630, 1836


The General Post - Office and Patent Office in Ashes

It is with no ordinary regret that we perform the duty of announcing the destruction, by Fire, of the Building in the central part of this city, which has for many years been occupied by the General Post Office, and the Patent Office, and the City Post Office, with an important part of the contents of those buildings, including the entire contents of the two latter.

This calamity, great as it is, has long been feared by those old residents of Washington who knew the combustible nature of the building, (the floors being all of wood and some of them not even countered-sealed) and the custom of stowing fuel, not only coal but wood in the vaults underneath the first floor. The calamity has come at last, and affords the second demonstration, within four years, of the utter absurdity and improvidence of the structures to which the public archives, records and Government accounts have hitherto for the most part confided.

The first alarm of Fire was given by Mr.CROWN, a Messenger, who usually sleeps in the room connected with the City Post –Office (the Postmaster’s own room) The Clerks had been at work, assorting the Mails, until half-past two o’clock, when one of the persons belonging to the Office (Mr. LANSDALE) passed out of the East door, and along the whole front of the building, without discovering any thing to give rise to a suspicion of danger. Not long after three o’clock, Mr. Crown was roused from a light slumber by a smell of smoke. Opening the door of the City Post-Office, he perceived a dense smoke, without any visible appearance of fire. He gave the alarm instantly, first rousing Mr. COX, one of the Clerks, who slept in a back room adjoining the Post-Office, and who coming out of the door of his room, passed along the whole of the long room with difficulty through the smoke , hearing the fire crackling, but being able to see nothing. The watchmen in the body of the building, some distance from the City Post-Office , had perceived nothing of the smoke, until they, also , were alarmed by Mr. CROWN.

The hour of the night when all this took place being one at which the whole world is buried in the deepest sleep, it was found almost impossible to spread the alarm of Fire. One of the church bells began to ring, but the ringer, not seeing any flame ceased ringing almost as soon as he began, and it was a full half hour before the alarm bells were rung and more than that time before and engine or a bucket of water could be commanded. As it was, the fire had its own way, and was last seen in the vault or cellar immediately under the delivery window of the City Post-Office; followed shortly afterwards by flames from the windows of the latter, and within five minutes afterwards by flames from the roof, the fire having crept up along the staircases or partitions to the top of the building before it broke out below.

From the moment of the flames bursting out from the lower windows, it was obvious that all hope of saving the building was in vain. In little more then an hour the while interior of the building and its contents were destroyed.

The books of the General Post-Office were all, or nearly all saved, exertions having been made for their safety from nearly the fires moment of the alarm; but a mass of papers &c belonging to the Office were destroyed. Not anything was saved from the Patent Office or the City Post Office, the volume of smoke preventing the latter so as to save anything.

As to the origins of the fire, it is impossible to say anything for nothing seems to be known of it, except that it was in a cellar or vault in which pine wood was stowed all of which were probably in a state of ignition before the fire disclosed itself to the eye. We the more willingly forebear any conjecture as to the cause of the fire, since both Houses of Congress have taken steps through committees, to investigate it, and in one House with power to send for persons and papers.

Most fortunately, the night was calm and comparatively serene, or the destruction of private property would have been inevitable and great. Had it occurred on the night previous when it blew almost a hurricane, several squares of valuable building must have been destroyed. The means of the city for extinguishing fires are wholly inadequate to the value of the property at stake, and the sources for the supply of water for engines are limited in their extent as well as precarious. We trust that the lessons we have just received will not be lost on those who have the power to apply the remedy.

Of all the amount of loss of papers and property sustained by this disaster, that which is to be most regretted (because irreparable) is that of the whole of the great repository of models of machines in the Patent-Office. The moldering ashes now only remain of that collected evidence of the penetration, ingenuity, and enterprise which distinguish the descendents of Europe in the Western World.

Patent Office fire

Image of the ruins of the patent office.


Submitted by John Sharp


Daily National Intelligencer

October 30, 1837


Axmen with their axes.

Engineers, two and two dressed in blue jackets and white trousers.

Fire Engine Anacostia (The aboriginal name of the Eastern Branch, upon which the Navy yard is located.) the excellent little Engine was drawn by Mr. T. Blagden’s pair of bays.

John Davis of Able, President; William M. Ellis, Vice President.

Ladder men – Property men

Marmaduke Dove and John McCauley, Marshals on horseback, wearing blue scarfs.

There were fifty members, of the Company in the Procession.


Daily National Intelligencer

November 11, 1837

NAVY YARD FIRE COMPANY – Our notice of this respectable and efficient Fire Company has been purposely deferred until the completion of their new engine house, the arrival of their new engine house, the arrival of their new apparatus and fixing of their new bell. On Thursday we had the pleasure of visiting the new engine house and examining the new apparatus and the fixing of their new bell. On Thursday last we had the pleasure of visiting the new engine house and examining the new apparatus in the company of a gentlemen who is one of the most efficient and intelligent members of the Navy Yard Dire Company. The engine house is extremely capacious and commodious inferior in no respect, as we conceive, to any of the other engine houses in the city. The upper room, where the where the members meet for transaction of business, is highly spacious and comfortable apartment will furnish with a mahogany desk and tables for the use of the president and secretary and a sufficient number of handsome settees for the use of the members. The lower room is equally spacious and convenient having ample room for the new and splendid engine, suction, hose reel, and other excellent apparatus which lately have been received for the use of the Anacostia Fire Company. The new building is in its execution, external appearance and interior arrangement, exceedingly creditable to Mr. Jacob A. Bender, the bricklayer, and Messrs. Clark & Massing, the carpenters, employed by the Company.

The new engine, which we examined with care, appears to be of excellent finish and workmanship. Although intended to be a plain, neat and substantial piece of work, it is not destitute of external beauty. The name of its celebrated maker is indicated in the following inscription which is painted in legible and striking characters upon the engine “Anacostia New Engine, made by JOHN AGNEW, Philadelphia. No367.”

On the panels of the engine are two handsome paintings by Mr. Murray of Philadelphia, the one representing an Indian Chief, the other an Indian squaw, both remarkably well executed, and highly credible to the to the artist. The brass mountings, torches, &c belonging to the Ananostia are all of excellent workmanship. At a late trial of the new engine, it was found to throw water horizontally to a distance of 170 feet. The new section also mad by Mr. John Agnew for the Anacostia Fire Company is an excellent piece of workmanship, and well worthy of its makers name and character.

The hose reel and the hose, are of home manufacture, the former being manufactured for the Navy Yard Company by MR. CALEB BINGHAM, whitesmith, and Mr.LAM, saddler, both of this city. The hose reel is a substantial, neat and well built carriage, the new hose, 1000 feet in length, appears to be of good workmanship.

The new bell, which was put up last Friday, and tested the following day, has a peculiar sound, which has a peculiar sound we think distinguishes it from every other bell in this city. It is not large as some of the other engine bell in this city. It is not as large as every other engine bell , but may be heard at a considerable distance. We understand this new bell was manufactured by Mr. JOHN WELLBANKS, of Philadelphia. It weights upward of 400lbs.

We have much pleasure in noticing the great accession to the means which the Navy Yard Fire Company possesses for subduing the devouring element. In no part of the city does there exist a fire company who have more distinguished themselves by their past exertions during any alarming conflagration. Considering what the Anacostia Fire company has done heretofore with their small engine (an excellent and honored servant that will long be remembered) we have often wished that the active and industrious mechanics at the Navy Yard, who constitute the bone and sinew of company, might have a more extensive and capacious apparatus . And now we are gratified by the accomplishments not only of our own but the public wish in that respect., we have no doubt that in the future whenever their services may be required, the Anacostia Fire Company will turn out with alacrity and to a man render their services available. We hall be glad to lean that, as this company has heretofore always numbered a large portion of the mechanics of the Navy Yard among its numbers, so it will continue to keep up and increase its numbers from that very useful and industrious class of our fellow citizens.



Daily National Intelligencer

November 21, 1839.

[Riotous Attack on A Washington Fire Company Truck]

Washington, November 20, Joseph N. Pearson, James Skidmore and James Ellis were indicted and tried for riotous attack upon a Washington Fire Company, on 1 October 1839, when that company had arrived at Georgetown to render assistance during an alarm of fire, Mr. W. L. Brent was counsel for the defendants. The Jury found Person not guilty and James Skidmore and James Ellis guilty recommending however, to the mercy of the Court. His honor Judge Dunlop, in passing sentence upon these boys, dwelt upon the heinousness of offense and the necessity of restraining such conduct by severe punishment – justly remarking that if the fire companies, who kindly came forward to assist neighbors in distress were not properly protected by the law against riotous and disorderly persons, it would be in vain hereafter to look to firemen for assistance. In consideration, however of the youth of the defendants, their being orphans, and especially of the recommendation to mercy by the Jury the Court would sentence each of the defendants to pay a fine of $ 5, and give security in $ 100 for twelve months. Security being given, the defendants were both discharged.

Security being given the defendants were discharged ,the Court adjourned at 6 o’clock P.M.


These young men were fortunate the Jury recommended mercy, as the District of Columbia had no separate juvenile facility and young offenders were placed in the jail with the general population in unsafe and squalid conditions. 




Daily National Intelligencer

April 10, 1840

Baltimore Pumper

The image is of the  “Old Lady”  a "hand tub” pumper " referred to in the Daily National Intelligencer article dated April 10, 1840 regarding the Firemen’s Procession. This early fire truck  was built in Philadelphia, Pa. for the Mechanical Fire Company of Baltimore City in 1821 and was later rebuilt by the Rodgers Company of Baltimore in 1847.This  photo is courtesy of the Baltimore City  Fire Department



In briefly noticing the celebration of the Fire Companies of Washington and Georgetown in yesterday’s National Intelligencer it was stated that “the pageant certainly surpassed anything of the kind ever witnessed in this metropolis.” We now state after comparing notes upon the subject with some of our oldest and most intelligent citizens, that in their opinion noting like it was ever beheld in this city. For ourselves, we can truly declare that although we have seen civic processions many, and festivals many, both in this metropolis and in some large and more populous cities of the United States, we have never seen or mingled in one which was more handsomely got up., which was conducted throughout in a superior order and with better taste, which afforded more general gratification to those who were engaged in it, or were witnesses of the splendid pageant.


We propose in this article to furnish our readers with a somewhat detailed account of the Firemen’s Festival drawn in a very brief space of time, from the most authentic sources within our reach, not only for the purpose of gratifying those who had not the pleasure of being present last Wednesday, but as also to answer to a general and very pleasing call which has been made on us by esteemed friends and fellow citizens whom we are willing at all times to oblige us in the line of our vocation , when an occasion like the present seems to call for a more extended notice.


At sunrise then, on the morning of the Firemen’s Procession, the ringing bells of the different engine houses of this city gave notice to our citizens that the ceremonies of the day had already commenced. On going out into the streets, it was discovered that all the engine houses were decorated with flags, banners, and streamers, and that the National Theater and some public buildings exhibited similar demonstrations of joy. About six-o’clock in the morning the Union Fire company (about sixty members) marched in procession from their engine house, preceded by the Marine Band playing the most delightful music, to the Railroad Depot, to await the arrival and for the purpose of doing honor to their respected guests, the MECHNICAL FIRE COMPANY of Baltimore, who were to leave the Monumental Cit, by a special train, at four-o’clock in the morning. At about seven o’clock, the loud huzza of the assembled multitudes who were attracted to the depot betoken the approach of the cars, freighted with Baltimore Firemen and an excellent band which in a separate car struck up an inspiring tune. In a brief space of time, the Union Fire Company being previously arranged in an admirable order and open column along B Street, the Baltimore Firemen, with their band of music, passed along, the members of the Union uncovering as their worthy guests marched towards Third Street, near the which stood his honor the Mayor of Washington and the President of the Union, to bid welcome and pay their respects to their Baltimore visitors. After brief and appropriate addresses were made by the Mayor and the President of the Union Fire Company to the President of the Mechanical Fire Company, who responded in very affectionate and appropriate terms by the latter, the Mayor accompanied by F.S. Evans Esq. of the Union and the President of the Mechanical Fire Company, entered a barouche, and were drawn in front of the tow companies with music playing and banners flying, along Pennsylvania Avenue to their hospitable quarters in the spacious mansion lately occupied by Mr. FORSYTH, at the western extremity of the city, where the Baltimore visitors partook of an elegant breakfast. As the Mechanical Fire Company marched, the engine houses of the Perseverance, Franklin, and Union Fire Companies, the former were saluted by the ringing out of the bells in those engine houses, and by the turning out of several members of those fire companies, who appeared eager to embrace the earliest opportunity of doing honor to their Baltimore brethren. The procession of the two fire companies only, at this early period of the day’s ceremonies was an object of much curiosity and apparent gratification to a great number of citizens who turned out to witness it.


At about nine o’clock the several Fire companies of Washington and Georgetown met at their respective stations agreeable to appointment, and our citizens generally appeared to enter con amore into the festivities of the day, either by keeping the holiday or suspending their professional avocations or daily labors during the time of the grand procession. About eleven o’clock the various companies, having been organized under the judicious and effective management of JOSEPH H. BRADLEY, Esq. as marshal and chief, and in the order prescribed in the program, marched from the parade ground into Georgetown. We had the pleasure of viewing the imposing pageant in many favorable positions as it passed along the principle streets of Washington and Georgetown. Viewed at any of those points, the Procession was one of the grandest moving spectacles, we have ever beheld. It presented every where a magnificent coup d’oel and was the observed if many thousands of observers, who lined the public streets and moved as the pageant moved either on foot or horseback, or in open carriages during the entire rout e of the Procession.


Thousands of gratified spectators of both sexes were seen at the windows of the houses and principle hotels and boarding houses in every part of the cit; and the lofty and spacious elevation in front of the new Treasury Building was literally crowded with spectators, as were the also the beautiful grounds and portico of the Capitol, as the pageant passed through the noble area at the eastern front. The Grand Procession moved through our streets in the following order:

Marshal in Chief – JOSEPH H. BRADLEY, Esq. and his two aids on horseback – the former attired in the costume of the Perseverance Fire Company, of which he is a member, bearing his golden baton as Marshal in Chief, wearing a pair of Mexican spurs of “monstrous size” and making altogether a bold and chivalrous appearance.

First Barouche, drawn by four sorrel grey horses, containing the President of the Baltimore Mechanical Fire Company, their Vice President and Secretary, and the President of the Union.

Second Barouche, containing their honors the Mayors of Washington and Georgetown, and the Commissioner of Public Buildings.

Firemen’s Insurance Company of Washington and Georgetown - Nothing in this imposing procession appeared to greater advantage or to be more an object of public curiosity than the Grand Pavilion ( measuring 9 feet by 12 ) placed upon wheels, which contained the President of the Firemen’s Insurance Company of Washington and Georgetown, decorated with gold tassels and fringe. The Pavilion was drawn by six white horses, led by sis colored grooms dressed in blue frocks and pink trimmings.

Mechanical Fire Company of Baltimore – It is needles to say that the Company attracted unusual attention, and its fine appearance and regular movements elicited general admiration. They were preceded by their own band of music. Their suction, an excellent piece of workmanship beautifully ornamented, was the only apparatus they brought with the. They were about eighty members of this fine company in the Procession who were dressed in drab frock coats, and wore blue pantaloons, blue capes, and blue hats. On the latter were inscribed the company motto “SPECTEMUR ARGENTO ” (“Let us be proved by deeds”) and a gold star in the front . Their banner was rich, handsome, and appropriate, The figure represented a blacksmith at work at a forge, and was emblematical of the name in which they bear and are proud of viz, “The Mechanical Fire Company.”

The Western Star of Georgetown – The appearance of this company was very fine. The Five ax men, right jolly looking fellows dressed as sailors, preceded the company who were in number about fifty equipped in neat and appropriate costume. This company had a long with them a splendid banner, painted as are informed by Mr. Simpson, of Georgetown. We understand that it was presented to the company early on the morning of the Procession by the Sisters of the Visitation. The banner represents a female with one foot on a gilded star, and a circle of stars over her head. She seems to rest on engine. In the background a large building in flames is correctly represented. The decorations and gild work about this banner, its staff and scroll are beautiful in the extreme. The splendid gild scroll is surmounted with eagle- streamers afloat from each of end of the scroll. Artificial flowers are tastefully placed at the foot of the eagle.

The apparatus of the Western Star Company was drawn by six noble black horses of the Russian Minister, who with his usual courtesy and affability

The Navy Yard Fire Company – This respectable and efficient company of industrious and meritorious mechanics – the bone and sinew of the Navy Yard – turned out more than fifty members, fully equipped for duty, and ever ready at moments warning. Their apparatus, which is new, substantial and handsome, consists of an engine, which was drawn by six bay horses, a suction, which was drawn by four grays and a hose reel, which was drawn by two bays. The members of this company were dressed in drab frock coats; they wore blue capes and blue hats, inscribed “Anacostia” in gilt letters. They carried along with them a handsome silk banner, representing on a blue ground the figure of an Indian, with a view of the upper part of the East Branch in the background. On the reverse of this splendid banner, which was painted in gilt letters, “Navy Yard Fire Company, instituted 1837.” A person in the costume of an Indian walked in front.

Columbia – The new and excellent apparatus of this company made a fine appearance. The splendid engine and suction were each drawn by four iron grey horses. The hose reel was drawn by two iron grays. The Columbia Fire Company paraded nearly fifty members, who were uniformed in brown frock coats and white pantaloons. They wore black painted hats, having inscribed in front thereof the word “ Columbia” in gold letters. Their handsome banner represents a perspective view of the Eastern front of the Capitol.

Franklin – This company turned out in great strength and made a very fine and imposing appearance. Their uniform, which is scarlet, rendered them quite conspicuous in the long line of the Procession. The members, who numbered about eighty, were fully equipped. They were headed by six axmen, who wore red shirts, white pantaloons and blue caps. The members of the Franklin wore red frock coats and white pantaloons. Their capes were beautifully lettered in gold with the name of their company. The banners borne by the company in the procession were two very splendid ones kindly lend to them by for this occasion by the Washington Hose Company and the Franklin Fire Company of Baltimore. Altogether, the Franklin Fire company made a usually fine appearance; their banners, flags, streamers, &c being both numerous and beautiful.. The engine and the horse carriage of the company were each drawn by four horses, led by colored men fancifully caparisoned.

Union – Great pains seem to have been taken to render the appearance of this fine Company as handsome and imposing as possible, and the effect showed that such pains had not been taken in vain. The Union turned out not less than seventy members, all neatly and appropriately , if not gaudy dressed in plain drab frock –coats with ornamental buttons. They wore red and blue hats, inscribed in gold with their excellent motto: “In Union is Strength.” The beautiful silk banner “Presented by the ladies of the First Ward to the Union Fire Company” appeared to no disadvantage, even when contrasted with other new and splendid banners in the Procession. The Union banner, which is of blue and yellow silk, is elegantly surmounted with a large golden eagle; it is hung with splendid gold fringe and tassels. The apparatus of the Union Fire Company was unsurpassingly fine. The two large and splendid engines and the hose carriage were each drawn by fine grey horses; and attended by twelve Negroes clad in yellow shirts trimmed with red and wearing blue striped caps. On each of the engines of the Union were placed four small lads, dressed as young firemen and in the costume of the Union Fire Company. These small boys each bore a handsome banner, and appeared to great advantage. The Union Fire Company was preceded with five bold looking axmen in very appropriate costume. Altogether the appearance of this company was remarkably good.

Perseverance – This efficient, respectable and independent company turned out well and made a handsome appearance in the grand procession. There were about eighty members on duty, including the two axmen, who headed the company, attired in green shirts, blue pantaloons, and buckskin gauntlets. The members were all fully equipped; they wore drab frock coats , green painted hats, with rounded crowns and letter in gold. Each member wore a red comfort round his neck. The apparatus of the company, which is, for the most part new, substantial, and elegant, consists of one engine,, suction and two hose carriages; which were all handsomely decorated with flags, banners, and streamers. The engine and hose carriages were each drawn by four gray horses. The new banner of the Perseverance Fire Company, which was specially provided for the present interesting occasion attracted particular attention. It is an elegant silk banner, blue on one side green on the other. The painting on the banner was executed by MURRAY , of Philadelphia , in his best style, represents the Goddess of Industry pointing to beavers t work building a dam, as a an emblem of Perseverance. It is in deed a handsome and splendid banner, and measures four feet nine inches and five feet nine inches.

Vigilant of Georgetown – This excellent company brought up the rear of the Procession in fine style and admirable order. The members in the parade amounted we should think to a about fifty. Their apparatus consisting of an excellent engine and hose carriage was tastefully decorated with artificial flowers. Their handsome and appropriate banner representing Hercules leaning on a rock and pointing to a fire that is seen raging in the distance, attracted considerable notice.

Having now given a detailed, and we believe, tolerably accurate description of the Firemen’s Festival, we might be content to lay down our pen, and here close the present article. We cannot however, in justice tour respected neighbors of Georgetown, avoid saying that we consider them entitled to great praise for the spirited manner in which they came forward to aide in the Firemen’s Procession. The triumphal arch erected, at the corner of Bridge and High streets was not only by the concurrent testimony of every beholder one of the handsomest exhibitions in the pageant; but a well merited and well timed complement to the Baltimore guests housed to a loft tree on the opposite side of the street on which strip were inscribed the appropriate words:


The inscription being gloriously bounded on each side by the proud flag of the Union, whose stars and stripes, floating in the breeze, appeared not only beautiful but honored in the eyes of every beholder.

We have hardly the time or the space for a single remark concerning the sumptuous dinner given by the Union Fire Company to their Baltimore guests, the Mechanical Fire Company. That the fest was elegant and abundant, reflecting the highest credit upon the culinary merits of Le Grand Cuisinier, Masseur Favier, of the First Ward, none who partook of it could be so ungracious as to deny. There was but one opinion on the subject among gentlemen of taste, was highly favorable to Monsieur Favier. Of the intellectual part of the entertainment we must also make favorable a report. The excellent, appropriate, and patriotic toasts send in by gentlemen who were invited to the feast but could not attend, which toasts were all drank, with enthusiasm by numerous respectable company , who attended and enjoyed the feast; the excellent toasts which were given by different members of the company, and which produced speeches of corresponding excellence from the President of the Mechanical Fire Company of Baltimore, his honor the Mayor of Washington, the Marshal in Chief, the Commissioner of Public Buildings, the President of the Firemen’s Insurance Company of Washington and Georgetown,, the President and Vice President of the Union Fire Company and other gentlemen; all these toasts and speeches produced the greatest enjoyment and will long be remembered ( will they ever be forgotten? ) by everyone present.

Of the Firemen’s Ball, which was announced to be held at the National Theater on the night of the festival, we regret to hear( on account of Mr. Ward, who made very abundant , handsome and liberal preparations) that it was but indifferently attended. This however was no more than we anticipated, insomuch as the firemen, after a fatiguing march of ten or twelve miles along dusty streets, during the day, could not reasonably be expected to enjoy the pleasure of the dancing the same night.

We had nearly forgotten to say that in the course of the Procession refreshments were liberally provided for the Baltimore visitors and other firemen by the Perseverance and Navy Yard Fire Companies.

We now bid “farewell” but not, we hope, a long farewell” to our Baltimore visitors. They will leave us, we understand, this morning for their respective homes, with the best wishes, as learn the Union Fire Company, whose honored guests they were , and all the other Fire Companies of Washington and Georgetown, with whom they united in the Procession. In the name of the citizens of Washington, we believe to have been highly gratified by their fine appearance , their excellent discipline and their gentlemanly deportment, as evidenced during their late visit to this Metropolis, we wish to every individual member of the Mechanical Fire Company of Baltimore health, happiness and permanent prosperity.



Daily National Intelligencer

November 11, 1840


Destructive Fire at Georgetown

We have inspected the smoldering ruins of the alarming conflagration which occurred at Georgetown on Wednesday night, and converse with several intelligent gentleman of that city , relative to the cause of and the extend of damage occasioned by the fire. The most prevalent opinion seems to be that the total amount of property destroyed by the fire, damage done to furniture, &c is from $15,000 to $30,000. That the fire was the act of an incendiary seems also to the general opinion; although some persons residing in the vicinity of the Aqueduct incline to the belief that fire was carelessly, if not accidentally, communicated to the stable where the conflagration originated. We understand that the bakery of Messrs. Thos. Brown & Co., now almost entirely consumed, was insured by the Firemen’s Insurance Company. Most of the valuable machinery used in the manufacture of ship bread is destroyed or rendered useless. It is calculated that about forty barrels of flour and bread were destroyed in the bakery. Fortunately, a large quantity of ship biscuits and bread, furnished to the order of the government under contract, had been removed from the bakery, and shipped on the morning of the dreadful disaster; otherwise the loss would have been much greater.

In the progress of the conflagration, the shingled roof of the house situated on the north side of the canal belonging to F.S. Key, Esq. and tenanted by Mr. Gideon Pierce, several times caught fire, and was repeatedly extinguished by the fire engines and apparatus, which were worked with great skill and effect by their respective companies. In removing Mr. Piece’s furniture much damage was we regret to state, in some instances unnecessarily occasioned.

The new and extensive brick mill, lately erected by Mr. Thos. J. Davis in Water Street, about a square distant from the bakery, repeatedly caught fire on its roof, and was promptly and effectively extinguished by the fire companies, who took an admirable position all along Water Street, where they could work to most advantage. Some other warehouses and dwellings situation at still greater distance from the conflagration also took fire, and were happily rescued from the devouring element by the timely exertions of the firemen.

It was the most fortunate circumstance that the time of this dreadful and alarming conflagration, which illuminated the atmosphere, and reflected a vivid and beautiful light on the opposite shore of the Potomac for a considerable distance, the wind was almost perfectly at rest; otherwise, the destruction to the warehouses, buildings and property of every description would have been immense.

It was certainly much to the credit of the fire companies, both of Georgetown and Washington that they turned out with remarkable promptitude and in great strength, to render assistance. And we are at a lose which was the more to appreciate and admire, the celerity with which the firemen repaired to the seat of the conflagration, or the untiring perseverance with which they all labored to obtain the mastery of the devouring element. Where all did well, it would be both invidious and improper to point to any particular fire company.


*Since writing the above, we have been requested by a respectable citizen who has left his name, to state that the Navy Yard Fire Company arrived with their apparatus from their engine house, at the late fire in Georgetown, in the space of twenty- five minutes! The distance is at least four miles.


From its earliest years, WNY employees filled the ranks of the Anacostia or Navy Yard Fire Company (founded 1804 reorganized 1818) covering most of the District’s sixth and later seventh wards. This section of the city was largely composed of Navy Yard employees. The WNY Commandant typically allowed these volunteers some official time to help suppress fires in the vicinity of the Yard. The perspectives of the WNY Commandants and the Navy Yard Fire Company over how much public time could be spared led to open and occasionally acrimonious disagreements.

Baltimore Sun

Washington City,

March 9, 1841.


An unhappy misunderstanding exists here between the citizens and the officer in command at the navy yard, in regard to the enforcement of an order issued some months ago, that the mechanics and others employed in the yard, many of whom are members of the “ Anacostia Fire Company” should not leave during work hours , to attend fires. It appears the former contend as , they leave their various occupations, at all hours to attend fires, whether the devouring element is consuming private or public property, at their own cost and inconvenience, the hands employed by the government should not be prohibited from reciprocating at least , when fires are remote from the property of the government. On the other hand, the officer in charge considers it his duty to see that the rules and regulations adopted and left by his lamented predecessor, be complied with, unless he is otherwise instructed by the navy department. The whole matter it appears to me, is susceptible of satisfactory explanation and adjustment; and with a view to soften down any asperity of feeling which may have been excited and encourage that harmony which should always exist between the officers of the government and the community in general, I take leave respectfully to throw a few hints to both parties.

I am not surprised that the citizens should desire the assistance of the Anacostia Fire Company on every occasion, for they stand second to none in this or any other country, in the execution of deeds of “noble daring” - neither fire nor water, has any terrors for them. At the great Georgetown fire, last fall, they reached there, with all their apparatus in twenty – five minutes!! and worked as they had a fleet of Frenchmen to conquer, and a nap to take before meeting time. These noble souled fellows would on every alarm drag their apparatus up to the city, regardless of health or convenience. Now in justice to the officer, I would ask, are not the views entertained by him highly plausible? Would it not be indelicate at least, if not disrespectful to the memory of the late commandant, for him to rescind any order so soon after his decease? In the next place, it’s an incontrovertible fact that sometimes “we have three alarms of fire in one day, when the only cause for the alarm is a blazing chimney! If then the hands were to be “knocked off” on every alarm, then would not their health, if not their lives be jeopardized by useless over exertion to say nothing of the interruption to the public business. To obviate the whole difficulty then, I would suggest that the fire department adopt such measures as will prevent the ringing of the fire bells when only a chimney on fire; if the building be endangered, the presence of a single company nearest at hand which could be easily collected by the cry of fire, (which the boys do gratis) would be sufficient. Let this plan be adopted and announced, and then every firemen and the whole community would understand that there is a fire and occasion for their assistance, when the bells are rung. With this understanding, I entertain no doubt but the officer at the navy yard, would consider that he was complying with the spirit and intention of the order; and certainly following the example of the excellent Stevens by requesting the hands to “ knock off” and repair to the scene of danger as speedily as possible. MERCURY


Daily National Intelligencer

April 7, 1841


Navy Yard, Washington, April 5, 1841.

Messrs Gales & Seaton: I am authorized by this Company ( Navy Yard Fire) to send to you the following resolutions for publication in the National Intelligencer as soon as possible:

Resolved, That this Company, mingling their regrets with the nation in the sad dispensation which has deprived the country of the valuable services of WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON, later President of the United States, will join in the funeral procession on Wednesday next, in such places as may be assign by the chief marshal.

Resolved, That the banner of the Company be clad in mourning, and that the bell be tolled during the movement and the possession.

Yours, respectfully, CHAS. GORDON

Sec’y N.Y. F.C.

Daily National Intelligencer

February 12, 1841



In Justice to the members of the Navy Yard Fire Company it is deemed important to the citizens that they cannot appear with their wanted rapidly at fires during working hours in consequence of an order lately issued in the Navy Yard “ That firemen employed in the Yard shall not quit their work to attend fires on the Capitol. The Reasons assigned for this order are twofold –

1st . That there are citizens sufficient, west of the Capitol to protect property from the fire in that quarter.

2nd. That it is detrimental to the public interest to allow men to lose time.

In perfect good feeling to the proper authorities, the writer will observe, that citizen firemen have ever manifested their willingness to protect the public property from fire; they lose their time in working hours, and their rest too, if at midnight, without murmur.

The number of the active young men employed in the Navy Yard attached to the Fire Company it is believed does not exceed forty: their services in time of need might prove essential, while the loss sustained to the United States could but be small in comparison to the benefit which they might render, in half an hour in preserving from the destruction either public or private property.


Daily National Intelligencer

February 15, 1841

A Letter

The Officer at present in temporary command of the Navy Yard feels called upon in justice to the deceased commandant, to reply to “ A Card,” that appears in the Intelligencer of today.

About the commencement of the year Commodore STEVENS issued the order complained of. It is not his intention to prevent, in all cases, the mechanics of the yard attending fires beyond the Capitol. But he reserved to himself, or the commanding officer, the right to decide as to the necessity of their doing so ; for it is manifest that men confined to the wall of the workshop cannot decide upon the matter from any knowledge of their own. The ringing of the fire bell in the yard by order of the commanding officer was the mode adopted to inform the workmen of the supposed necessity of their leaving the yard to join the fire company. If they left the yard without permission thus given, they did it at their own cost. If the mechanics of the yard were permitted to go out when ever fire bells ring in the city, it would frequently happen that ever fire bells ring in the city, it would frequently happen that they would go to the west end to see a chimney on fire; and for this the United States would pay fifty dollars or more.

The writer does not think it reasonable that workmen of the yard should be permitted to attend fires in every part of a city three miles square, at the expense of the United States. The late commandant acted under the belief , and the officer is temporary command will continue to do so until better informed, or until he receives orders to act differently.



Daily National Intelligencer

February 22, 1841


GENTLEMEN: Its not for me to interfere with the establish rules of the Navy Yard; but yet it deemed advisable that the Public should be made acquainted with so much thereof as interests them, as too sheer justice to the members of the Fire Company demand it, in consequences of an imputation resting on them which it is hoped was not intended by the officers commanding the Navy Yard in your paper of the 12th inst when he used the words “ If they left the Yard without permission thus given, they did it at their costs.”

The rule referred to reads thus: “None but the workmen employed in the yard are to leave their work hereafter on the alarm of fire, unless the yard bell is rung.” And again, “No half days are to be allowed in this yard after this date [January 1, 1841] Persons who miss the first muster will not therefore be permitted to go to work for the remainder of the day: nor will any person be allowed to break off work, after answering the first muster without permission from the executive officer of the yard.”


Another portion of the rules of the yard reads thus: “Should fire break out in this Yard or in its vicinity, either in the day time or during the night, the officer on duty will cause the bell to be rung. Should the fire be so remote as to excite no apprehensions for the safety of the public property, the bell is not to be rung, but the officers of the Yard are to be informed of the fact without delay.”


This rule being alone applicable to public property, it is but to observe that the great mass of working men sleep without the walls of the Navy Yard, and that, when the fire bells rang, they think it is not unreasonable to attend fires in every part of the city three miles square, though at the expense of their rest.


With all due respect to those clothed with power, I have but to observe that the best mode to secure aid in time of need is by reciprocating favors, though the: “the cost be fifty dollars.” Forty hands belonging to the fire company at 1.50 per day is $ 60. Two hours lost in attending a fire is $ 12. not $ 50. Two hours is the 5th of ten working men.




Daily National Intelligencer

March 10, 1845

ANACOSTIA HALL, Washington, March 7, 1845

At a meeting of the Anacostia (Navy Yard) Fire Company it was decided:

Resolved, that the thanks of this Company be tendered to Messrs. MANNINS, LARNED, and others for the liberal supplies of refreshments during the night of the late fire.

The Anacostia Fire Company would respectfully request that when refreshments are tendered in time of fires in future, that they will please let the same be known to some officers of the Company to prevent an imposition which has too often been practiced on our generous citizens by person representing themselves as firemen.

JONAS B. ELLIS, President.

Attest: CHARLES GORDON, Secretary.



Daily National Intelligencer

September 23, 1844



MORE INCEDIARISM – We learn that an attempt was made last night to set fire to the Almshouse on the Eastern Branch. Fortunately the burnings shavings were discovered and extinguished in time to prevent injury to the buildings. It is hoped that, in view of all incendiarism and suspected incendiarism, that has lately taken place in this city and its vicinity; every housekeeper will be strictly on his guard.

The Late Destructive Conflagration at Georgetown is considered by some few persons to have been caused by an incendiary. This is not however the opinion of the best informed part of the community, nor is it, we understand the opinion of Col. Bomford. Mr. Taylor however states that that there were no rubbers going into that part of the mill from which the flames first issued, he thinks the fire was not occasioned by friction.


Not being informed at the time we wrote our former notice of the noble daring of the Anacostia Fire Company, who succeeded in recovering the ion chest from the bringing ruins of the mill, and believing they were at the fire in this city m which broke out about twelve o’clock, we omitted to notice their exertions at Georgetown last Sunday morning and it seems they deserve. We now, therefore, desire to include the Anacostia with the other fire companies, to whom we gave praise for their efficient services.


Daily National Intelligencer

September 25, 1844



More incendiarism, We are sorry to learn that, that on Saturday night between eleven and twelve o’clock someone dropped or set fire to an untenanted framed house situated near Mr. Walkers slaughter house in the northern suburbs of this city. The Perseverance, Northern Liberties, Anacostia, and Columbia Fire Companies turned out to render assistance and had hardly returned to their respective neighborhoods when the alarm bells rang again for help at Georgetown.


We are sorry to learn that a disgraceful scene was witnessed yesterday morning between nine and ten o’clock in front of the President’s house on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was we are informed, a fight between two rival fire companies in the course of the affray (riot is perhaps the more appropriate term) two or three persons were seriously cut bruised and beaten with stones, fence rails and other dangerous weapons. The civil authorities will we suppose take necessary actions to suppress these repeated acts of turbulence


Daily National Intelligencer

March 10, 1845



The PERSEVERANCE FIRE COMPANY deems it a duty they owe to their fellow citizens, as well to themselves to make a statement of the present condition of the Company. From various causes not necessary now to enumerate, (none of which however, are chargeable to the company.) their numerical force has been much reduced so far below the requisite standard that they are unable to meet the ordinary demands on their services. Heretofore they have appealed successfully to the citizens for pecuniary aide; they now confidently appeal to them for a considerable increase in the number of active firemen. With a building and apparatus( the property of the company) complete and unsurpassed by any in the District – costing in the aggregate over $7,000, and all paid for; with a regular revenue amply sufficient to meet expenses of the company: situated in the midst of the most densely populated portion of the city; surrounded by property in buildings and merchandise to the amount of several millions , and occupying a position central and convenient, we cannot believe that the community will suffer this fire company to lapse into a state of utter inefficiency through want of their personal contribution.


Heretofore, when our numbers were sufficient, we think we may without impropriety that the efficiency of the company was equal to that of any fire company in the city, and its character, then and now without disadvantage with the most orderly and respectable; we can see no good reason why the our fellow citizens ( those living convenient , especially ) should not come forward and in sustaining a company in this portion of the city. We appeal to them then, to come up and engage zealously in the common cause – make it a matter of personal concern, and enroll themselves as firemen.


In conclusion, we have only to say that if any of our members are not speedily augmented, the company must be disbanded and the apparatus disposed of. We have done our duty, with you , fellow citizens the matter rest. Respectfully, &c.






Daily National Intelligencer

March 12, 1845


Messrs. Editors: Allow me to suggest through your columns, to the friends of sufferers by fire, and particularly to the worthy and self sacrificing members of our fire companies, a project which I believe is feasible and may result in vast benefits to the afflicted. It is well know that as soon as a fire breaks out a crowd immediately rush into the houses in danger and commence a most rash and inconsiderate ejection of everything movable. Among this crowd are most obligating and forward in offering this services to bear off baskets, boxes &c; and sure enough they do bear them off where they are never hear of again. There is also another class of friendly character and honest and generous intentions, who nevertheless act so inconsiderately that they had better, be away.

As an instance, I remember to have hears a well authenticated case of a man who dashed a splendid mirror, and then seized a pair of iron dogs and carried them clear down two pairs of stairs to the ground. In the late fire my sympathies were deeply touched by witnessing the distress of widows and orphans., as they beheld the wanton destruction and more wanton pillage of their little all.

Now, why can there not be organized, in connection with the fire companies, a small band of judicious and trusty men, whose sole business it shall be to attend to the removing of furniture? When the alarm of fire is given , let these men proceed at once to the scene of danger, and in conjunction with the owners, decide whether there is necessity for removal ; and if so , direct the removal to safe places by safe hands, and guard the articles when removed.


A Friend of the Unfortunate.



Baltimore Sun

May 16, 1845

The Washington Firemen


The Washington Firemen. – The Anacostia Fire Company from the Navy Yard, arrived yesterday morning, as had been expected, in the steamer Columbia, and was landed at Fell’s Point. When they reached the shore, an escort consisting of the Friendship Company and delegations from Howard United, Washington, and Washington, and Watchmen companies awaited in readiness to take them to their quarters. After exchanging salutations, the line of march was taken up, and passing through various sections of the city, they were located at the Friendship Engine House; where the apparatus of the visiting company was deposited. Here the Anacostia was welcomed to the city in a short address by Mr. Hewitt, President of the Friendship and was responded to by Mr. Ellis, President of the Anacostia. After resting a short time at the engine house, the Friendship accompanied by their guests, proceeded to the public house of Mr. Cloud, corner of South and Second streets, where they partook of a collation, serve up in the usual style of that establishment. The collation being over, they were escorted to their quarters, at Stockbridge’s National Hotel, opposite the Pratt street depot. In the afternoon, they were waited upon by the Union Fire Company who had extended the invitation to them to partake of a collation, at 4 o’clock. Accordingly they proceeded to the engine house of the United, where the collation was spread. It was a tasteful affair, and did much credit to the company. This over, they proceed to the ball room at the corner of Hanover and Lombard streets, where they left them, in the enjoyment of the merry dance.

During the passage of the procession through the city, the flags were hung out at the various engine houses, and the bells of the different companies rung out a petal of welcome.

The Washingtonians are a fine looking set of men, thirty eight in number, exclusive of the firemen, with red shirts, dark pantaloons, and a belt each have the name of the company upon it. They brought with them their engine, a very handsome piece of apparatus built by Agnew, of Philadelphia. Among the members, was a pioneer, dressed in the character of an Indian, designed to represent the source from which the company takes its name.


This morning they will receive the attentions of the Friendship, by which they will be conducted to Green Mount Cemetery, and thence to Captain Frederick’s where a collation will be served; in the afternoon, they will dine with the same company, at Logan’s Hall, and this evening they will partake of the hospitalities of the Mechanical, at the Merchants Hotel, Charles street. We learn that they will leave the city tomorrow for home in the steamer Columbia.

Daily National Intelligencer

August 15, 1845


The Anacostia Fire Company intend making an excursion in the Steamer Columbia, on Tuesday, the 18th instant. The boat will leave Georgetown at half past 7 o’clock A.M., the steamboat returning about sundown. The Committee of Arrangements, having entire charge of the boat, pledge themselves to maintain the strictest order.

Dinner, Snacks, Ice Cream, Confectionary, &c provided on board at reasonable prices.

A good Band of Military and Dancing Music are engaged.

Tickets $1, to be had either of the Committee on Arrangements, or at the Boat on the morning of the excursions.

Aug. 10 – MWF&M


Baltimore Sun

May 11, 1846




Yesterday morning about 9 o’clock, one of the laboratories in the Navy Yard, where a large quantity of composition is kept for making percussion caps, was discovered to be on fire. The Anacostia Fire Company was quickly on the spot; and at the risk of life subdued the flames; for had an explosion taken place many lives might have been lost. A young man Gill was seriously injured by the engine running over him when going to the fire.




Baltimore Sun

January 6, 1849


NOTICE – THE ANACOSTIA FIRE COMPANY respectfully announce to the public their intention of giving a BALL , on the EVENING of January 12th, 1849, at the HALL of their ENGINE HOUSE.




J.H.Mead John Ober

J. Mc Cowen J.D. Brandt

Wm. Hutchinson

Price of admittance $1. Tickets to be had at the Drug Stores on the Navy Yard: at Mr. Missoletti’s Drug Store , Pennsylvania avenue; and at the office of the Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore Sun

February 18, 1846

[The Anacostia (Navy Yard) Fire Company Ball]

Washington , February 17, 1846

The Anacostia Ball – This affair, which took place last night at the Navy Yard, was numerously and most respectably attended. The Managers deserved and doubtless obtained the thanks of their numerous guests. The Friendship Fire Company of Baltimore was represented by a number of gallant spirits, who on this occasion were united more firmly in the bonds of Friendship by a few hours communion with Love and Truth, so beautifully and charmingly represented by the ladies present on the occasion. Among the invited guests was his honor the Mayor, who made a most capital and well timed address, and Justice Laurenson, who has rendered himself so popular with the working men of that part of the city. The whole affair passed off pleasantly and agreeably; and I have no doubt that the members of the “ Friendship” will long remember the “ Ball of the Anacostia Fire Company.”

General Orders for the Regulation of the Navy Yard Washington, DC

[circa 1833 -- 1850]

The following regulations prescribed the WNY workforce response to a fire on the Yard or assist the District of Columbia.

6. Should fire break out in the Yard, or in its vicinity, either in the day time, or during the night, the Officer on duty, or the Sergeant or Corporal at the Gate, will cause the bell to be rung and immediate information given to the Commandant, & Executive Officer. Should the fire be so remote as to excite no apprehension for the safety of the public property, the bell is not to be rung, but the officers of the Yard are to be informed of the fact without delay. Should any other Circumstance occur requiring the attention of the officers of the Yard, or assistance of the officers of the Yard, information must be given to the Commandant & or to the Executive Officer and none of the Workmen employed in the Yard except those referred to in the next following article are to leave their work on the alarm of the fire unless the Yard bell be rung.

7. On the alarm of fire being given, those men who are members of the Navy Yard Fire Company, are to be permitted to repair, immediately, to their Engine; but they are to return again to their work in the Yard without unnecessary delay, & as soon as their services can be dispensed with at the fire.-- In every case the Clerk of the Yard will report to the Commandant, the names of the men and the length of time they shall have been absent at a fire, when he will decide whether their pay shall be stopped, or continued for the time of their absence.

8. The Fire Engines of the Yard are to be kept in Serviceable order, to be examined every Saturday & Exercised occasionally by the men in Ordinary, under the Superintendence of the 1
st Lieutenant, or Officer next in rank when he is absent. [The words "Fire Engines" appears written by another hand in the left margin next to this paragraph.]

9. Officers occupying houses within the Yard will be held responsible for all accidents, arising from neglect or improper use of fires or lights in their respective quarters. All other fires in the Yard, or on board of vessels at the wharf, must be extinguished at Sunset & reported to the Executive Officer. Chimneys where fires are used must be swept monthly.

10. Smoking, either of Pipes or Cigars within the Yard, is prohibited, except in the quarters of the Commissioned Officers.

11. To guard against accidents from fire, all persons are forbidden to leave wood in any of the Shops at night -- more especially in the Smithy Shops & those other shops where there are forges-- at night all wood is to be removed also, from the vicinity of the Furnaces, Steam Engines etc., etc. -- In future, every act of neglect of this order, or any carelessness with fire, will be noticed in the most serious manner. No excuse or reasons for carelessness with fire, especially in any department of the Yard, will be noticed in the most serious manner. No excuses or reasons for Carelessness in any department of the Yard will be rec. -- The officers of the day will see that this order is strictly executed.

12. The Master Mechanics of this Yard will report to the Executive Officer at
half an hour before Sundown of each day, the extinguishment of all the fires in their respective Shops, Offices & except those as necessary to be kept for mechanical purposes. They are desired to be particular & certain that every spark is put out.


Baltimore Sun

February 7, 1856

Fire at the Navy Yard – Use of Reservoirs & Fire Company Elections

About seven o’clock this morning the bells in the Washington Navy Yard sounded an alarm of fire. The army of mechanics residing in that vicinity, who have ever evinced a most commendable interest in the preservation of the government property, quickly hastened to the yard, where they were soon joined by the U.S. Marine Guard, as well as the Anacostia Fire Company and the Columbia Fire Company from Capitol Hill. The flames soon showed that the tank and tin shop nearly 150 feet in length and situated on the south –east extremity, near the ship house was enveloped in fire without the possibility of being saved, and the united efforts of all on the ground was directed to the safety of the surrounding buildings. The tank building with a quantity of copper and tin work and some patterns was totally destroyed without other loss to the government.

In this instance, as well as on a former occasion the value of the vast reservoir attached to the copper rolling mill was fairly tested and proves the importance of such work at every government department in the country Had the workmen this morning been obligated to depend even upon the present icebound river for supplies of water, it is quite certain that the ship house or one of the other buildings would now be leveled with the ground.

The Building destroyed was one of the oldest in the yard, and was covered with slate. It is respectfully suggested whether it is not advisable on all new buildings, to substitute iron for slate roofs. In consideration of the exertions of the workmen, the commandant authorized a recess of all hands until one o’clock today, when work in several departments was resumed. The cause of the fire is attributed to sparks which may have lodged between the timbers since last evening.

The Franklin Fire Company have chosen the following officers for the year: Robert E. Doyle, president, W.H. Fanning, vice president, Geo. R. Crossfield , secretary, R.G. Eckloff, assistant secretary, John T. Combs, treasurer, with engineers, directors, &c.

At a meting of the Western Hose Company No.1 held February 5, 1856 , the following officers were elected officers for the ensuing year: W. Riggles, president, G.W. Drury, vice president, F.N. Holtzman, secretary, F.T. Wilson treasurer, besides directors, &c.



John G. Anderson, the First Fireman Killed in the Line of Duty.

Thanks to some diligent research,  by retired DC Fireman Jimmy Lloyd, a new name has emerged as the first documented DC Firefighter to die in the line of duty. For a long time Firemen, Benjamin Greenup, killed May 6, 1856, was thought to be the first DC Firemen killed in the line of duty. Greenup was died as a result of being run over by the wagon wheel of the fire truck.  “In those days, pumps were powered by hand, not steam. The equipment wasn`t as heavy as later steam-powered engines and so was pulled by the firemen themselves rather than by horses. Greenup, a member of the Columbia Fire Company, was killed when the engine he was pulling down Pennsylvania Avenue on the way to a blaze collided with a lamppost, crushing him underneath the pumper`s wheels. Greenup was 24 and, according to the inscription on his monument in Glenwood Cemetery in Northeast Washington, ``A truer, nobler, trustier heart, more loving or more loyal, never beat within a human breast”. ``
Greenup`s large grave marker at Glenwood cemetery is carved with a detailed depiction of his death. For years it was believed that he was the first firefighter to die while serving the city. But about a year ago, retired D.C. firefighter Jimmy Lloyd came across a 1911 book by Washington Evening Star reporter James Croggon. In it, Croggon mentions a firefighter named John G. Anderson who died two months
before Greenup.” John Kelly the Washington Post Answer Man researched the details and they can be found at 
] My thanks to Scott Roberts of Historic Washington for sharing this with the larger community.  Below are my transcriptions gathered from early newspapers recounting John Anderson’s death and funeral ceremony.


John G. Sharp                                                                          Concord, CA




Daily National Intelligencer

12 March 1863

Destructive Fire and Loss of Life

Between three and four o’clock yesterday morning a fire broke out in the basement of Mrs. Taggart’s elegant house on 21st  street, near F street. The fire caught from the furnace, and before it was discovered had made rapid progress.  The Union Fire Company was soon on the ground; but their engine was frozen up in consequence of being at the fire on Louisiana at one yesterday, and it was an hour before any water was thrown on the building.  The house was wholly consumed, together with one adjoining, which was unoccupied. Both houses belonged to Mrs. Taggart, and erected last summer. They were three stories high, of brick, and contained all the modern improvements. They were both fully insured but upon Mrs. Traggard’s furniture, which was nearly all destroyed or injured, there was no insurance.

We regret to that Mr. John G. Anderson, who lived in Bride’s row, on G. Street, was killed by falling of the wall of the back building.   The wall struck him on the head, and cut the top of it completely off, killing him instantly.  He leaves a wife and four or five children in destitute condition. He was member of the Western Hose Company, and was engaged at the time in removing Mrs. Traggard’s furniture from the houses.  Mr. Dorr a saddler by trade was also badly injured.  The cords of his wrist were severed in consequence of his falling through he window sash. He bled profusely, and was carried to Doctor Magruders house, where his wounds were dressed. Two or three other persons were less seriously injured.  

12 March 1856

Baltimore Sun

{Death of John Anderson, fireman}

Fire and Loss of Life

At an early hour this morning, two handsome three - story brick dwelling houses, near the Observatory were totally destroyed by fire; nothing being left standing except parts of the crumbling walls.  The houses were recently finished, and owed by a widow lady Mrs. Taggard, who occupied one of them. Supposed the fire originated from some defect in the furnace.  It is understood that the loss is partially covered by insurance.

Melancholy to relate, a neighbor named John Anderson who was a member of the “ Western Hose Company,”   fell victim to his own intrepidity and zeal, a wall suddenly fell and killed  him instantly  - a portion of his brains being literally scattered  on the earth around the spot he stood on. Poor Anderson – a shoe maker by trade was soon returned  lifeless to the disconsolate  wife and four little children whom with so much activity, he had left but a short time previous  - His remains are at the house of his brother  in law  Mr. F. Mann, where they have visited by many. A coroner’s inquest was held, when the verdict was in accordance with the facts here stated. The firemen of Washington will doubtless unite with the Western company in the funeral ceremonies, and also adopt some plan for the immediate relief of the distressed family – Several other firemen received slight wounds.


Daily National Intelligencer

13 March 1856

Prompt Benevolence

The Annexed letter will make known to the public, and we hope for the imitation of others, the prompt benevolence of one of the bureaus of our Government.

Coast Survey Office, March 12, 1856.

Gentlemen: I forward herewith, in the hope that other contributions may be placed in your hands for the same object, $ 71.25, subscribed by the officers and employees of this office for the relief of the unfortunate widow and children of the late John Anderson, who was killed at the fire on Twenty – Second Street on yesterday morning.

Very Respectfully, yours &c

W.R. PALMER, Capt. Top’l Engineers

Assistant in Chief, Coast Survey Office

Messrs. Gales & Seaton


13 March 1856

Daily National Intelligencer

Funeral Obsequies of a Fireman – Imposing Turnout of the Companies – Relief Contributions

The fireman’s demonstration this afternoon on the occasion of the funeral obsequies of the late John Anderson, who was killed whilst engaged at a fire on Tuesday morning – was numerously attended admirably arranged throughout and produced upon the public mind a most impressive effect.   As soon as the sad intelligence was communicated to the respective companies -  on the fatal morning – the American ensign draped in mourning, was displayed from each of their engine houses – and occasionally the tolling of the belles reminded citizens of the occurrence. The Western Hose company ( first ward) of which the deceased was an active member, assembled and adopted resolutions of regard for the memory of their departed brother, and of condolence with the afflicted family. The funeral was announced for 5 o’clock this afternoon, and crowds of citizens wended their way to the residence and neighborhood of Mr. Mann, (brother in law of the deceased) where the solemnities were to commence. The firemen’s pageant then approached the house. The Western Hose Company, R.E. Booth, marshal. This association of young men of recent date; they appeared strong in numbers, attired in their new regalia and their beautiful new reel was tastefully arranged as a hearse. This company of course took the especial charge of the body of their deceased.Our neighboring city, Alexandria, Va., was handsomely presented by their venerable company the Friendship. Their marshal was Mr. Thomas Cowling, and they appeared to be the special guests of the Franklin Company.

The Vigilant Company of Georgetown, with banner shrouded in mourning; numerous attendances of members and well uniformed - Marshal Mr. John Scott.  This Company had attended the funeral of one of its own members in the morning. From the Washington Navy Yard  came Hook and Ladder Company , No. 2 , in a new regalia – the marshal Mr. William Brown ; and the Anacositia in citizens dress with badges – Mr. John Robinson marshal.  From Capitol Hill bearing their banner festooned with crape, was the Columbia Company – Mr. Thomas Robinson marshal.

The Northern Liberties Company, with flag in mourning and uniforms, marshaled by Mr. John G. Keenan . The Metropolitan hook and Ladder company No. 1, Mr. John T.Sutler, president as their marshal. The more central part of the metropolitan city in all respects efficiently represented by the three companies.




Daily National Intelligencer

Washington, D.C.

May 7, 1856


FIRE AND FATAL ACCIDENT –The stable belonging to Mr. Shreve, on Seventh Street, near I, was destroyed by fire at an early hour yesterday morning. The loss is estimated at from ten to fifteen hundred. It is believed to be the work of an incendiary. The fire companies of the city performed their duty well on this occasion. We regret to add that Mr. BENJAMIN C. GREENUP, a member of the Columbia Fire Company, lost his life while aiding in conducting the engine down Capitol Hill on the way to the fire, whether by a violent fall or by being run over by the carriage appears to be uncertain. He was a marble cutter by trade, extensively known in the city as a good vocalist, and was highly esteemed. He was probably twenty four or twenty five years of age.

Baltimore Sun

Washington D.C.

May 7, 1856

FATAL ACCIDENT to a FIREMAN - A Melancholy Case

Another fireman has died at his post – for whom deep sympathy pervades our whole city. Between twelve and one o’clock this morning as the suction engine of the Columbian (Capitol Hill) Company was proceeding to the on Seventh Street. Mr. Benjamin C. Greenup, formerly of Baltimore, aged about 25 years, a granite cutter by profession, and an efficient member of the Columbia, with another friend, had hold of the tongue of the apparatus, descending the hill with rapidity, the velocity exceeded their strength; it is supposed the legs of the young Greenup became entangled with the ropes when he fell, and the engine passed directly over his breast. The heel of his boot being torn off, it was probably done by another wheel coming into contact with his foot. The unfortunate man audibly requested his comrades to take him up, that he was hurt. There was no time lost by his companions, and he was in the best possible manner, conveyed back to the engine house, but sad to relate before he reached there, the vital spark had fled. The Columbia Fire Company at once proceeded to lay the body out. The front of the house was festooned in mourning, and by sunrise the mournful fact was announced by their tolling bells. The body is laid out, enveloped in the Star Spangled Banner, in the company’s hall. The bouquets of fresh flowers rendered the room fragrant. The furniture is all draped as in a family residence, and during the whole day ladies have been in attendance, performing all the duties which could have been bestowed upon a son or brother. It is supposed that not less then 1000, ladies have visited the hall this morning, besides several hundred of the sterner sex. All the other engine houses have their flags displayed at half mass. The funeral will take place tomorrow afternoon. The religious services will be by the Rev. Mr. Knight, pastor of St. Peter’s.


Diary of Michael Shiner

Michael Shiner (1805-1880) worked at the WNY for over fifty years; first as a slave, and later as freeman. His perspective and recollections provide a unique reflection of public events at the Yard. Compare his account of the 1856 WNY Tank Shop fire to that in the Baltimore Sun February 7, 1856 above. For more on Michael Shiner, see his complete diary, at the Naval Historical Center Shiner’s grammar, spelling and punctuation are transcribed as written.


Page 131       (1854)

A Sad accident occurrin washingtone Navy yard in the iron Foundry in Cassing a large Cylinder for the u. S. Steam Friget Fulton and through Some misfortune or Reastin it Exploded greadly for while althou by the assistance of Kind Providence Mr Bland Stuck to it and his men with great Silvance Commodore H Paulding and his Family was ther all the officers of the yard and there Family awas there thanks to the kind Providence above there was nobody hurt There Capt. J.S. Powell was there first Luant Joseph Lamman Sail master C.W. Morris and Major Williams From the navy yard gate Commanding of the Marines and the officers from Marine Barricks with the Marines all the master workman and quarterman were present and they Fought the Fire with great Courage and the differenc Fire Compys of all Classes of the Dis Columbia was there and assited to Exting the Fire there was about $80 thousand dollars of Government Property was Saved that day that including the pattern and Bouring Mill and it was on the 11th day of Aug. 1859 Friday

Page 143       1856

A fire Broke out in the Tank Shops in the Washington Navy Yard on the 7th day of February 1856 on Thursday about half past seven o'clock in the morning it was discovered by the watchman by the Name of Lewis the anacotia fire company was There and Exercised all the energy in extinguishing the fire the Columbia Fire Company was present and the PerSeverance fire company was Present and all So the american fire company was present

Commodore French Forrest was present and Captain Joseph Lanman and first Lieutenant Thomas J hunter and 2nd Lieutenant G.B. Balch and Dr Edwards was present And master workman and the quarterman of the yard and the mechanics and Laborers of all classes was present and worked with vigor in trying to extinguish the fire on the 7th day of February 1856 on Thursday.

Commodore French Forrest after the fire was out Gave all the mechanics a half of the day to change their Clothes and dry them Selves on the 7th day of February 1856 .

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