history of the colonial fire department in the city of New York is long overdue, particularly its role in the American Revolution. Our story begins with the people of New York, in the city's first century, as they fought fires, saved lives, protected their homes and livelihoods. Among those people were a group of volunteers, unpaid, who were the thin leather line, the colonial FDNY, that stood between New York and disaster during periods of rampant arson, wars for North America, and the American Revolution.

Newsworthy Fires in New York (1766-1775)

Explosives Discovered at the 1776 Fire

Part One: Origin of the Colonial Fire Department of New York (1640-1740)

Mill near the Fort in Manhattan (circa 1665) - cutting wood for the wooden city

The Dutch extended their firefighting system of bucket brigades and the night watch by building an island-wide wall as defense from English attacks and raids by Native tribes. Responding to slave revolts, the city imported fire engines and formed the FDNY.

Chapter 1. Stuyvesant and The Wall

Exchange Rate of Guilders and Pelts with Typical Costs for Goods

The Colony of New Netherland centered on the Hudson River

The Roelantsen House located on Stone Street near the Fort

Colonial Dutch House with thatched roof and clapboard siding

1650 Wood Frame with interior braces, rafters, ladder to attic

2,000 foot Defensive Wall gave Wall Street its name

1653 Plank Wall, the first built, replaced the costly all-log design

Bucket Brigade

1660 Map of Wall

Manhattan August, 1664 - Looking south on Broadway from the Wall

English Warships anchored in the harbor beyond the Fort

Chapter 2. The Fires of Two Wars, a Revolution, and a Rebellion

1700 Map of Wards shows six wards, the basis for city administration

The 1703 New York Census showed 4,446 people in 809 households

Chapter 3. Uprisings, Engines, and the Creation of the FDNY

Dutch to English Ethnic Shift in New York between 1703-1731

A London Broadside circa 1730 promoting Newsham's fire engines

1725 Newsham Fire Engine, the exterior of the engine

X-Ray Engine Views, the interior of the engine

Mid-18th Century Firefighting included a Newsham-type fire engine

Part One Illustrations

Part One Maps

Appendices 1 - 14

Part Two: Developing the 'Modern' Colonial FDNY (1740-1775)

The Newsham Engine - The first engine used by the FDNY before the Revolution

The early FDNY fought arson that threatened to destroy the city. It then expanded, funded by wars and privateering during French wars, into an effective firefighting force. As the Revolution approached and the shooting began, firemen were forced to take sides.

Chapter 4. The 'Revolt' of 1741 - FDNY's First Big Test

1741 fires, ten in succession over three weeks, arson

Chapter 5. Wealth from the Wars - The FDNY Expands

Funding for the Night Watch and City Lights made possiblefrom wealth from French Wars

1769 Map of Wards & Engines

The Growth of the FDNY from 1738 to 1776

Newsworthy Fires (1766 - 1775) by Category

FDNY before the Revolution, in turbulent times, was stable

Chapter 6. Political Upheaval - FDNY under Pressure

Marinus Willett, Sons of Liberty torching loyalist property made no friends with firemen

Partial List of about 800 colonists favoring imports vilified by the Sons of Liberty in 1770

John Jay, Founding Father, curtailed firemen's exemptions and hounded loyalist firemen

The 1776 List of Firemen reflected choices some firemen had made - enlist, get out of town

FDNY in the Revolution could draw from about ninety veterans still in town.

Part Two Illustrations

Part Two Maps

Appendices 15 - 22

Part Three: The FDNY and the Revolution (1775-1783)

New York circa 1776 - View from Intersection of Wall Street and Broadway

The Revolution drove most colonists and many firemen from the city. Those who stayed fought the largest firestorm in colonial America. A core of Loyalist firemen rebuilt the fire department during the war. After the war, will the firemen who fought fires and saved the city be recognized, rewarded, punished, or banished?

Chapter 7. The Great New York Fire of 1776

The Great New York Fire of 1776 began near the southern tip of the city

The 1776 Fire 12 to 2AM

The FDNY at the Exchange

The Fire 2 to 4AM

The Sugar-House just a block north of Trinity did not burn

The Fire after 4AM

The FDNY saves St. Paul's

The Fire ends at Kings College

Trinity Church before the Fire

Trinity Church after the Fire

Chapter 8. The Carleton Commission

Map of Combustible Explosives

The 1783 Carleton Commission

Isaac Stoughtenburgh

Chapter 9. FDNY during the Revolution

The 1778 Fire

Fires in New York 1777 - 1783

1783 Advertisement for Firemen

1783 Loyalist Proposal


Advanced Dutch Firefighting

Part Three Illustrations

Part Three Maps

Appendices 23 - 30

Notes: References for the Story

Notes: References for the Illustrations


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