J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Fire in a Barn at Cambridge

This is a quotation from an “Account of Fires in Massachusetts” published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1838:

LinkAug. 8, 1783. In the evening of this day, a barn at Cambridge, belonging to Nathaniel Tarcy, Esq. was set on fire by lightning, which consumed it, with his carriages, and a large quantity of hay.
The name Tarcy is obviously a misprint for Tracy.

Nathaniel Tracy was a Newburyport merchant who invested heavily in privateers during the Revolutionary War. He made enough money to own several houses, including the Cambridge estate that this item probably refers to. It’s now the Longfellow National Historic Site, shown above. There’s no longer a barn on the lot, but there is a late nineteenth-century carriage-house modified with pipes for a car wash. There are two lightning rods on the main house, one of which reaches the ground.

The year 1783 was not a good one for lightning. About three months before this fire, a bolt struck the house where James Otis, Jr., was being treated for mental illness and killed him.

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