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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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Sufferers from the Great Boston Fire of 1760

The scope of the Boston fire of 20 Mar 1760 really comes out in the list of victims that the newspapers published in the following week.

The list was actually a guess, based on November 1759 property assessment records. The printers acknowledged that “Several Widows and a few others are probably omitted.” And of course the names are the heads of household, not the relatives, servants, and boarders also affected.

In his later account the young printer John Boyle added, “The House of Col. Joseph Ingersol catch’d on Fire, but being Brick it was preserved. Here the Flames ended.” Ingersoll’s house was also the Bunch of Grapes tavern.

Other notices in the newspapers testify to the disruption the fire caused throughout the town.
It is desired by the Inhabitants of the Town, That those who live in the Neighbourhood where the late Fire was, would collect and send to the Town-House, all the Buckets & Bags that belong to any Society, where a Person will receive them for the respective Owners.
The town rewarded the firefighting society which was the first on the scene of a fire, and at the end of the month the selectmen gave that award to the “Master of the Marlborough Engine.”
All Persons who have had any Goods or Household Furniture deposited with them during the late Fire, and are at a Loss to whom to return them, are desired either to send them to Faneuil-Hall immediately, or give Information of the same to the Person who will attend there for that Purpose, and where proper Care will be taken that the right Owners shall have them.
The printers were looking for their own customers:
As several Customers to the Boston Evening-Post are burnt out by the late terrible fire, and the publishers not knowing what part of the town they are in, it is desired they would send for their papers
Even before that newspaper was published on 24 March, some Bostonians were looking accusingly at people living in the house where the fire started—the Sign of the Brazen Head.

COMING UP: Finger-pointing, engraving, and what this all meant for The Road to Concord.

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