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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Monday, January 14, 2019

“A most terrible Fire” Starting at the Brazen Head

The 21 Mar 1760 Boston News-Letter reported two significant fires in Boston in the preceding week and then proceeded to this hastily composed yet lengthy report:
Since the above Accounts were compos’d, for this Paper, a most terrible Fire happened in the Town, suppos’d to be greater than any that has been known in these American Colonies, far exceeding what was generally called, the great Fire, which happen’d here October 2. 1711.—

It began about II [i.e., two] o’Clock Yesterday Morning, Thursday March 20th, and broke out in the Dwelling-House of Mrs. Mary Jackson, and Son, at the Brazen-Head in Cornhill, by what Means is uncertain, tho’t by Accident:

The flames catch’d the Houses adjoining in the Front of the Street, and burnt three or four large Buildings, a Stop being put to it there, at the House improved by Mrs. West on the South, and Mr. Peter Cotta on the North; but the Fire raged most violently towards the East, the Wind blowing strong at N.W. and carried all before it; from the Back Sides of those Houses:—

All the Stores fronting Pudding-Lane, together with every Dwelling-House, from thence, excepting those which front the South side of King-Street, and a Store of Mr. Spooner’s on Water-Street to Quaker-Lane, and from thence only leaving a large old wooden House, and the House belonging to the late Cornelius Waldo, Esq; it burnt every House, Shop, Store, out-House, &c. to Oliver’s Dock:

And an Eddy of Wind carrying the Fire contrary to it’s Course, it took the Buildings fronting the lower Part of King-Street, and destroyed the Houses from the Corner opposite the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, to the Warehouse of Mess’rs. Box and Austin, leaving only the Warehouse of the Hon. John Erving, Esq; and the Dwelling-House of Mr. Hastings, standing; the other Brick-Warehouses towards the Long-Wharf were considerably damag’d.—

On the South-East Part, the Fire extended from Mr. [William] Torrey’s, the Baker, in Water-Street, and damaging some of Mr. Dalton’s new Shops, proceeded to Mr. Hall’s working-House, and from then to Milk-Street, and consumed every House from the next to Mr. [Joseph] Calfe’s Dwelling-House, to the Bottom of the Street, and the opposite Way from Mr. [Joseph] Dowse’s included, it carryed before it every House to Fort-Hill, except the Hon. Secretary [Andrew] Oliver’s, and two or three Tenements opposite; as also every House, Warehouse, Shop and Store, from Oliver’s Dock along Mr. [Benjamin] Hallowell’s Ship-Yard, Mr. Hallowell’s Dwelling House, the Sconce of the South-Battery, all the Buildings, Shops and Stores on Col. [Jacob] Wendell’s Wharf, to the House of Mr. Hunt Ship-builder.—

So that from Pudding-Lane, to the Water’s Edge, there is not a Building to be seen, excepting those on the Side of King-street and those mention’d above, all being in Ashes.—Besides which, a large Ship, Capt. Eddy late Master, lying at Col. Wendell’s Wharf, and two or three Sloops and a Schooner were burnt, one laden with Wood, and another with Stores of a considerable Value.—
COMING UP: More about Boston’s great fire of 1760.

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