When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
September 21, 1776 — Great Fire of New York erupted destroying 10 to 25 percent of buildings in the city. The British Army accused revolutionaries of deliberately setting the blaze in an attempt to unseat the military occupation.
In the evening of September 21, six days after the British invasion of New York City, a fire started in a wooden building near White Hall Slip called the Fighting Cocks Tavern. It was fanned by winds south west of the city and spread rapidly into the night, demolishing 493 buildings and houses in the process. The fire raged unchecked, consuming a third of the city’s infrastructure. The responsibility for putting out the fire fell on the British soldiers, who soon discovered that fire equipment had been sabotaged. Outraged, they immediately put the blame on Americans, arresting over 200 patriot sympathizers and brutally executing many of the primary suspects involved.
Anticipating the British invasion of New York, General George Washington had retreated from his base in Harlem Heights only a few days prior to the outbreak of the fire. Before this measure was taken, Washington met with members of the continental congress to discuss a defense strategy for the city. Knowing that the British had strategic military advantage and that there was little hope of retaining the city, a suggestion was made to burn down New York City to eliminate any profit the British might gain from its capture. This plan was quickly rejected, but it is speculated that some patriot sympathizers carried it out independently.
Following this incident the British, upon realizing the threat fire posed to their new base, built their own fire department in the city but otherwise left the damage unrepaired.
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