First Major Fire, 1816

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A shocking fire in Raleigh-- On Tuesday night, the 11th inst. at half past 11 o'clock, a fire broke out on the back part of one of Mr. Win. Shaw's store houses on Fayetteville street-- when first discovered, the flame was rapidly ascending the outer wall; and under it were seen the chunk and shavings with which some unknown incendiary had kindled the fatal blast. The timely application of a small quantity of water would have enabled the first who approached the spot to extinguish the flame; but alas! no water was to be had until the devouring element so fair gained the ascendancy as to bid defiance to the scanty means which the Citizens could command-- and in less than two hours a square and an half of the most populous part of the city was wrapped in flames.

"The atmosphere at first was almost perfectly still; the perceptible motion however was from south west-- the most favorable direction for the city. But in a very short time, the circumambient air, produced by the rarefaction, was so great as to form a strong current. Then indeed was the scene awfully appalling; and nothing but the prevailing direction of the common atmosphere, could have saved the west side of Fayetteville street. Oft did the threatening volume bend its insatiate flame westwardly, as if looking with wanton rapacity for further prey; and as oft did the south west breeze, as if directed by the finger of Heavenly pity, draw it back. The fire caught on several houses on the west side of the street, but it was immediately extinguished. In its course northwardly, it crossed a street 66 feet wide; and was arrested finally by blowing up Mr. Stuart's kitchen and by throwing water continually on his dwelling house, under cover of some trees. To the south were three contiguous tenements; these were devoured; and in this direction the fire terminated at Martin street. Thus Mr. Marshall's large corner house and all the houses thence up to Mr. Stuart's dwelling, were consumed.

But for the vigilance and activity of the owners, in running and saving their goods and furniture, the private loss would have been immense. At present it cannot be ascertained-- and now indeed we have to deplore the absolute ruin of a few worthy individuals; and the distressing loss of many others. We invoke the humanity and benevolence of such as were, by Divine Providence saved from the calamity, to remember their distressed brethren.

Large flakes of fire were wafted to a great distance-- many of them fell on the State house; and had it not been for the prudent forethought and active zeal of the state officers who have charge of the house, this costly building had also been consumed. But fortunately they had the presence of mind to procure a quantity of rope and a few property characters to mount the roof, who by tying the rope to the Cupola and their own bodies, were capable of running in every direction, and of extinguishing the fire as soon as it fell.

The great utility of trees in staying the fierce flame was apparent, and too much cannot be said in favor of cultivating trees in every town not only as a beautiful embellishment to the scenery but as a means of protection from fires

Houses destroyed:

  • John Marshall - 1 dwelling house, 1 kitchen, 1 smoke house - 3
  • Matthew Shaw - 2 store houses, 1 dwelling house, 1 lumber house, 1 smoke house, 1 kitchen and bake house - 6
  • William Shaw - 3 house occupied as stores by the following persons-- himself, Thomas & John Scott, Clark 7 Smith, Saddlers, and 2 other stores untenanted, also 1 warehouse, a kitchen, and a smoke house - 6
  • Robert Harrison - 1 store, 1 shop occupied by Green Scott, (Tailor) 1 kitchen and a smoke house - 4
  • Oliver Thomas - 1 dwelling house, 1 batters shop, 1 kitchen and a smoke house - 4
  • Randolph Webb - 1 large house occupied by John Dunn, and Joseph Rose, 1 dwelling house, 1 apothecary's shop, 1 blacksmith's do., 1 smoke house, 1 lumber house with 2000 stand of U. States arms and other articles of accoutrement and equipment, 1 kitchen, and on Hargett street Mr. Webb lost 1 shop occupied by Samuel Rogers, 1 kitchen, 1 shop occupied by Stephen Brown, and one other occupied by James Mears, Senr. - 11

The following persons were also sufferers on Hargett street:

  • J. Miller - 1 kitchen pulled down - 1
  • L. Lewis Holleman - 1 blacksmith's shop and 1 store house - 2
  • George Hail - 1 store house - 1
  • Neil Brown - a hatter's shop - 1
  • C. Christophers - 1 grocery shop occupied by William Curtis, 1 kitchen, and a large store house at the corner of Hargett and Fayetteville streets occupied by M. P. Mayes & Co. and Robert Nutt; the upper story by A. McDaniel - 3

On the upper part of Fayetteville street the following persons in addition were sufferers:

  • Mrs. Brickle - a store house occupied by G. W. Grimes, Painter, and a stable - 2
  • John Stewart - 1 store, 1 shop occupied by Tho's. Powers, (Tailor) a smoke house, a kitchen, and a stable - 5
  • The Market House in the centre of Fayetteville street pulled down, and the lower stone fountain demolished - 2

Total 51

Source: June 14, 1816 Raleigh Register

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