The Price of a Fire

MS0119/DC1482
Boston has endured many great fires in its nearly 400 year history, including a number of significant fires in the 1700s.  The Old State House (then known as the Town House) was damaged in fires in 1711 and 1747, and other fires in 1760 and 1787 destroyed buildings and altered Boston’s landscape. From fire buckets and fireman's helmets in our museum collection to Fire Society membership lists and appeal notices in our archives, Boston's fire history is well-represented in our collections. For the next three months, 18th-century documents related to Boston fires will be on exhibit in the library and archives display case in the Old State House. This examination of the fire-related materials in our collection was partly spurred on by a recent blog post by one of our Education Associates.

One of the documents on display is a 1762 petition submitted by William Price to the Boston Town Selectmen.  In the petition, Price references a fire that broke out in Williams’ Court on June 11, 1761.  As a means of preventing the fire from spreading to nearby dwelling houses and buildings, Honorable Judge Hutchinson, Colonel Joseph Jackson, and Captain Thomas Marshall ordered the “pulling down” (destruction) of a building in the court. William Price owned said building, and petitioned the court to reimburse him for the cost of it.  The two-story building, which measured 47 feet long by 16 feet wide, was valued at around 100 pounds.

A second page of this document indicates that the petition was acted upon on April 13, 1763, but unfortunately, there was not a notation or a follow-up document that provided the outcome of the petition.  I was curious to find out if Price received his reimbursement, so I turned to our library collection and located the Records of Boston Selectmen, which included meetings minutes from 1763.  In the April 13 session, I found an entry for William Price.  From the meeting minutes, I learned that after debate and questioning, the Justices of the Peace and the Town Selectmen did not grant the petition and William Price did not receive compensation for his property loss.

The Old State House is closed the first week of February, so be sure to stop by when we re-open on Saturday, February 6 to take a close look at this document.  These fire materials will be on display through April, but if you can't visit, follow along on our blog as we explore more of Boston's fire history.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager