Page top for Boston Fire Historical Society webpages.

BOSTON HISTORY BEFORE 1859

This page provides readers with a chronological history of the Boston Fire Department, from the 1600's to 1859. It covers the many significant events, fires, and related information about the fire service in Boston. The Boston Fire Department underwent many organizational structure changes through the years, with the most recent occurring in 1837. In terms of the operations of the Boston Fire Department, the 'modern' department dates from November 1, 1859, when a paid (city employee) firefighting force was established to operate and maintain the newly-invented steam fire engines.
The First Fire Engine in America
The First Fire Engine in North America, in Boston, in 1678

A law passed by a Special General Court of Massachusetts November 7, 1683.
A law passed by a Special General Court of Massachusetts November 7, 1683.

The announcement of a sermon by Cotton Mather, D.D., on the Fire of October 2-3, 1711.
The announcement of a sermon by Cotton Mather, D.D., on the Fire of October 2-3, 1711.

The 1724 Agreement of citizens of Boston to create a mutual fire society.
The 1724 Agreement of citizens of Boston to create a mutual fire society.

The announcement of a sermon by Thomas Prentice, A.M., on the Province Courthouse/Town House Fire of December 9, 1747.
The announcement of a sermon by Thomas Prentice, A.M.,
on the Province Courthouse/Town House Fire of December 9, 1747.


A 1760 fire bucket of John Rowe, a Boston Selectman, Fireward of the 1760's, and a member of the Sons of Liberty.
A 1760 fire bucket of John Rowe, a Boston Selectman, Fireward of the 1760-70's,
and a member of the Sons of Liberty.


The announcement of a sermon by Jonathan Mayhew, D.D. on the Fire of March 20, 1760.
The announcement of a sermon by Jonathan Mayhew, D.D. on the Fire of March 20, 1760.

Documents showing the formation of the Sun Fire Society in Boston in 1765.
Association and Articles of Agreement of the Sun Fire Society in Boston, 1765.

An unissued warning card relating to the Hancock Engine Company in Boston, circa 1770.
An unissued warning card from the Hancock Engine Company in Boston during the 1770's.

A notice of the next meeting of the Amicable Fire Society, April 4, 1787.
A notice of the next meeting of the Amicable Fire Society, April 4, 1787.

List of the Engines in Boston in 1803.
List of the Engines and their Locations in 1803.

The Exchange Coffee House was destroyed by fire on 11/03/1818.
The Exchange Coffee House was destroyed by fire on 11/03/1818.

A Hunneman Company advertisement listing the localities where Hunneman engines were purchased.
An 1821 Hunneman ad. Hunneman was the preeminent American hand-engine maker.

A City of Boston, Ward 11 (present Chinatown), fire bucket from 1826.
A City of Boston, Ward 11 (present Chinatown), fire bucket from 1826.

Engraving of a Boston hand-engine, circa 1830.
Engraving of a Boston hand-engine, circa 1830.

1832 Notice of The Firemen's Insurance Company, Boston, Thomas C. Amory, President, who was also Chief Enginner on the Fire Dept.
An 1832 Notice of The Firemen's Insurance Company, Boston, Thomas C. Amory, President, who also served as Chief Enginner of the Boston Fire Department from 1829 to 1835.

An engraving of the (Old) State House Fire of 1832.
An engraving of the (Old) State House Fire of 1832.

An advertisement for Howard & Davis, manufacturer of fire engines, circa 1850.
An advertisement for Howard & Davis, manufacturer of fire engines, circa 1850.

Firemen on Boston Common, May Morning, May 10, 1851.
Firemen on Boston Common, May Morning, May 10, 1851.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/ / CC BY-NC 2.0
Library of Congress plate of Boston Firemen, 1851
Library of Congress plate of Boston Firemen, 1851

The Boston Firemens Address for January 1, 1854
The Boston Firemens Address for January 1, 1854

A drawing of the hand apparatus of Tiger Engine Company 7, circa 1855.
A drawing of the hand apparatus of Tiger Engine Company 7, circa 1855.

An Admission Ticket for J.S. Damrell (later Chief of Dept.) to the Ball sponsored by Cataract Engine Co. 4, March 3, 1856.
An Admission Ticket for J.S. Damrell (later Chief of Dept.) to the Ball sponsored by
Cataract Engine Co. 4, March 3, 1856.



Date(s) Activity
March 16, 1630(1631) First recorded fire in Boston. The wooden chimney of Thomas Sharp caught fire and burned the house to the ground.
1630(1631) First fire prevention ordinance banned thatched roofs and wooden chimneys.
January 14, 1653 Extensive conflagration destroyed many buildings, with 3 children dying.
March 1, 1653 Contract made with Joseph Jynks for a water engine to be brought to fire. The engine failed in its first major fire.
March 14, 1653 Each property owner shall have a ladder and a swab pole. The town to provide 6 long ladders, 4 strong iron hooks and fire buckets.
November 27, 1676 5AM Large fire destroyed about 45 buildings near Richmond, Hanover and Clark Sts., including the North Meeting House and warehouses.
January 27, 1678 The first paid (call) municipal fire department organized. Thomas Atkins is the first fire chief, aided by twelve assistants. The first fire engine purchased and a building provided to house fire engine. The engine, imported from England, was lodged in a shed on town land on Queen (now Court) St., near the (then) prison.
The First Fire Engine    Town Records naming Thomas Atkins.
1678 Building laws required slate or tyle roofs and brick walls.
August 8, 1678 (1679) 'Fire Engine' in service at a fire that destroyed 150 buildings and several vessels, near the Town Dock on Ann Street.
December 18, 1682 The Alms-House on Park Street was burnt, and was later rebuilt on the same site in 1686.
November 7, 1683 A Special General Court of Massachusetts passed a law specifying use of brick or stone for the construction of any structure in the town of Boston. This was passed due to the volume of fires which had destroyed many wood structures over the years.
1690 Many buildings burnt on Hanover Street, near Salem Street.
June 19, 1691 Many buildings burnt in North Square and on Ann Street.
March 11, 1702 A great fire occurred in Dock Square, the fire engine could little to stop its progress. The fire was stopped by blowing-up three warehouses.
1707 Two new fire engines are imported.
October 2, 1711 The 'first' Great Boston Fire occured near (present-day) State and Washington Streets. The fire reportedly started at the rear of the 'Ship Tavern' at 239 Washington Street. The fire destroyed many buildings, including the Town House, the first Meeting House and left 110 families homeless. Four sailors climbed the steeple of the church to save the bell. The stairs burnt away, the roof fell in, and all the sailors were crushed to death.
January 1, 1712 Mr. James Pearson appointed overseer of the water engines and in February, 1712 the first Board of Fire Wards was established. John Ballentine, Timothy Clark, John Greenough, Thomas Lee, William Lander, Edward Winslow, Edward Martin, Stephen Minot, Samuel Greenwood and John Pollard were appointed Fire Wards.
1715 Boston had 6 engines in service.
1718 First Mutual Fire Society formed for the salvage of member's goods from fires.
1733 Seven hand engines in service, distributed at places like: Court Street; the Dock; the North Watch House; the Town House
December 9, 1747 Large fire destroyed many buildings, including the Town House at the west end of State Street. An 'Old-English' newsletter story of the fire: Newspaper Story
1758 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1759 List of the Firewards in the Town.
November 14, 1759 A large fire burnt over 20 buildings on Water Street and Milk Street.
March 20, 1760 The 'second' Great Fire of Boston destroyed 349 buildings, both dwellings and businesses; 220 families homeless. It burnt along Washington Street, extended to Long Wharf and Fort Hill, burning one large ship and 8/9 smaller ships, and the Quaker Meeting House on Congress Street.
March 24, 1760 Thomas Pownall, the governor of the province of 'Massachusetts Bay in New England' issued a proclamation regarding the fire of March 20, 1760. Proclamation
1760 List of the Firewards in the Town, and other Matters.
May 1, 1760 The York Fire Club was founded.  Fire Club Rules and Orders.
1761 List of the Firewards in the Town, and other Matters.
January 13, 1761 A large fire started north of Faneuil Hall, burnt eastward comsuming all buildings, including Faneuil Hall itself, which had been a gift to the town of Boston from merchant Peter Faneuil on September 10, 1742. The Hall was rebuilt in 1762 and is famous in Boston history as the "Cradle of Liberty."
1762 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1763 List of the Firewards in the Town.
October, 1763 The Anti-Stamp Fire Society was founded. (printed in 1765)
Fire Society Rules and Orders.
1764 List of the Firewards in the Town.
May 8, 1765 The Sun Fire Society was founded.
1765 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1766 List of the Firewards in the Town, and other Matters.
May 25, 1767 The Friendship-Society (Fire) was founded.
1767 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1768 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1769 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1770 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1771 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1772 List of the Firewards in the Town, and other Matters.
September 1, 1772 The Union Fire-Club was founded. Rules&Orders & Members List.
November 25, 1772 The Union (Fire) Society was founded.
March 5, 1773 The Relief Fire Society was founded.
1773 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1774 List of the Firewards in the Town.
May 7, 1774 A fire caused by artillery burnt thirty buildings, some of which contained food donated to the inhabitants of Boston, which was under seige by British garrisons.
1775 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1776 List of the Firewards in the Town.
November, 1776 The Anti-Stamp Fire Society Rules and Orders are updated, with a list of members.   Updated Rules and Orders.
1777 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1778 List of the Firewards in the Town, and other Matters.
December 2, 1783 The Assistant Fire Society was founded.
December 4, 1783 The Friendly Fire Society was founded.
February 5, 1785 The Amicable Fire Society was formed in Boston.
April 20, 1787 A large fire destroys the Hollis Street Meeting House (Church) and 80-100 other buildings on Boston Neck (near present-day Washington & Kneeland Sts.). Story and map of Fire (off-site)
October, 1787 The New Relief Fire Society was founded.
1789 "A List of the Names and places of Abode, of all the Men belonging to the different Engines in the town."
The 1789 List published in 1852
The 1789 List published in 1904
1790 List of the Captains of the Engines and Firewards in 1790
March 21, 1792 The Franklin Fire Society was founded. First Page of Rules
November 25, 1792 The Union Fire Society was founded.
1792 The Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society was founded.
1793 The Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society was organized.
June 25, 1794 The Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society was incorporated.
Information on the founding, organization and incorporation of the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society
Constitution, Government in 1794 & Subscribers of the Society.
July 30, 1794 Large fire destroyed 7 ropewalks and 90 other buildings. Ten fire engines in service. Boston City Council Report of the fire.
1795 Massachusetts Fire Insurance Company was incorporated.
1796 24 Fire Societies exist, with about 30 persons in each. Each member was required to have 2 leather buckets, 2 strong bags, a bed key and to respond quickly to fires.
List of the Firewards in the Town.
1797 List of the Firewards in the Town.
November 19, 1797 The Alert Fire Society was formed.
Constitution and Rules, from 1815.
1798 Massachusetts Mutual Fire Insurance Company was incorporated, including Paul Revere.
Firewards in Boston in 1798.
1799 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1799 First leather fire hose imported from England.
1800 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1801 List of the Firewards in the Town.
December 21, 1801 The New Century Fire Society was founded.
Constitution and Rules, from 1801.
January 1, 1802 A proclamation was issued to the citizens of Boston by order of the Fire-Wards of Boston, Andrew Cunningham, Secretary, referencing the late conflagration which threatened the town. Proclamation
1802 List of the Firewards in the Town.
January 15, 1803 The museum at the corner of Tremont & Bromfield Streets is destroyed by fire. Flames were reported to have seen seen from as far away as Portsmouth, NH, a distance of sixty miles. Newspaper story
January, 1803 The Attentive Fire Society was founded.
Constitution and Rules, from 1803.
1804 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1805 1805 City Directory listing Fire Wards of the town.
1806 List of the Firewards in the Town, and other matters.
January 12, 1807 The Vigilant Fire Society was formed in Boston.
Constitution and Rules, from 1817
January 16, 1807 Bowen & Doyles' museum on Tremont Street was destroyed, with a number of young men being crushed to death by a falling brick wall.
1807 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1808 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1809 List of the Firewards in the Town.
April 9, 1810 The Attentive Fire Society was formed in Boston.
1810 List of the Firewards in the Town.
January, 1811 The Philanthropic Fire Society was formed in Boston.
Constitution and Rules
January, 1811 The Conservative Society - A Fire Club, was formed in Boston.
Constitution and Rules, from 1811.
1811 List of the Firewards in the Town.
May, 1811 The Argus Fire Society was founded.
Constitution and Rules
1812 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1813 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1814 List of the Firewards in the Town.
March, 1815 The Alert Relief Fire Society was formed. It is a union of the New Relief Fire Society (October 1787) and the Alert Fire Society (November 19, 1797).
1815 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1816 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1818 List of the Firewards in the Town.
November 3, 1818 A congflagration destroyed the 7-story Exchange Coffee House, a landmark building located midblock on Congress Street, between State and Water Streets. Newspaper Story     Map

The story of this fire is included in the book "The Exchange Artist", "A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America's First Banking Collapse", by Jane Kamensky, 2008, Penguin Books, New York. A 'Preview' is available at Google Books: Preview
1819 List of the Firewards in the Town.
1820 List of the Firewards in the Town.
August 4, 1820 The first Ladder Company (Ladder 1) was organized on Friend Street at Warren Square, Downtown.
1821 List of the Firewards in the Town, and other matters.
February 22, 1822 The City Fire Society was founded. Rules & Regulations
1822 List of the Firewards in the Town, and other matters.
May 1, 1822 The City of Boston was incorporated.
December 4, 1823 Mr. Otis Munroe was appointed as an 'Engine Man' to Engine 7. Later, Captain Munroe became the first president of the Boston Veteran Firemen's Association. Certificate
July 7, 1824 An accidental fire occurred in a carpenter's shop on Charles Street, between Beacon and Chestnut Streets. With the wind at fifty miles-per-hour, a large fire quickly involved many buildings. This was Boston's most up-scale residential area and Boston Common quickly became a haven for saved possessions. The fire consumed sixteen buildings in all.     Drawing

"What Nathaniel saw - Beacon Street ablaze!" by Loraine Ash, published in the The Beacon Hill Times, November 19, 2002. (with permission)

Story from the 'Fireman's Own Book'.
April 17, 1825 A fire started in a wood building on Doane Street and later burnt six stores/houses on State Street and the entire east side of Kilby Street. In total, about sixty buildings were destroyed.
June 30, 1825 Notice was made of the passage (on June 18) of a Bill in the General Court of Massachusetts, entitled: "An Act establishing a Fire Department in the City of Boston."    Text of the Act.
November 10, 1825 Fire destroyed a building on Court Street, and later destroyed nine brick buildings on both sides of Court Street up to Washington Street.
1825 Destructive fire (11/10/1825) caused the abolishment of the Board of Fire Wards and established a Chief Engineer.
Narrative of the Reorganization
January 7, 1826 List of the Firewards in the Town and other matters.
February 18, 1826 Samuel D. Harris, Chief Engineer
List of the Members of the Fire Department
April 17, 1826 The By-Laws of the Company attached the Congress Engine Company 2 were adopted. By-Laws of Congress Engine Co. 2.
April 29, 1826 Mayor Josiah Quincy signed the order establishing a fire department in the city of Boston.
The mayor of Boston announces the establishment of a fire department in the city of Boston.
1827 1827 - 1st Annual Report of the Chief Engineer

1827 - An Act for the protection of Boston against fire.
June 19, 1828 The Charitable Association of the Boston Fire Department was instituted.
The Charitable Association of the Boston Fire Department.
1829 BFD Engineers in 1829
1829 Thomas C. Amory, Chief Engineer
1830 1830 - 4th Annual Report of the Chief Engineer (Original)
1830 - 4th Annual Report of the Chief Engineer (Reconstructed)
1832 1832 List of BFD Engineers.
February 14, 1832 Serious fire destroyed the upper portion of the New England Museum at 76 Court Street, Downtown.
November 21, 1832 Serious fire partially destroyed the Old State House on State Street. (See engraving in left column.)
1833 Constitution of the Veteran Association of the Boston Fire Department
1834 1834 List of BFD Engineers.
1835 1835 List of BFD Engineers.

A major fire in Blackstone St., Downtown, destroys 50 buildings.
1836 William Barnicoat, Chief Engineer
1836 List of BFD Engineers.
1837 Present fire department organized.
June 11, 1837 The Broad Street Riot (present-day Atlantic Avenue at South Station) occurred near the quarters of Engine No. 20 on East Street near South Station. Engine 20 had just returned from a large fire in Roxbury when members scuffled with a a passing funeral procession. News spread fast and other fire companies arrived, as well as more procession supporters. Nearly one thousand people were involved in the fighting. It continued to 7PM, until many arrests were made, and before the militia arrived at the scene.
1838 1838 Annual Report of the Fire Department.
January 24, 1839 A fire broke out at Turner & Haskill's foundry on Haverhill Street. The fire consumed about twenty buildings. The night was extremely cold and many fireman were severely frost-bitten.
1839 1839 Annual Report of the Fire Department.
1840 1840 Annual Report of the Fire Department.
1841 1841 Annual Report of the Fire Department.
1842
Fire Department Engineers in 1842

1842 Annual Report of the Fire Department.
1843 1843 Annual Report of the Fire Department.
1844 1844 Annual Report of the Fire Department.
June 25, 1844 A large fire started in a planing mill on Groton Street and destroyed many buildings in the South End. The area bordered by Washington St., Dover St.(now-East Berkeley), Suffolk (now-Shawmut Ave.) and Groton St. was largely gutted.
Newspaper Story
September 14, 1845 The Suffolk Lead Works on Gold Street, South Boston was destroyed by fire. Five building in the Works are lost along with six houses destroyed and many others damaged.
1845 1845 - 8th Annual Report of the Fire Department.
1846 1846 - 9th Annual Report of the Fire Department.
1847 1847 - 10th Annual Report of the Fire Department.
1847 Directory/Almanac
1848 1848 Fire Dept. Organization
1849 1849 - 12th Annual Report of the Chief Engineer
1849 Directory/Almanac
November 5, 1849 A conflagration took place on Causeway Street within an area containing railway storehouses and a mahogany warehouse.
1850 1850 - 13th Annual Report of the Fire Department.

Fire Department officials.
Fire Department officials in 1850.
July 30, 1850 A Complimentary Dinner took place between Hancock Engine Co. 10 of Boston and Portland, Maine, Engine Co. 5 at the National House, Charlestown. See the Bill of Fare for the Dinner. Bill of Fare
July 8, 1851 Chief Engineer Barnicoat announced the nomination of officers for several fire companies. Newspaper story
1851 1851 - 14th Annual Report of the Fire Department.
William Barnicoat, Chief Engineer

BFD Rules and Regulations, and Fire Ordinances 1851/1852.

1851 Directory/Almanac
February 12, 1852 Hoseman John Smith, Hydrant Co. 2, suffered a Line Of Duty Death (LODD) at a fire in the rear of 24 Kingston Street, Downtown. Newspaper story
1852 First municipal Fire Alarm System in the world was installed.
February 6, 1852 The Chief Engineer reports to the City Council. Newspaper story
March 31, 1852 Fire destroyed the Tremont Temple, located at 88 Tremont Street, near School Street, Downtown. Newspaper Story

Gleason's Pictorial Magazine story, from April 17, 1852.

Hoseman George Estey, Franklin Engine Company 7, Charlestown Fire Department, died on August 13, 1853 from injuries received at this fire.    LODD Info
April 22, 1852 Fire destroyed the National Theatre. Story     Engraving
April 29, 1852 First 'Alarm of Fire' is transmitted over alarm circuits.
July 12, 1852 A large building fire started in a stable on Purchase St., Downtown. Many buildings were destroyed. This is reported to be the largest fire in Boston in many years. Newspaper Story
1852 1852 Directory/Almanac
1853 16th Annual Report of the Chief Engineer.
William Barnicoat, Chief Enginer
April 27, 1854 Chief Engineer William Barnicoat announced his retirement.
Newspaper Story
June 29, 1854 Newspaper story on the Hunneman Fire Engine Manufactory.
Newspaper Story
1854 1854 - 17th Annual Report of the Chief Engineer.
Elisha Smith, Jr., Chief Engineer
1854 City Auditor Report
1855 1855 - 18th Annual Report of the Chief Engineer.
Elisha Smith, Jr., Chief Engineer      1855 City Register
1855 Almanac/Directory      1855 City Auditor Report
April 29, 1855 A waterfront conflagration occured at Battery Wharf, North End. Newspaper Story
1856 1856 - 19th Annual Report of the Chief Engineer
George W. Bird, Chief Engineer
1856 Almanac/Directory     City Auditor Report
April 12, 1856 Large building fire destroyed the 'Gerrish Market' at Portland, Friend & Sudbury Sts., Downtown. Newspaper Story
July 3, 1856 Large fire destroyed Gray's Wharf, off Commercial Street, North End. Newspaper story
July 29, 1856 Large fire destroyed the Jefferson Block on North Street, near Clark Street, North End. Ladderman Charles Warren of Hook & Ladder 3 was crushed by falling walls, resulting in a Line-Of-Duty (LODD) death. Newspaper story
September 17, 1856 The First Annual Parade of the Boston Fire Department occured, finishing with the dedication of a statue to Benjamin Franklin.
Parade Announcement and Order of Procession.
November 26, 1856 Newspaper story on the funeral of former Chief Engineer Elisha Smith. Newspaper Story
1857 1857 - 20th Annual Report of the Chief Engineer
George W. Bird, Chief Engineer
1857 City Auditor Report   1857 Almanac
1858 1858 Directory/Almanac
Hibernia Engine Co. (Philadelphia) visit to Boston in 1858
May 2, 1858 Building fire destroyed a building on Federal Street, Downtown, resulting in four deaths, including 2 firemen: Francis Cutting and Frank Tuttle of Tremont Engine Co. 12. Both are the first firemen to be buried at the 'Fireman's Lot' at Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain. Story of the fire (off-site)
1859 Steamers replace hand engines. Permanent engineers, drivers, and firemen appointed. Horses are needed to pull the heavy steam fire engines. The 'modern' era of the Boston Fire Department begins.

To find the historical development of early BFD companies, see the chart below. Fire company numbers have been reused, e.g. Engine 3, through successive reorganizations.
Engine 1 Engine 2 Engine 3 Engine 4
Engine 5 Engine 6 Engine 7 Engine 8
Engine 9 Engine 10 Engine 11 Engine 12
Engine 13 Engine 14 Engine 15 Engine 16
Engine 17 Engine 18 Engine 19 Engine 20
Engine 21 Ladder 1 Ladder 2 Ladder 3




Home Annexed Cities & Towns Apparatus Archives / Artifacts Boston History Before 1859 Chronology Since 1859 Contact Us Department Orders Fires Fire Alarm Fire Companies Firehouses
Fire Station Location Map Forum Links Listen to
BFD Radio
Membership Other Disasters Personnel Search Store About Us Fire Safety & Education What's New