Perilous Night: The Great Fire of 1776

PODCAST The circumstances surrounding the Great Fire of 1776, the events of the Revolutionary War leading up to the disaster, and the tragic tale of the American patriot Nathan Hale.

A little after midnight on September 21, 1776, the Fighting Cocks Tavern on Whitehall Street caught on fire. The drunken revelers inside the tavern were unable to stop the blaze, and it soon raged into a dangerous inferno, spreading up the west side of Manhattan.

Some reports state that the fire started accidentally in the tavern fireplace. But was it actually set on purpose – on the orders of George Washington?spy

To understand that damning speculation, we unfurl the events that lead up to that moment – from the first outrages against the British by American colonists to the first sparks of the Revolutionary War. Why did New York get caught up so early in the war and what were the circumstances that led to the city falling into British hands?

Underneath this expansive story is another, smaller story – that of a young man on a spy mission, sent by Washington into enemy territory.  His name was Nathan Hale, and his fate would intersect with the disastrous events of September 21, 1776.

PLUS:  The legacy of St. Paul’s Chapel, a lasting reminder not only of the Great Fire of 1776 but of an even greater disaster which occurred almost exactly 225 years later.

AND: Find out what Alexander Hamilton was up to in September 1776!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #191: THE GREAT FIRE OF 1776

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The escape of the Continental Army from Long Island under cover of night. This illustration by Henry Alexander Ogden is from 1897.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The house of Roger Morris which George Washington took over as his headquarters after fleeing New York.

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

The Morris-Jumel Mansion, depicted in a postcard in 1965.

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

 

An imagining of young Alexander Hamilton in uniform in 1776

Courtesy the Department of Defense
Courtesy the Department of Defense

A Harpers Magazine illustration by Howard Pyle from 1880, depicting Nathan Hale receiving the details of his spy mission directly from General Washington.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

A beautiful map from 1897 laying out the events of the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776.

Courtesy Internet Archives Book Imaging
Courtesy Internet Archives Book Imaging

The Battle of Harlem Heights with a look into the valley called the Hollow Way.

harlem

 

This is New York is 1776, the city that was captured in September 1776.

British Library
British Library

A grave illustration showing the severity of the fire, looking at the burning buildings on the west side of Broadway.

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

A map delineating the path of the fire from Whitehall Street up the west side of the city.

1

The ruins of Trinity Church stood for  years as evidenced by this image of people just strolling around it like nothing weird had happened.

Internet Archive Book Imaging
Internet Archive Book Imaging

Another illustration (from a 1902 history) showing the cemetery in relation to the ruins.

pic

ruin

Mount Pleasant, where the British general William Howe set up headquarters and where Nathan Hale was taken after he was captured.

New York Public LIbrary
New York Public LIbrary

 

A vintage trading-card depiction of Nathan Hale’s hanging.

card

 

An 1880 illustration by Howard Pyle of the same event.

Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

 

St Paul’s Chapel (pictured below in 19160, a survivor of the Great Fire of 1776, opened its doors to parishioners the day after the fire.

1916
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The statue of Nathan Hale which stands in front of City Hall. He’s been moved around quite a bit since his installation here on November 25, 1893, the anniversary of Evacuation Day.

From 1900:

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

From 1911:

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

From 1913:

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

From 1920:

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

From 1939:

Courtesy Museum of City of New York
Courtesy Museum of City of New York

From 2006:

Courtesy Kris Long/Flickr
Courtesy Kris Long/Flickr