The Great New York Fire of 1776
Private Exhibition Viewing and Panel Discussion
March 21, 2023
As part of its six-month exhibition, Colonial Firefighting & the American Revolution, the Museum will host a private viewing and special panel discussion on the great fire of 1776, how it started, how it was fought, and who was to blame for the devastation and suffering it caused.
Revolutionary-era Manhattan was a chaotic scene of American Loyalists, British troops, Patriot spies, and thousands of New Yorkers seeking to weather the maelstrom of the Revolution. In the 1730s, the colonial legislature of New York officially created a fire department, giving birth to today’s FDNY. In 1776, as Washington withdrew from the city and the British rushed in, those firefighters had to choose – fight for the Patriot cause, fight for the British, or keep fighting fires in the city as they had for forty years.
They did not have long to make their decision. Just days after the British took control of the city, September 21, 1776, a fire broke out at the tip of the island. By daybreak, it had consumed five hundred buildings, the most destructive fire in colonial North America. The British claimed the fire was set by Patriot arsonists while the American Congress asserted Patriot innocence. Even today, controversy surrounds who started the fire and why.
Moderator: Robert W. Snyder, Manhattan Borough Historian and professor emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Rutgers University, author of two cultural narratives of New York, Crossing Broadway and The Voice of the City.
Benjamin Carp - author of the just published The Great New York Fire of 1776: A Lost Story of the American Revolution, is the Daniel M. Lyons Professor of American History at Brooklyn College and teaches at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Bruce Twickler - author of the recent book, New York Firefighting and the American Revolution, wrote and directed the acclaimed PBS documentaries, Damrell’s Fire and Broadside.
Gary Urbanowicz - Honorary Assistant Chief and FDNY historian, former Executive Director of the New York City Fire Museum, author of Badges of the Bravest, co-author of The Last Alarm, and host of the popular monthly podcast, “Throwback FDNY” available on nycfiremuseum.org and popular streaming networks.