Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser

November 21, 1857

Friendship Fire Company

A LECTURE upon the origin, progress, and present condition of the FRIENDSHIP FIRE COMPANY, delivered in that Company’s Hall, Nov. 17, 1857, by J. Muir.

[Published by request of the Company]

Fellow Firemen.—Though the circumstances under which we have assembled this evening may be well calculated to cause a feeling of sadness to oppress our spirits, yet, we hope that our meeting together at this time may not be wholly unprofitable.

This day, as you are probably well aware, is the second anniversary of that most afflictive mischance, which so unfortuitiously hurried to the city of the dead a number of those with whom it has been the wont of many of us to labor, side by side, when

“Flame on flame went battling through the air,
Hissing in fury, and blinding with their glare.”

I appear before you now, however, not for the purpose of referring particularly to our friends and associates, who, while in the active discharge of their perilous duty as firemen, were so suddenly swept across Time’s river, but merely to congratulate you upon being in the quiet possession of this beautiful and commodius Engine House, and in an unpretending manner to post you, in some measure, as to the most prominent antecedents of the Friendship, which has recently taken a fresh start in its career of usefulness.

ORGANIZATION.—To be somewhat familiar with one’s own genealogy, and with the leading incidents relating to the Institution with which we may happen to be identified—be it social, religious, or political—would seem to be a natural impulse; yet, it is surprisingly true, that but few persons, comparatively, interest themselves in matters originating anterior to the age in which they chance to live. The present is that which mostly—and very properly—engrosses the attention of mankind; the past being among the things that were, the future being generally regarded as fully adequate to take care of itself. Said an Alexandrian, not long since, when requested to aid in an undertaking involving the interest of coming generations, let posterity take care of itself, it is as much as I can do to take care of myself. This, however, is not the sentiment of your speaker, nor should it be that of any other person, as we should all endeavor, so far as we have the ability, to

“Aid the cause that needs assistance,
And right the wrong that needs resistance.”

Whether a curiosity exists or not with the members of the Friendship, in reference to the origin, progress, and present condition of the company with which they are associated, no exception, I am sure, will be taken by any one to the present effort to acquaint them therewith, however hastily undertaken or inaptly expressed.

The Friendship Fire Company was organized in 1774, or just 27 years after George the Second had decreed “that there be erected at the Great Hunting Creek warehouses, in Fairfax county, in the Colony of Virginia, a town, to be called Alexandria;” and two years before the Declaration of Independence, when George the Third claimed the right to tax our tea; and who, by the way, though he began his reign 14 years before the organization of our company, did not die until all, save one, of its original members, 11 in all, had “slept the sleep that knows no waking.” Thus our venerable institution can claim to have existed under five distinct political organizations—first, under a Colonial Legislature, while subject to a British King; second, under the Nation of Virginia, pending the Confederation; third, under the State of Virginia, subject to the Constitution of the United States; fourth, immediately under said Constitution as a part of the District of Columbia; and fifth, again under the State of Virginia, because of retrocession, thus constituting a political record that but one other Fire Company of our city can boast—the Sun, or big 2, having, probably, nearly a like history. As regards the Nation of Virginia, it may, possibly, not have occurred to many of you that the Constitution of the United States was not adopted until 13 years after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, nor until 7 years after the battle of Yorktown, which ended the revolutionary struggle. Pending this interval, each State exercised a distinct nationality, as under the Articles of Confederation, each of the then 13 States was sovereign and independent, but this nationality became merged, measurably, in our present Federative government.

The Company’s book, containing its proceedings from 1774 to 1810, has, unfortunately, been lost during the last ten years; but, luckily, your speaker, while Secretary of the company, and for over 20 years he has been an officer thereof, compiled from said book a chronological statement of the leading incidents relating to the company from its origin to 1838. This record is now before me, and must ever prove instructive to those who take an interest in the Friendship’s history, and, also, will remove all cavil as to its exact antiquity.

In connection with this compilation, is the name of every person who belonged to the company from its beginning until 1835, and the year in which each joined.

MEMBERSHIP.—During the first ten years of the company’s existence, only 24 persons had attached themselves thereto. Peter Wise, Wm. Paton, and Wm. McKnight—many of the descendents of each of whom are still residents in our city—aided in organizing the company, and Law. Hooff joined in 1778, the first and last named being personally known to some of the present members of the Company, neither of said persons having died until about 1830. A. Jamieson and E. Evans joined in 1787, and the latter was a member in 1828.

McGuire and B. Bryan joined in 1796, and the first was an officer in the company in 1839. C. McKnight, recently deceased, and J. Cohagen—our venerable and estimable fellow citizen—joined in 1800. The name of the first appeared on our record for the last time in 1839, and that of the last in 1829, and stands recorded as having “lent the Company a sufficient sum of money to pay all its debts.” For many years associated in membership with some of the original members of the company, may he long continue to enjoy the title of being the oldest fireman in our city, and when his age mature receives the common doom of mortality, may not only the Friendship, but every fireman in Alexandria, join in the obsequies to one who is probably the only survivor that, in a military capacity, (Captain of Militia) aided in escorting “the last of the Earth” pertaining to the immortal Washington to its final resting place. M. Robinson joined in 1795, and was the Company’s clerk for 32 years, and during his incumbency the meetings were seldom omitted, but after his death, in 1828, very few meetings were held until 1835, when the company was re-organized, and the meetings resumed. J. Longden joined in 1780, and was a trustee in 1829. Dr. Carson, recently deceased, joined in 1810, and continued a member until his removal from town in about 1845, and he was the owner of the fireman’s cape that so long graced our hall. R. Brockett, W. Devaughn, and W. Morgan joined in 1816, ad Wm. Gregory, S. Bartle, and J. Churchman in 1819—these, with Mr Cohagan, being the only persons hereabouts who were members of our company prior to 1833. In 1810, the company numbered only 26 members, of whom only 10 belonged thereto prior to 1810. From 1821 to 1833, only six persons joined, and eleven left or died. Up to 1822, new members were added every year, with two exceptions. The whole number that had joined up to 1833 being 101, at which date the company numbered only 20 members. In 1835, some 35 persons joined, but in 1837 the number was so small that a force could seldom be raised to convey the engine to a fire—horse power having been sometimes used for that purpose. In 1837, only eight persons belonged to the company who were members prior to 1833, and of these but one, Mr. Churchman, is now living, all, having verified the averment—

“All that live must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.”

In 1840, the Company numbered 146 members—now our name is legion—though I fear, many have a name on our list whose indisposition to run with the “machine” and man the brakes, scarcely entitle them to a place among us.

Wm. Mankin and myself now head the list of active members, all of our predecessors being either dead or missing—40 of the 146 having died, and many of the residue are merely nominal members. Of 18 who signed the constitution in 1835, ten have died. When the Company was first organized each member was required to furnish two buckets and a bag, which he was obliged to carry to every fire or be fined. The dues were — per month, which were mostly spent on refreshments, the company usually meeting at a tavern, until 1821, when the meetings were held in the old town hall. No one was allowed to join the Company if two members objected; the initiation fee was $2.50, and 50 cts. Quarterly thereafter, and any member who refused to pay his dues was expelled.

In 1780, there was received at six meetings, for fines and dues, $1500 of the old continental issue, $1 of which was only worth, at that time, 8 cents, but after it because so depreciated dues were required to be paid in specie. Of this continental money $927 was annually reported to be on hand until 1827, when it ceased to be noted, no reference to it having been made after the death of the old Secretary, Mr. Robinson. In 1826, the initiation fee was lowered to $1, the old rate having, doubtless, tended to prevent accessions to the Company, its membership, long limited to 45, never having exceeded 30 at one time until 1838. The initiation is now 25 cts.

MEETINGS AND OFFICERS.—The meetings of the Company were held monthly, until 1799; quarterly meetings were then adopted, and continued until recently, when monthly meetings were resumed. In 1781, a meeting was omitted because, as the record states, the clerk had “gone in pursuit of an enemy’s boat” thus directly identifying the Friendship with the revolutionary struggle. Under the old rule, and until lately, the members were required to meet monthly to try the engine. For many years each member in rotation had to serve as clerk for three months, and for the ensuing three months had to act as President, or find a substitute. A President was not regularly elected until 1838, when C. Koones was appointed, his successors being J. Muir, J. Mankin, B. Thomas, and J.W. Atkinson. A Treasurer was elected quarterly, commanders, regulators, and property-men being appointed for the first time in 1785, and a stated clerk at a salary of $5 a year, in 1789. This rule as to officers was continued until under a compact made in 1796, between the several companies, three commanders, three directors, three regulators, and three trustees, were required to be appointed annually by each company. These officers were “obliged to wear, at all times of fire, by way of distinction, black caps with upright white fronts.” This compact, now before me as printed, was, I believe, never annulled, and continued to be conformed to until 1838, when our officers, as now designated, were required to be elected.


ENGINE HOUSES AND LOCATION.—The first Engine House built by the Company was erected in 1775, and cost exactly £4 or $11—a much less imposing structure, as you may well imagine, than the one in which we are now assembled. That, however, was a utilitarian era when “what will serve is fit,” was regarded as the rule, and not, as now the exception. This unpretending house, shed, or shanty was displaced in 1784, for a one story frame building, about 10 feet high, 10 feet wide, and 12 feet long, and without any interior finish, which cost £28 or $93. The Company continued to occupy said house until 1838, when it was old and removed to the wharf, near Prince street, where it remained until the building of Messrs. McVeigh’s warehouses, but whether it was destroyed or again removed, I know not. This house, with the first one, was located on Royal street, at the entrance of the alley adjoining the Market House, the lot 15 by 36 feet, having been granted to the Company by the Hastings Court, 10 lbs tobacco being paid by the Company for an order to that effect. The Company in 1838, having determined to change the location of its apparatus, erected on King sreet, north side near Columbus street, a two story frame Engine House, with a steeple, costing $400, of which $150 was paid by Council, and the residue was raised by the Company. This building was removed to Alfred street, our present location, in 1851, at a cost of $75, of which Council paid $50, the lot on King street having been merely a grant for ten years, without charge, from Dean & Co.; and on being greatly damaged by fire in 1855, was sold and removed to Payne street, where it was occupied as a dwelling, until recently destroyed by fire, giving place to the present imposing brick edifice, with its towering steeple, lofty stories, mastic front, massive doors, iron columns and veranda, spacious engine room, and commodious and handsomely furnished hall. This structure cost over $2000, of which $500 was paid by the City Council, $250 by Insurance Companies and Banks, $537 was raised by means of a fair, the residue being generously contributed by the Company and citizens generally. The present house is 20 feet wide, 45 feet long, and 40 feet high, the entire height, including the steeple, being 100 feet. The lot now occupied by the Company was bought in 1851 by the City Council for $325, the lot vacated on Royal street, by increasing the width of the entrance into Market alley, being fully equivalent, as a public accommodation to the sum so paid. The old house was damaged by fire in March, and the new one was occupied in November ensuing.