The 270th Anniversary of Baltimore Town’s First Recorded Fire

Today, err rather tonight, marks an important anniversary in the timeline of Baltimore — and it is one that is not often remembered. On the night of Thursday, March 16th 1749, occurred the first recorded fire in Baltimore Town. At least, according to The Maryland Gazette, which printed an account of the conflagration six days later in its Wednesday, March 22nd 1749 issue:

“On Thurſday Night laſt a terrible Accident happened in Baltimore Town, at the Houſe of Mr. Greenbury Dorſey ; which in the dead Time of the Night took Fire, and burnt down to the Ground, with all the Furniture, and ſix Perſons in it ; viz. one Man, four Children, and a Negro Girl. Mr. Dorſey happened to be from home ; and it was with great Difficulty that any Persons were ſaved ; Mrs. Dorſey, who lay up Stairs, preſerved herſelf and two Children, by firſt throwing one out of the Window, and afterwards jumping out herſelf with another in her Arms ; tho’ they are very much hurt. This melancholy Scene is ſuppoſed to be the Effect of the horrid Malice and diabolical Revenge of a Servant Man of Mr. Dorſey’s, who it ſeems had threaten’d ſuch a Thing, and was out of the Houſe himſelf, with ſome things belonging to him, when it happened ; and at the firſt Diſcovery, the Houſe was obſerved to be on Fire below in ſeveral Places at once. On theſe, and other dark Circumſtances, the Servant is apprehended and committed to Jayl.”1

For an event that demanded a whole paragraph’s worth of attention in The Maryland Gazette, it seems rather curious that there was no follow-up story during the rest of March, or all of April. Especially considering that there was a reasonable suspicion of arson. The “Greenbury Dorſey” [sic] in question was undoubtedly Greenberry Dorsey (1710-1782), who was a resident of Baltimore County. Following the death of William Fell in 1746, Dorsey married Fell’s widow, the former Sarah Bond. Thus, it seems most likely that the fire referenced in this article took place somewhere in the area of town known as Fell’s Point… Perhaps even in the dwelling-house that was formerly occupied by William Fell and Sarah Bond? [Will have to research this further…]

1. The Maryland Gazette, Containing the freſheſt Advices, Foreign and Domestic., Wednesday, 22nd March 1749, p. 3, col. 1.