James Hamilton and the 1835 Great Fire of New York

I’ve been enjoying reading James Hamilton’s Reminiscences and recently discovered that he helped fight the 1835 Great Fire of New York!

‘I was awakened between eleven and twelve at night, and told a great fire was raging in the lower part of the city; that the Merchants’ Exchange was in danger, where was the statue of my father by Ball Hughes; and that I might, but going there, be useful in saving that work. I was at the same time told that nothing could be done to arrest the fire for want of water; the engines, their leaders and the hydrants being all frozen. I immediately said, powder must be used, and went to the fire.’

Alexander Hamilton
by Robert Ball Hughes

James goes on to describe setting fire to powder to demolish buildings and create a firebreak & stopping one man from killing them both as he held a candle in a room where the air swirled with gunpowder dust. In the early morning hours, James is able to return to his family. 

‘My work was done. My cloak was stiff with frozen water. I was so worn down by the excitement that when I got to my parlor I fainted.’

The statue of Alexander Hamilton in the Merchants’ Exchange building was not saved, and though I could find several articles mourning this loss, I found none that mention his son’s efforts that night. For in-depth information on the 1835 Great Fire of New York, including mentions of James Hamilton, I recommend, Manhattan Phoenix by Daniel S Levy.

James Alexander Hamilton

Coming in 2024! James Alexander Hamilton: Son of the American Revolution