1789 The Hand in Hand Fire Company

Historical period: Fire Insurance Companies

The Hand in Hand Fire-Company (1789-1863)


• The Hand in Hand Fire-Company was founded on January 28, 1789, and the earliest set of regulations in existence is that of August 5, 1801. Its administrative structure differed from the Union Fire-Club and the Fire Engine Company in that it had a vice-president, but like the Fire Engine Company, the clerk was a blend of the roles of secretary and treasurer. The Union Fire-Club had a new president every month, whereas the Hand in Hand voted one for a full year, but like the Union Fire-Club, the company would visit the members every month to make sure their buckets, baskets and bags were in good order and where they were supposed to be. By contrast, the Fire Engine Company members did not keep any equipment at their respective houses, except for their hats. Like all other fire companies, there was a fine system to ensure the members’ adherence to the established rules (Canadiana 1801).


• The company was capped at 40 members in 1801. Each member had to get at their own expense, two three imperial gallon leather buckets, two salvage bags of 1¾ yard in length each and a 2½ feet long by 1½ foot wide basket with the letters HH painted on the side. The leather buckets had to have the member’s full name painted on it with two clasped hands underneath. If the members were to use their equipment for anything else than a structure fire, they were to be fined one dollar, which was a considerable sum of money at the time. During a salvage operation, one of their members was often designated as a sentinel to look over the piled-up possessions of the home owner whose house was on fire, or about to be, to prevent any potential theft (Canadiana 1801). This role would often be filled by the military.

The following individuals were influential members of both the Hand in Hand Fire-Company and the Town of Halifax.

William James Almon

William James Almon was born on August 14, 1755, in Providence, Rhode Island, where he became a surgeon and an apothecary. He was a loyalist who joined the British forces when the Revolutionary War began in 1775, where he served as a field surgeon. Almon was sent to Halifax in 1780 to serve as the surgeon of the Ordnance and artillery garrison, and he opened a private practice in 1783, while still being employed by the British forces. He held various positions in Halifax over the years and was known for being both a competent physician and a kind man; owing to ill-health, he travelled to England in 1816, where he died on February 5, 1817 (L. K. Kernaghan 2003).

John George Pyke

Pyke was seven years old when he arrived with his parents in Halifax Harbour on board the Alderney, whose passengers were destined to settle Dartmouth. He lost his father at a young age, and his mother remarried and the family moved to Halifax, where Pike established a business; he was active in countless areas of the community, such as politics, the Militia, the Irish Charitable Society, his church, and freemasonry (Robb 2003). One area that is of interest for us is his appointment as a Fireward. The exact date is unknown, but he held this position as of 1797 (Canadiana 1796, p. 33), and he was the Chair of the Firewards when he “declined to serve any longer” on January 15, 1817 (Halifax Firewards meeting minutes 1804-1835). He died in Halifax on September 3, 1828 (Robb 2003).

Richard John Uniacke

Uniacke, Richard John, was born on November 22, 1753, in Castletownroche, in the Republic of Ireland, and at around 21 years old, he decided "to seek his fortune in the New World." He arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 1774 and later moved to the Hopewell Township, in New Brunswick. He returned to Ireland in 1777, and returned to Nova Scotia in 1781, this time for good. He held many governmental, political, and civic posts over the years, and he is "remembered mostly for the sheer force of his character and his exuberance" (); he was over six feet tall. Aside from the Hand in Hand Fire Company, his connection to the fire establishment of Halifax was his tenure as a Fireward, from at least 1796 until 1815. He died on October 11, 1830, in Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia.

William Forsyth

William Forsyth was born around 1749 in Scotland, where he gained business experience. He was part of a Scottish immigration wave to Nova Scotia after the American Revolution, and he arrived in Halifax in 1784, where he later advertized as a merchant. In 1801, he became a member of the Governor's Council, but in 1809, he permanently returned to Scotland, to live in Greenock, and it might be related in part to John Wentworth's ouster as Nova Scotia's Governor. Although this is only a hypothesis, he may have been one of the Phoenix Fire Company's original members; additionally, he once belonged to the North British Society and the Halifax Marine Society. He died on October 14, 1814, in Tealing, Scotland (Sutherland, Forsyth, William 2003).

Michael Wallace

Michael Wallace was born circa 1744 in Lanarkshire, Scotland and was a merchant in Glasgow before emigrating to Norfolk, Virginia, in 1771. Being a loyalist and having lost property because of it, he moved to Halifax in 1779, where he resumed his business. He married Mary Kerby on January 4, 1781, and by 1785 he had won a seat in the Legislative Assembly, representing Halifax County. Wallace was able to attract favours from his fellow loyalists over the years and ended up befriending Governor John Wentworth, who described him as someone with a "long experience in business, of unimpeachable integrity, and indefatigable diligence." He died in Halifax in 1831, and his funeral was attended by a large crowd (Sutherland 2003).

Andrew Belcher

Andrew Belcher was born on July 22, 1763, in Halifax; after his father died in 1776, Alexander Brymer, a wealthy merchant, took him under his wing and trained him as a merchant-gentleman. Belcher and a nephew of Brymer started trading in 1784, a partnership that would last until 1795. in 1792, he married Mary Ann Geyer in Boston, and they had 11 children together. After two decades, a wealthy Belcher obtained several positions, such as justice of the peace, high officer in the masonic order, co-founder of the Fire Insurance Association of Halifax, and member of John Wentworth's council in 1801. He moved to England in 1811 but returned in 1829, after business misfortunes. Five years later, he fled to France with his wife where he died, destitute, on November 17, 1841, in Boulogne-sur-Mer (Sutherland 2003).

Matthew Richardson

Matthew Richardson was born on August 4, 1772, in Glasgow, Scotland, died on October 14, 1860, in Halifax, and was buried in Camp Hill cemetery (Find a Grave 2014). The Annals of the North British Society said the following about him: “Matthew Richardson, a most estimable member, was in business many years in Halifax, and made considerable money. He was long- supposed to have been in partnership in several speculations with Earl Dalhousie, who had considerable funds at command while in British America” (MacDonald 1903). According to Thomas Akins, Richardson had a store “at the foot of Prince Street” (Akin 1895, p. 123).

James Stewart

James Stewart was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1760, and was the son of Anthony Stewart, with whom he came to Halifax in 1780. Studying in Halifax and then Edinburgh University, he was admitted to the Bar of Nova Scotia, and eventually attained the position of Solicitor-General of Nova Scotia. He won several elections as a member of the Legislature for Halifax County and was eventually appointed a member of the old Council of Twelve, where he enjoyed a solid reputation. He was a well-liked member of the North British Society, in which served three terms as President. He was married to a daughter of John Haliburton, and they lived in a house he built in 1790 on the corner of Morris and Barrington Streets. He died in 1823 (MacDonald 1903, pp. 68, 71).

Another individual, for which there is no visual record and who contributed greatly to Halifax’s history, is Lawrence Hartshorne. He was a loyalist born in New Jersey, who landed in Halifax in 1783, from New York, where he became a successful merchant, politician (Sutherland 2003). He owned many properties, among which a farm on Coburg Rd. (Halifax Regional Minicipality 2022, p. 4), which would later become relevant to the firefighting history of the Halifax peninsula.

• The Company roster as of 1802 was as follows:

James Clarke

Michael Wallace

George Grassie

William J. Almon

Winckworth Allan

John Bremner

John William Schwartz

Andrew Belcher

Jonathan Tremain Jr.

Andrew Liddell

William Taylor

Matthew Richardson

Charles Geddes

William Cochran

Robert Hill

John George Pyke

Lawrence Hartshorne

John Fillis

Charles Hill

John Boyd

James Stewart

Richard John Uniacke

Daniel Wood

James Thom

Edward Kerby

William Lyon

James Tidmarsh

Richard Kidston

James Foreman

Henry Yeoman

William Forsyth

Constant Connor

Thomas Wallace

John Burroughs

Foster Hutchinson

John Simson

Robert Letson

Thomas Boggs

James Leaver



Rules and Articles

Rules and Articles to be observed by the


In the Town of Halifax, instituted the 28th day of January 1789.

(Revised at a quarterly meeting held the 5th of August 1801.)


WHEREAS it is the indispensable duty of every member of a community, more especially in compact towns, to guard against the fatal effect of Fire, and to prevent, as much as possible, the dreadful consequences of so alarming and destructive a calamity: and whereas it is generally acknowledged and confessed, from the experience of every well-regulated society, that public associations have the best tendency to prevent those evils which are too frequently felt by the unfortunate, from the baseness and treachery of wicked and designing person, who avail themselves of the confusion incident to such events, as the most favorable for the perpetration of their vile and inhuman practices: We the underwritten, convinced of the truth of these facts, and satisfied of the many and great benefits, which will result from the establishment of one or more Fire Companies, in this town, and reposing special trust and confidence in the honor and integrity of each other, do hereby unite and agree to form ourselves into a Company, to be called and known by the name of THE HAND IN HAND FIRE-COMPANY, engaging to exert ourselves whenever a fire may break out in this town, to relieve and assist our fellow-townsmen in general, and the Members of this Company in particular; and, in order the more effectually to carry these our intentions into execution, we agree and promise to obey and observe the following Rules and Articles, under the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned.


I. For the more orderly conducting the business of this Company on every occasion, there shall be a President and Vice President chosen annually by ballot on the first Wednesday in February. The President shall attend to all motions made and seconded, and put the same to vote, and every resolution to be determined by a majority, excepting that of admitting a Member, which shall be unanimous; and in the absence of the President, the Vice President shall supply his place.


II. There shall also be a Clerk appointed on the first Wednesday in February, annually, for which office every member present, the President and Vice President chosen for the same year, only excepted, shall draw lots, and he that draws No. 1 shall execute that office for one year, or pay a fine of fifteen shillings, and the drawing to be renewed until one is found to serve: and whoever serves or pays the fine for not serving, shall not draw again, until every member in the company has done the same. The Clerk is to receive all fines and forfeitures, to settle all reckonings at meetings, and to account with the company for all monies he may receive, and disburse, during the time he is in office, and as often as the company may think proper to call upon him; he is also to warn all meetings by leaving a summons at each member’s house two days before the time of meeting; likewise to call on four of the members once in every quarter, in rotation, as they stand on the list, to accompany him for the purpose of examining into the state of the buckets, bags and baskets, and of observing that the regulations of this company are punctually adhere to, and likewise to be better acquainted with the dwellings of each other. The Clerk is also to keep a fair and perfect minute on all the transactions of the company, and to report to the President, at every quarterly meeting, all deficiencies, that he may discover, either in buckets, bags or baskets at the time of his visiting the members as aforesaid. Any member refusing to make his visit in his turn, shall be reported by the Clerk and pay a fine of one dollar.


III. This company shall not exceed in number forty persons, and each member, on admission, shall deposit into the hands of the Clerk, one dollar, as the a fund to the company; they shall meet on the first Wednesday of February, May, August and November, annually, at such public house as the President for the time being shall appoint: in the months of November and February as seven o’clock in the evening, and in the months of May and August at eight o’clock in the evening, and such member as shall be absent at roll calling, which shall take place at the time herein fixed for meeting, shall pay a fine of one shilling and three pence, and if absent the whole evening, unless prevented by sickness, or being out of town, two shillings and sixpence; and any member quitting a quarterly meeting, before the reckoning is settled, without leave from the President, shall pay a fine of half dollar.


IV. Each Member shall, within one month after his admission into this company, furnish himself with two good leather buckets, strong and well made, to contain nearly three gallons of water, with a proper and substantial handle; and also two bags of one yard and three quarters in length, made of ravens duck, each having strings fixed, in order to close them when filled; the buckets and bags marked with the owner’s name at length; and underneath, upon the buckets, two clasped hands, handsomely painted, to designate the as the property of the members of this company; also, with one basket, two and a half feet long, by one and a half feet wide, marked upon the side H. H. The buckets and bags shall be constantly hung up; and the basket kept in the most convenient pat of the house, and not to be used or removed on any pretence whatever, except on an alarm of fire, under the penalty of one dollar. For each and every article that may be so used or removed.


V. Every member, upon hearing an alarm of fire shall immediately repair with buckets, bags and basket to the place of danger, and there give every assistance in his power, for the preservation of the effects of his fellow-townsmen. But whenever the property of any member of the company shall be in real danger, the saving thereof shall be the primary object of the company’s care and attention. For which purpose the members shall severally go, with bags and basket to the house or store containing the effects in danger, and proceed in removing them, agreeably to the Discretion of the owner, if present, or, otherwise, as shall appear best for his interest and benefit. 

And every member who through negligence or indolence shall omit to give his assistance, on such occasion, shall be for ever expelled the company, unless he can give a satisfactory reason to the company for his omission.


VI. In order to prevent any deceit or imposition from intruders, at the removal of effects in the time of fire, one of the members shall stand as centinel at the door of the house where the company is employed.


VII. When any of the members shall remove to another house, he shall give notice thereof to the Clerk, who will acquaint each member of such removal, in the course of one week after, on penalty of paying ___ dollars; and every member neglecting to give notice of such his removal, in one week after, shall pay a fine of one dollar.


VIII. If any of the members of this company shall lose his or their buckets, bags, or baskets at a fire, and shall declare the same at the first meeting of the company after the fire, and that upon his honor he hath made a diligent and proper search for their recovery, the expence of replacing such buckets, bags or baskets, shall be paid out of the fund of the company. 


IX. Each member shall be furnished by the Clerk with a printed copy of these Articles, complete, with the members’ names, and at every quarterly meeting, the President shall cause them to be read, that none of the members may plead ignorance of the articles by which they are bound; and whoever absent himself for three quarterly meetings, successively, unless prevented by sickness or absence from town, shall be deemed as having quitted the company, and shall not be admitted again, without the usual ceremony of election, and paying all fines he may have incurred from the time of his late attendance.


X. All the cash belonging to the company, which may be in possession of the Clerk, shall be applied to such purpose as the company may direct; and the Clerk, upon a new election, shall deliver over to his successor in office, all the books and papers belonging to the company, together with the cash remaining in his hands, with a correct state of the fund and of the fines due from each member; and any member or members refusing to pay his or their fines for the space of three months after the annual election, unless unable by misfortunes, shall be excluded the company.


XI. And the President for the time being, shall have it in his power, on the request of any seven or more members, to call a meeting of the company, at which all the members are bound to attend, under the same penalties and forfeitures as are stipulated for absentees from quarterly meetings; and the expences of all and every meeting shall be sustained in equal proportions by the members present, excepting the Clerk for the time being, who, in consideration of his services, shall always be exempted from such expences.


XII. As the present Engine Company in this town, is entitled to the first care and attention of the inhabitants, in the time of fire, this company will extend to them the same aid and relief as if they were actually members thereof, and also to such other Engine Companies as may hereafter be formed.




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