1789 The Phœnix Fire-Company

Historical period: Fire Insurance Companies

The Phœnix Fire-Company (1789-1853)


• This company was founded on January 29, 1789, one day exactly after the founding of the Hand In Hand Fire Company, and it bears the same name as another American mutual society. Although there was an insurance company by the name of Phœnix Fire Insurance, there does not seem there was any link between the two. The administrative structure of the company was very similar to that of the Hand in Hand Fire-Company, with the exception that they had a treasurer and a secretary, as opposed to just a clerk doing both jobs, similar to that of the Union Fire-Club; additionally, the company had a vice-president. The rules and orders of this company also have a lot in common with those of the Hand in Hand Fire-Company.

• The preamble of the document containing their rules states that their purpose was to prevent or alleviate the “calamities occasioned by fire” (Phoenix Fire Company 1801, p. 1), and not to extinguish fires; therefore, they were a salvage company. The Company is often cited as a mutual fire society because although they attended all fires “cheerfully,” (p. 1) their primary goal was to preserve the “houses and effects of such persons as are, or shall become, members of our company” (p. 1). The Company owned ladders, but their number and location are to this day unknown; each member was supplied with two salvage bags large enough to contain three bushels, two buckets, and a hat.

• A look at a few prominent members provides an insight into what the ranks of the Phœnix Fire Company were made up of in 1801.

John Albro

John Albro was born on May 6, 1764, in Newport Township (Hants County) and was the son of settlers from Rhode Island. Around 1781, he was operating a tan-yard in Halifax, as a butcher by 1800, and then advertized as a merchant by 1812, eventually specializing in hardware. With his brother, he also operated a tannery and a windmill in Dartmouth. He was very active socially and belonged to a multitude of societies in Halifax, such as the Irish Charitable Society and also held the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the 4th Regiment of Halifax militia. Albro was also active politically and held a seat at the House of Assembly between 1818 and 1826. He died peacefully and wealthy at 76 years old on October 23, 1839. Lake Albro in Dartmouth is named after him (Dunlop 2003).

Charles Ramage Prescott

Charles R. Prescott was born in Halifax on January 6, 1772, to Jonathan Prescott and Anne Blagden. By 1800, he had established himself as a merchant, in partnership with William Lawson, became prosperous, and participated actively in the commercial life of Halifax. He left Halifax in 1812 and moved to Cornwallis, where he was involved socially. He was elected at the House of Assembly between 1818 and 1820, representing the Cornwallis Township, and appointed to the Council in 1825, being the only member residing outside Halifax. However, Prescott is remembered as a superb horticulturist; he created extensive orchards and introduced several varieties of apple in Nova Scotia. He died in Cornwallis on June 11, 1859 (Buggey 2003).

John Merrick

John Merrick was born in Halifax around 1756, where he may have apprenticed in his father's painting business as a young man, as he was a master painter by the mid 1790s. Over the next decades, he would get imperial contracts from the military establishment for painting, glazing, gilding, varnishing, and more. However, although he was a skilled artisan, it is probably his interest and involvement in civic affairs that gave him social prominence. He was one of three individuals responsible for the erection of the county courthouse, in 1806, and provided a similar role in the construction of Province House a few years later. He was also active in several societies. At age 65, in 1821, he moved to a rural retreat in Horton and died there on June 4, 1829 (Buggey 2003).

James Creighton Jr.

James Andrew George Creighton, or James Creighton Jr, was born in Halifax in 1762, to James Creighton Sr and Elizabeth Woodin, who both came to Chebucto harbour on board the Sphynx on June 21, 1749. He married Elizabeth Draper Avery in 1789 and had 6 children. Elizabeth having died in 1801, he remarried with Charlotte Mary Bruce in 1803, with whom he had no issue (Find a Grave 2016). In 1800, with William & John Woodin, he bought a brigantine that had been captured by the Halifax schooner Earl of Dublin, which was used for privateering for a while (Conlin 1996). James died at "Brooklands", his home and estate in Dartmouth, on May 5, 1828, and is resting at the Old Burying Grounds in Halifax (Find a Grave 2016).


Before moving to Dartmouth, James Creighton Jr. owned a building that used to be the old officers’ quarters from Fort Grenadier, erected in 1750 (below), and it survived long enough to be photographed (right), before being demolished in 1866. The fort was said to be on the North side of Jacob Street, near the corner of Poplar Grove. This area today is part of Scotia Square (Nova Scotia Archives).


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• Other prominent members of the Phoenix Fire Company were Philip Marchinton, Benjamin Etter, and William Minns. Marchington was born in England circa 1736; he emigrated to Philadelphia in 1771, where he became a prosperous merchant, but he fell victim to the American Revolution forced him to move to New York in 1778. He arrived in Halifax in 1784, where he also became successful and gained social recognition, becoming Justice of the Peace in the early 1790s (Sutherland 2003). Among other properties, he owned the British Coffee House on Lower Water Street, next to the Ordnance Yard, which hosted Prince William Henry in July 1786 (Akin 1895, p. 91). His wife's death in November of 1788 deeply affected him; he died on November 2, 1808, in Halifax (Sutherland 2003). Benjamin Etter was a watchmaker and silversmith of Swiss descent born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1763. Along with his family, he was evacuated from Boston in March of 1776, and by 1780, he was an apprentice to his brother. By 1787, he was working as a watchmaker in a shop on Hollis Street; he married Mary Bessonett in 1789 and took her brother as an apprentice. In the mid-1790s, he advertized as watchmaker, jeweller, and silversmith, on the corner of Barrington and George Streets. In 1800, he owned shares of a brig and had her registered as a privateer; business was good, as he partnered with William Duffus, an ex-member of the Union Engine Company, and others, and bought a schooner, which made him a little fortune. He retired in 1813 and is said to have build "one of the finest houses in Halifax" in 1821, named Belle Vue, at the intersection of North and Gottingen Streets. He died on September 23, 1827, and rests at the Old Burying Grounds in Halifax (MacKay 2003). William Minns was born in Boston around 1763; like many Loyalists, he was evacuated from Boston in March 1776, and subsequently landed with his sister in Newport, Rhode Island. However, it was also evacuated in October 1779, and this is when he arrived in Nova Scotia. Minns' sister having married John Howe, a member of the Sun Fire Company, it is proposed that he was his brother-in-law's apprentice in the printing business in Halifax. He opened his own business, and by April 1786, printed the first issue the Weekly Chronicle. A man of many talents, Minns was also one of the prominent merchants in Halifax around 1810 and was appointed a commissioner of the court in 1817. He sold his newspaper at the end of 1826, as his health was declining, and died on January 17, 1827 (G. L. Parker 2003).

• As of June 17, 1801, the Phoenix Fire Company roster is as follows:

Philip Marchington

Patrick O’Brien

David Currie

William Millet

Michael Bennett

Thomas Smith

John Albro

Thomas Wood

Peter Lynch

Peter Casbinberry

Frederick Major

Samuel Lydiard

George Grant

Benjamin Etter

William Haire

Joseph Davis

Garrett Miller

Judah Wells

Thomas Fillis

Benjamin Smith

William Allen

Frederick Gschwind

John Stayner

George Nook

William Minns

Alexander Allen

William Goreham

James Creighton Jr.

David Rudolph

Stephen Oxley

Martin Sbier

Charles Ramage Prescott

Thomas Dobson

Thomas Armstrong

Ebenezer Allen

Jesse Woodward

John Merrick

William Annand

William Bayer

William Smith

George Worthington

William O’Brien

John Hunter

William Dickey

Thomas Bennett

James Kidston

Philip Gorrell

Francis Stevens

• On February 9, 1789, a small article published in the Royal Gazette read as follows:


I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to acquaint the several Gentlemen called upon on Friday last to form a Fire Company, that he desires their attendance at the Golden Ball, on Thursday next, 12 o'clock, to agree on Rules and Regulations for the same.


J[ames] A. Gauthier


• The Golden Ball was a tavern located on the southwest corner of Hollis and Sackville Streets (Akin 1895, p. 78). This could point to the Phœnix Fire Company or the Hand in Hand Fire Company, which were formed respectively on January 29th and 28th of that year. However, what is puzzling in this article is that the Governor himself is directing these men to attend a meeting, although the two above-mentioned companies were duly constituted societies and were independent from the authorities (see p.  for more details on mutual fire societies).



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