Benjamin Franklin Papers

Articles of the Union Fire Company, 7 December 1736

Articles of the Union Fire Company6

MS Minute Book, Union Fire Company: Library Company of Philadelphia

The seventh Day of December, in the Year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and thirty six, WE whose Names are hereunto subscribed, reposing special Confidence in each others Friendship, Do, for the better preserving our Goods and Effects from Fire, mutually agree in Manner following, That is to say.

1. That we will each of us at his own proper Charge provide Two Leathern Buckets, and Four Baggs of good Oznabrigs or wider Linnen, Whereof each Bagg shall contain four Yards at least, and shall have a running Cord near the Mouth; Which said Buckets and Baggs shall be marked with the Initial Letters of our respective Names and Company Thus [A.B. & Company]7 and shall be apply’d to no other Use than for preserving our Goods and Effects in Case of Fire as aforesaid.8

2. That if any one of us shall fail to provide and keep his Buckets and Baggs as aforesaid he shall forfeit and pay unto the Clerk for the Time being, for the Use of the Company, the Sum of Five Shillings for every Bucket and Bagg wanting.

3. That if any of the Buckets or Baggs aforesaid shall be lost or damaged at any Fire aforesaid The same shall be supplyed and repaired at the Charge of the whole Company.

4. That we will all of us, upon hearing of Fire breaking out at or near any of our Dwelling Houses, immediately repair to the same with all our Buckets and Baggs, and there employ our best Endeavours to preserve the Goods and Effects of such of us as shall be in Danger by Packing the same into our Baggs: And if more than one of us shall be in Danger at the same time, we will divide our selves as near as may be to be equally helpful. And to prevent suspicious Persons from coming into, or carrying any Goods out of, any such House, Two of our Number shall constantly attend at the Doors until all the Goods and Effects that can be saved shall be secured in our Baggs, and carryed to some safe Place, to be appointed by such of our Company as shall be present, Where one or more of us shall attend them ’till they can be conveniently delivered to, or secured for, the Owner.

5. That we will meet together in the Ev’ning of the last Second Day of the Week commonly called Monday, in every Month, at some convenient Place and Time to be appointed at each Meeting, to consider of what may be further useful in the Premises; And whatsoever shall be expended at every Meeting aforesaid shall be paid by the Members met. And if any Member shall neglect to meet as aforesaid, he shall forfeit and pay the Sum of One Shilling.

6. That we will each of us in our Turns, according to the Order of our Subscriptions, serve the Company as Clerk for the Space of one Month, Viz. That Member whose Name is hereunto first subscribed shall serve first, and so on to the last, Whose Business shall be to inspect the Condition of each of our Buckets and Baggs, and to make Report thereof at every Monthly Meeting aforesaid, To collect all the Fines and Forfeitures accruing by Virtue hereof; To warn every Member of the Time and Place of Meeting, at least Six Hours before Hand. And if any new Member be proposed to be admitted, or any Alteration to be made in any of the present Articles, he shall inform every Member thereof at the Time of Warning a[foresaid.] And shall also read over a Copy of these Presents, and a List of all the Subscribers Names, at every Monthly Meeting, before the Company proceeds to any other Bu[siness,] Which said Clerk shall be accountable to the Rest of the Company for, and pay [to] the next succeeding Clerk, all the Monies accruing or belonging unto the Company by virtue of these presents. And if any Member shall refuse to serve as Clerk in his Turn aforesaid, he shall forfeit the Sum of Five Shillings.

7. That our Company shall not exceed the Number of twenty-five Persons a[t a] time, no new Member be admitted, nor any Alteration made in these present Ar[ticles] until the Monthly Meeting after the same is first proposed, and the whole Company acquainted therewith by the Clerk as aforesaid; Nor without the Consent of Three Fourths of our whole Number, the whole Three Fourths being met. But the other Affairs relating to the Company shall be determined by Three Fourths of Members met. And that the Time of entring upon Business shall be one Hour after the Time appointed for Meeting as aforesaid.

8. That each Member shall keep two Lists of all the Subscribers Names, [one] to be fixed in open View near the Buckets and Baggs, and the Other to be pr[oduced] at every Monthly Meeting if required under pain of forfeiting the Sum of [six?] Pence.

9. That all Fines and Forfeitures arising by Virtue hereof, shall be paid unto the Clerk for the Time being, for the Use of the Company, and shall be erected into a common Stock. And if any Member shall refuse to pay any Fine or Forfeiture aforesaid when due, his Name shall be razed out, And he shall from thenceforth be excluded the Company.

10. Lastly that upon the Death of any of our Company, the Survivors shall in time of Danger as aforesaid, be aiding to the Widow of such Decedent during her Widowhood, in the same Manner as if her Husband had been living; she only keeping the Buckets and Baggs as aforesaid. In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our Hands; Dated the Day and Year abovesaid.9

Joseph Paschall1 1 George House 15
Saml: Coates 2 Wm Plumsted 16
John Armitt 3 John Dillwyn 17
Wm. Rawle 4 Wm. Cooper 18
Benja. Shoemaker 5 Edwd. Shippen 19
Hugh Roberts 6 Lloyd Zachary 20
B. Franklin 7 P[ost] S[cripti]
Philip Syng Junr. 8 Saml. Powel junr.
Wm. Parsons 9 Thomas Lloyd
Richd: Sewell 10 George Emlen
James Morris 11 Chs. Willing
Stepn. Armitt 12 Tho. Lawrence
Tho Hatton 13 Willm. Bell
Edward Roberts 14 Jo Turner
[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Established to supplement the city’s inadequate provisions, the Union Fire Company was the first of several volunteer organizations which provided most of Philadelphia’s fire protection after mid-century (Harrold E. Gillingham, “Philadelphia’s First Fire Defences,” PMHB, LVI, 1932, 355–77). The Company may have been patterned on Boston’s Fire Society of 1717, whose Articles of Association were adopted March 7, 1734. See above, p. 12 n., and below, p. 375.

7Brackets in the MS.

8The Union got a fire engine from England, 1743; in cooperation with the Hand-in-Hand Company it erected a fire-bell on the Academy building, 1752. Ibid., 366, 367. For the bell’s odyssey until 1945, when it finally returned home to the University of Pennsylvania, see Joseph S. Hepburn, “The Academy Bell ...,” Jour. Franklin Inst., CCLXII (1956), 45–52.

9The Company’s minute book, immediately following the Articles, records in BF’s hand the meeting of Third Month [May] 30, 1737:

“The Union Fire Company have met once a month for some Months past, but as the foregoing Articles were not till now fully compleated and agreed on, no regular Minutes have hitherto been kept.

“This Evening the Company (which at present consists of Twenty Persons) met at the House of John Roberts. Absent only Wm Rawle, Wm Parsons and Edward Shippen.

“Several Persons being nominated as desirous of joining with the Company, the four following were by Ballot unanimously chosen, to wit, Samuel Powel, junr. Thos Lloyd, George Emlen, and Charles Willing.

“Hugh Roberts officiated as Clerk, and at the Conclusion of the Meeting deliver’d to his Successor B. Franklin the Company’s Book, and 17/6 in Cash, which is the Company’s present Stock. I receiv’d it, B. Franklin.”

1The signers of the Articles of 1737 were: Joseph Paschall (1699–1741), common councilor; Samuel Coates (1711–1748), merchant; John Armitt (1702–1762), Philadelphia agent of Cadwallader Colden; William Rawle (d. 1741), director of Library Company, operated a ferry between Philadelphia and West Jersey; Benjamin Shoemaker (1704–1767), distiller, city official, provincial councilor; Hugh Roberts (1706–1786), merchant, member of the Junto and APS, hospital director, close friend of BF; Philip Syng (1703–1789), see above, I, 209n; William Parsons (1701–1757), see above, I, 359 n; Richard Sewell, later sheriff of Philadelphia; James Morris (1707–1751), assemblyman, trustee of Loan Office; Stephen Armitt (1705–1751), joiner, brother of John; Thomas Hatton (c. 1718–1772), probably a shipowner; Edward Roberts (1680–1741), mayor of Philadelphia, 1739–41; George House, overseer of the poor, common councilor (name struck through on the list of signers); William Plumsted (1708–1765), merchant, city official, assemblyman from Northampton County, register general, vestryman of Christ Church, trustee of College and Academy, grand master of Pennsylvania; John Dillwyn (1693–1748), common councilor; William Cooper, not identified; Edward Shippen (1703–1781) “of Lancaster,” merchant, partner of James Logan and later of Thomas Lawrence, city official, judge of Common Pleas in Philadelphia and of Lancaster County, prothonotary, trustee of College of New Jersey; Lloyd Zachary (1701–1756), physician, health officer of port of Philadelphia, physician to Pennsylvania Hospital; Samuel Powel, Jr. (1705–1759), merchant, common councilor; Thomas Lloyd (d. 1754), merchant; George Emlen (1694–1754), brewer, common councilor, benefactor of Hospital; Charles Willing (1710–1754), merchant, city official, trustee of College and Academy (name struck through on the list of signers); Thomas Lawrence (1689–1754), merchant, city official, lieutenant colonel of City Regiment, provincial councilor, partner of James Logan and later of Edward Shippen; William Bell, not identified; Joseph Turner (1701–1783), sea captain and merchant, iron manufacturer, trustee of College of Philadelphia, city official.

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