Guide to the Great Nantucket Fire Collection, 1751-1889 (bulk 1854)

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Research Library at the Nantucket Historical Association. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the internet.

Collection Details

Collection Number:
The Great Nantucket Fire Collection
1751-1889 (bulk 1854)
Nantucket Historical Association
Nantucket Historical Association
Material is in English.

Information for Users

Restrictions to Access: No restrictions. Open for research.

Restrictions to Use: No usage restrictions.

Copyright Notice: Copyright is retained by the authors of items in this collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation: [identification of item], in the Great Nantucket Fire collection, Nantucket Historical Association.

Acquisitions Information:

Account of Cash Received gift of Miss Grace Brown Gardner. Mary W. Bell letter gift of Arleen Paquette (Acc. RL2013.43). List of Lodges gift of Mr. Nathaniel Becker.

Sensitive Materials Statement:

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Nantucket Historical Association assumes no responsibility.

Subject Headings

  • Topical Terms
    • Disaster relief.
    • Fire Departments – Nantucket (Mass.) – History – 19th century.
    • Nantucket (Mass.) – Fire – 1846.
    • Nantucket (Mass.) – History – 19th century.
    • Sons of Temperance of North America – 19th century.

Biographical Information

On July 13th 1846 at about 11:00 pm, a fire started in the hat store of William H. Geary which stood at 30 Main Street. The fire first consumed the entire waterfront area, then spread up Main Street to Centre Street and north to Broad Street. Besides the loss of over 33 acres of homes and businesses, the original Atheneum building, along with its collection, was lost. A conservative estimate of loss of property at the time was $1,000,000. Response to Nantucket’s disaster was immediate with mainland communities and organizations sending money, medical supplies, food, clothing, and other necessities.

Scope and Content

The collection contains circulars, letters, an account book, and contemporary newspaper stories, which document the fire that destroyed 250 buildings in Nantucket’s center on 13-14 July 1846. The 1846 report of the Fire Department attempts to explain its failure to control the blaze. A ledger lists losses in money and goods and amounts awarded sufferers.  Over 100 letters of condolence, most sending money, from divisions of the Sons of Temperance, describe the condition of their off-island organizations from Maine to Georgia. The collection also includes minutes and journals of two Nantucket Engine Companies, 1851-1889.


Box 1 Folder 1 Transcript of town records concerning the Nantucket Fire Department, 1751-1830 (copy 1894)
Box 1 Folder 2 Laws establishing the Nantucket Fire Department, 1838, 1849
OP-37/1 Map of the burnt area, undated
Box 1 Folder 3 Letters from the U.S. surveying schooners Gallatin and Wave, undated
Box 1 Folder 4 Report of the Nantucket Fire Department, 1846
Box 1 Folder 5 Circulars requesting help, 18 July 1846
Box 1 Folder 6 Letters in: Connecticut, 1846
Box 1 Folder 7 Letters in: Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, and Kentucky, 1846
Box 1 Folder 8 Letters in: Maine, 1846
Box 1 Folder 9 Letters in: Massachusetts, 1846
Box 1 Folder 10 Letters in: New Jersey, 1846
Box 1 Folder 11 Letters in: New York, 1846
Box 1 Folder 12 Letters in: North Carolina, 1846
Box 2 Folder 13 Letters in: Ohio, 1846
Box 2 Folder 14 Letters in: Pennsylvania, 1846
Box 2 Folder 15 Letters in: Rhode Island, 1846
Box 2 Folder 16 Letters in: Other, 1846
Box 2 Folder 17 Ledger of losses, aid received, and aid distributed, 1846
Box 2 Folder 18 Newspaper clippings and transcript, 1846, copy 1954
Box 3 Folder 19 Report of the committee to lay out the burnt districts streets to be widened, undated
Box 3 Folder 20 Records of Cataract Engine Company #6, 1869-1886
SV-37/1 Records of Torrent Engine Company #7, 1851-1880, 1881-1889
Box 3 Folder 21 Mary W. Bell letter, 27 July 1847
OP-37/2 List of Lodges which responded, 1846

Items Separated

  • Separated Volume (SV-37/1)
  • Oversize Paper Items (OP-37/1-2)

Processing Information

Processed by NHA staff.

Finding aid by Ashley Miller in February 2019.

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