Web Text-ures Logo

Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
1999-2006

(Return to Web Text-ures)

Click Here to return to
History of the Great Fire of Boston
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter

Kellscraft Studio Logo
 (HOME)   


 
CHAPTER XI.

MAN’S HELP.

BOSTON did not go to the nation; but the nation came to her. The proud merchants could not, would not, beg; and thanks be unto God for the generous hearts and open hands which he raised up everywhere about us!

Chicago, in her gratitude for the assistance which Boston had given her, was the first to offer sympathy and funds. We cannot forbear, in the opening records of that great work, to quote at length the speech of Wirt Dexter, Esq., in a mass-meeting, at which Mayor Medill presided, held in Chicago for the purpose of sending aid to the “sufferers by the great fire in Boston:

“With a little disability of voice that I labor under, I am afraid I shall not be heard unless gentlemen will be kind enough to stop all movement back and forth upon the floor: if they do that, I believe we shall find it possible to hear a portion, at least, of what is said.

“The gentleman at my right asks me about the money that is in the hands of the Relief Society. There is a considerable fund, — how much, precisely, I am not able to say: a portion of it is not yet collected, and some may not come to us at all. We have large engagements. We need — I say, by we, the sufferers of Chicago — all the money that the Relief Society has in its treasury; but we do not need it now, and perhaps Boston does. We need it next month, or the month after. She may need it to-morrow; and we propose to share with her, to some extent, the bounty we have received, trusting that Providence may, in the future of a rigid winter, withhold the icy frost, and temper the severe winds to our condition, if we act in this way. (Cheers.)

“But that is not the question that particularly concerns the people with upturned faces before me. What are you to do as citizens of Chicago? The relief-money came from Ohio, from Pennsylvania, from Boston, from New York, and from the uttermost parts of the earth. It never has cost you any thing; you do not give any thing when you give it: and the question returns, What are you, in the light of what Boston has done, and in the name of God and humanity, to offer here to-day to do? (Cheers.) Gentlemen, allow me to call your attention a moment to this question. What place is it that has been stricken? Boston, the historic city of America; I think, the greatest of all our cities; not, perhaps, in bulk, nor in area, nor in population, but in character, in education, in religion, in asylums, in hospitals, in charities, in every thing (cheers), — in every thing that a consummate and perfect civilization can do towards developing the abilities of the active, and ministering to the wants of the helpless. This city, gentlemen, was swept yesterday by a fire that made sad havoc. I believe this city has no equal on this continent; I believe it has no equal on the face of God’s green earth. Think what Boston is and has been in the history of this country! The liberty that we rejoice in and possess sprang from her loins. She gave it birth, and she afterwards defended it. She was the first in the Revolution, and the first in the Rebellion. The sons of Massachusetts have suffered two massacres for our sake, — one at Boston, and the other at Baltimore. (Cheers.) Now, gentlemen, I believe the history of Massachusetts to be that of American civilization and American liberty.

“But, aside from the general considerations that will pervade every home on either side of the Rocky Mountains to-day, the people of Boston are endeared to us in a particular and tender manner. A year ago to-day, and a little more, this same devastating element swept away our homes, our stores, and our places of worship, and we sat in the blackness of darkness. We sat down in ashes, enveloped in an unutterable woe. O Heavens! what woe it was! We felt as if we were forsaken, that God’s providence had left us, and there we were helpless in the night. But in a little while, gentlemen, from smaller towns and from large cities, and from near by places that had hitherto been our rivals, and from far-off points that did not speak our language, came words of cheer, and gifts of love, until the electric sympathy encircled the whole civilized globe, and poured its fruit upon our wounds, and we were healed. The arm of the civilized world was thrown around us, and encircled and sustained us; and we stood upon our feet again. O gentlemen! we were brought then to a just understanding of all the little differences that mar our common life: they all went down before human nature; they were all hushed in the presence of those calamities; and that master-spirit of sympathy which came from God on high quieted every difference of religion, of government, and of race, and pronounced the brotherhood of the human family. (Cheers.)

“Foremost among these comforters came Boston to us. And how did she come? Did she say, ‘Do you want any thing?’ No. Did she ask any questions? No. Go back thirteen months, and let me read you the first despatch that came from that glorious people, that capital of New-England industry and intelligence and heart: —

“Boston sends her warmest sympathies to Chicago, and will do her utmost to aid you. What do you need?

‘WM. GASTON, Mayor.’

“About an hour afterward came this:

“‘You are authorized to draw on Kidder, Peabody, and Co., of this city, for the sum of a hundred thousand dollars for the relief of the suffering. (Cheers.) The undersigned, committee of citizens of Boston, will reach Chicago Saturday morning.’

“They did not send it by express; they did not trust to the telegraph: they came with it in their arms, and their hearts full of love, and their eyes full of tears, and said, ‘Here is our gift; and let us add our personal efforts besides.’ That is the way Boston treated us. A day afterward came the following: —

“The Boston crockery and glass wholesale dealers shipped this day to your care twenty-five crates of plates, mugs, cups, tea-pots, tea-pitchers, wash-basins, platters, and tumblers. We follow them.’

“We have said sometimes that New-England people are cautious, that they are careful, that they are close. They may be thrifty; but it is to gather money to assuage human sufferings with. (Cheers.) They may be close; but it is to hoard money to do God’s work with. How soon they came! I think it is on the next despatch that I minuted, ‘No use to answer, because they are here.’ Then after that comes this: ‘Give us the particulars of what more you want.’ It would seem as though they had covered our wants. They had sent shawls for the cold; they had sent tea for the aged; they had sent every comfort: but their hearts reached out to us. They had sent money; but they said, ‘Let us do more for you yet.’

“Good William Gray, that noble man, walked into the office, and laid down the first package of twenty-five thousand dollars. We cut the strings; we sent it to the water-works: it paid your men there, and set the water coursing through the pipes of the city again. (Cheers.) That is what Boston did for you. Then comes another despatch:

“‘We send you some more shawls; we send you some blankets; and we send you lamps and lanterns.’

“That was a lantern lighted from on high; that was a divine beacon, an inextinguishable light. They knew we were desolate; they knew the light had gone out in our homes; and they came clear from New England, those blessed men, with all these things, and brought their lanterns, that they might minister to us in the darkness that enveloped us. (Cheers.)

“Why, gentlemen, you cannot destroy such a people. The fire that swept through Summer and Pearl Streets has left nearly every thing that is valuable. There may not be a boot or a shoe there; but such a people are divinely shod: and this is the way they met us; this is way they came to us. Now, what shall we do? I understand that we are a poor people; that we are a bruised reed; that we are tired and worn with a year of unparalleled vexation; that money is nOt abundant: but, gentlemen, let us do something, — do the best we can; and as we acquit ourselves to Boston, so we do to the world that gave to us. It is not a gift; it is a debt. It is not charity; it is gratitude: and I tell you that the money you give to-day you will find to be the jewels hereafter which you have kept. (Cheers.)

“Now, what do the Relief Society think they can do? As I have said, we may want this money; we can use it here: but we can spare it for a little while, and, perhaps, trust to the future. We are your trustees in administering this money. We hold it in trust for the people and for the city; and, if they shall approve our action, we propose, — if this meeting, and his Honor the mayor, and the city authorities, shall approve our action — the Relief Society propose, to send this despatch to Boston:

Hon. William Gray, Chairman:

“We thank God, that, if you need it, the Relief Society can send your afflicted city a hundred thousand dollars. (Cheers.) When we remember the prompt and generous way in which you came to our help a year ago, we wish it were ten times as much. May Heaven sustain your noble people! (Cheers.)

“WERT DEXTER,

Chairman Executive Com.

“And we have appointed a committee, consisting of Laird Collier, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Fairbanks, and C. G. Hammond, to go to Boston, as they came to us, to manifest ourselves by a visible presence and an active personal sympathy.

“Now, gentlemen, aside from the Relief Society, let the people of Chicago see that this dark page in the history of Boston be not finished until we write upon it in letters of imperishable lustre some adequate return for the tender kindness we experienced from them in the darkest hour we shall ever know.” (Cheers.)

Mr. Dexter’s forcible remarks met with hearty approval; and the committee started for Boston at once.

The following despatches were sent to the Boston Young Men’s Christian Association: —

CHICAGO Y. M. C. A., Nov. 11, 1872.

DEAR ROWLAND, — What shall I say? My pen refuses to write what I feel. But I want to say we are with you in your troubles. What do you want, — money, clothing, provisions, or what? Last Sunday we raised in our Mission Sunday School between five and six hundred dollars for you. I would like to have it go for the soul of man more than the body. I think the world will look after the bodies of men, and Christians ought to look to the souls. I think the association can raise ten thousand dollars in cash at once for you, and more, if you say the word.

Your loving friend and brother,
D. L. MOODY.
 
CHICAGO, Nov. 13, 1872.

L. P. ROWLAND, Boston Y. M. C. A., — Draw on us for five thousand dollars as you need.

D. L. MOODY, Y. M. C. A., Chicago.

Another despatch said, —

“The Masons of Chicago, deeply sensible of their obligations to the craft in Massachusetts for prompt and generous aid in their time, of distress, are anxious to do their duty toward their brethren of Boston who are sufferers by the fire, by reciprocal action. Make known your needs at once.”

After the arrival of the committee from Chicago having in charge the funds raised in that city, a meeting of the citizens of Boston was held at Tremont Temple. The Rev. Robert Laird Collier was present, and, on being introduced by Mayor Gaston, was greeted with a storm of applause. He said Chicago was in bonds, and the debtor of Boston. Their memories were quick last Sunday when the news came that a great fire was raging in Boston, from whence came the best things that Chicago had. After her fire, Chicago beheld as the first money sent them twenty-five thousand dollars from Boston, laid upon the mayor’s table by the Hon. Mr. Gray. (Applause.) The banks had been burned, and Chicago was without gas and water for want of money to pay off the laborers; but that money was used for their wages, and the articles were procured. Boston had sent Chicago half a million of money, besides thousands of garments and other useful articles. The Chicago Committee had now five hundred thousand dollars in their treasury, with one thousand families to support; but Boston should have all of it if she needed. They came together last Monday, and agreed to offer all in their power. Citizens subscribed fifty thousand dollars within thirty minutes at one meeting for Boston. He would say, not only that this money was for Boston, but that she had got to take it. Her sewing-girls and others out of employment would need this money; and they must have it. When the speaker was here last year, he was told that the very district now in ashes was indestructible by fire. Boston should see to it, when she rebuilt, that she did not pile a lumber-yard on the top of her iron and granite buildings, and that she widened her streets so as to give a lesser chance to the flames.

Mr. Collier concluded amid great applause and cheers.

Another telegram was received, from the grocers of Chicago:

CHICAGO, Nov. 12. 

NASH, SPAULDING, and Co.: —

Despatch received. The grocers of Chicago congratulate you on your escape from loss. A grocers’ fund is being raised for your distribution.

STEWART, GRAU, MCVEAH, FOWLE, SPRAGUE, DANA and DOANE, and others.

So numerous were the offers of relief, and so boundless seemed the charity of Chicago, that Boston could not bear to let that city, so recently visited by a greater calamity, do any thing more. So despatches were sent back, many of which were even more emphatic than the following: —

BOSTON, Nov. 12.

J. W. DOANE, Chicago, — There is no distress or immediate want. The poor are taken care of for the present. Chicago has borne her share.

“Chicago” will be to Bostonians ever a synonyme for measureless generosity and Christian sympathy. Such exhibitions of brotherly love awaken emotions which are deeper than thought, and too inspiring for expression. God bless Chicago!

On the return of the committee from their charitable work in Boston, they published the following report: —

To the Board of Directors of the Chicago Belief and Aid Society.

GENTLEMEN, — The committee appointed to proceed to Boston to convey to the citizens of that city your sincere sympathy, and the proffer of material assistance for the relief of sufferers by the fire of the 9th and 10th instant, beg leave to present the following brief report: On Monday following the action of your board, our citizens, at a mass-meeting held in the hall of the Chamber of Commerce, unanimously indorsed your prompt determination to place at the disposal of the Citizens’ Committee of Boston a sum not exceeding a hundred thousand dollars. As, in some sense, this would only be giving back to Boston a small part of the munificent amount so freely given to us in the day of our great need, the citizens took steps for raising by subscription such sum as the necessities of Boston and our ability might warrant; and fifty thousand dollars was pledged at this meeting to this end, and your committee was appointed to represent the feelings and action of our citizens of Boston. We, the undersigned, in the furtherance of these objects, hastened to Boston, and had the honor to convey to the proper committees of that city, and through them to the citizens at large, the sentiments of sympathy and the proffers of aid alike of your board and the people of Chicago. We only perform a sacred as well as pleasant duty to assure you of the grateful appreciation which was on all hands manifested, and the cordial reception of your committee. We had the opportunity of being present at a mass-meeting of citizens at Tremont Temple on the 13th instant, and of listening to the enthusiastic words and responses of warm appreciation of your action, deemed so instant, so generous, and, in view of our condition, probably so unexpected.

On the morning of the 16th instant, the Citizens’ Committee, of which Hon. William Gray is chairman, unanimously voted to accept all proffers of material aid: and your committee then stated as the sum they were authorized to tender a hundred thousand dollars, and felt it was just to all concerned to explain the condition and work of this society, and to assure the people of Boston that we were sincere and hearty in our contributions of aid; at the same time leaving them to determine the measure of their need; and, if it should appear there was no just demand for our contribution, it could be so reported to this society and our citizens, and the funds returned to the subscribers and donors. We took pains to explain the working-methods of our society, and to leave with the Boston Committee our reports and forms. We were assured that the immediate personal distress by reason of the fire was not great, and not beyond the sufficient and prompt resources at the disposal of the committee; that, nevertheless, in view of the large number of persons thrown out of employment during the winter months — not less, probably, than twenty-five thousand, mostly clerks, commercial agents and travellers, and sewing-women — who would require assistance, the action of the committee was deemed expedient and wise. What the final determination of the committee and citizens will be, only time and the necessities of the case can develop.

Tho estimates of the most careful and judicious persons with whom we had opportunity of conversing placed the number of families burned out at not more than three hundred to four hundred, and the total loss of property at a money value of about eighty million dollars. In conclusion, your committee beg to assure you that they are not indifferent to the honor of being your representatives and of the city of Chicago on a mission so full of tender memories and helpful mercy, and so creditable to the instant impulse, prompt action, and grateful generosity, of our community.

Respectfully submitted.
LAIRD COLLIER,                    
H. A. JOHNSON, Committee.
N. K. FAIRBANK,                      

Other cities, with a sympathy that was worth more than money, sent in their offers of assistance, until the wires were crowded with their despatches.

At a meeting of the New-York Chamber of Commerce, held on Monday, Nov. 11, the same generous feeling prevailed. Among the prominent gentlemen present were Jackson S. Schultz, Henry Grinnell, Royal Phelps, S. B. Chittenden, Russell Sturgis, Henry Clews, S. A. Low, George Opdyke, F. S. Winston, with Hon. William A. Dodge as president. The chairman said the meeting was called by the spontaneous action of the mercantile community to offer sympathy to cheer and aid those called upon to suffer in the city so intimately connected with us in business-relations. After referring to the Chicago fire, and the action then taken by the chairman, they were now called again together with heavy hearts in consequence of the visitation permitted by Providence to befall the sister-city of Boston. William A. Freese and George Wilson were appointed secretaries. A. A. Low said none were more active in assisting sufferers than the firms now suffering in Boston; and while he had acted as chairman of the Relief Committee of the Chamber, a little more than a year ago, after the Chicago fire, one dry-goods firm in Boston sent him ninety-six thousand dollars in one day, chiefly collected amongst those now the principal sufferers in Boston. The following resolutions were submitted by William M. Freese, seconded by A. A. Low, and unanimously adopted:

 “Whereas, Our sister-city, the city of Boston, has just suffered from a calamity that has but one parallel in the history of our country, a large section, embracing within its limits the most costly structures, having been devastated by fire, and their stores of merchandise become a prey to the flames; and

“Whereas, By this instantaneous destruction of the most substantial granite buildings, and the burning of their valuable contents, losses of untold magnitude have been inflicted upon a body of merchants who are everywhere known for their energy, their industry, their loyalty, and their benevolence; and whereas communities in our day are bound together by mutual ties of interest and affection:

 “Resolved, That it becomes this mercantile community promptly to tender to the merchants of Boston, and to all the sufferers by the devastating fire of yesterday, the expression of deep and hearty sympathy, and to prefer such generous co-operation in the measures of relief as the circumstances of the case and the urgencies of the time demand.

“Resolved, That a committee be appointed to consider what measures, if any, it behooves this community to adopt in order to alleviate the primary disabilities that are likely to result from the sudden destruction of the property, of books and papers, of hundreds of mercantile firms.”

The chairman said, “Whatever we may do in the way of sympathy or aid will be better done, when it is done, promptly. What is wanted to cheer the parties who are in such distress and affliction? Many of us remember our own feelings during the terrific fires of 1835 and 1845. I remember the entire cold winter night of 1835; and, soon after daybreak, I went into Pearl Street, near Wall, and there I saw our old and now venerable fellow-citizen, James Lee, with twenty Irishmen, digging for his safe. He was covered with soot and dirt. I offered my hand and my sympathy; and, turning around, with his characteristic energy he said, ‘Thank God, Dodge, my wife and children live! This hand has supported them always; and, thank God! it can support them still.’ (Applause.) It is sympathy to cheer and encourage that men require under such difficulties. There are in Boston a class of sufferers, the employés in the large establishments, thrown out of employment; and there is a small portion inhabited by the poorer classes also destroyed: but, with the merchants, what is needed is not so much sympathy as aid.” The chairman then went on to state how, by the means of extended papers, the Boston merchants helped those of New York when fires occurred here, and suggested the same kind of help, through bankers and others here, by cheering the hearts of those people, and showing a little forbearance all round. The calamity could be bridged over, and not be so great as it appears to be. A collection for funds throughout the country would not be needed as during the Chicago fire; and a small committee would be sufficient.

The resolutions were adopted; and, on motion of Henry Clews, the chairman was asked to name the committee.

The following were named as such committee: A. A. Low, F. S. Winston, ‘William H. Gray, Horace B. Claflin, George Opdyke, J. Pierrepont Morgan, S. D. Babcock, Jarvis Slade, Jacob Wendell, S. B. Chittenden, and Morton F. Sanford, with Hon. William F. Dodge as chairman.

The Common Council of Brooklyn, N.Y., offered to appropriate a hundred thousand dollars, if Boston needed as much; and many private individuals sent their checks for large sums.

At St. Louis there was held a very large meeting of the wealthy merchants; and a great desire was exhibited to send Boston all she needed. At that time the news of the fire was so unreliable, and so much exaggerated, that it was supposed that thousands of people were homeless.     

Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Worcester, Milwaukie, Lowell, Rochester, Providence, Newark, Montreal, Washington, Hudson, Saginaw, Portland, Newburyport, Baltimore, Somerville, Lynn, Salem, and many other cities, appointed committees for the purpose of raising funds by subscription; and the readiness everywhere displayed “to divide with unfortunate Boston” was such as to awaken tearful emotion. Surely this republic is founded in brotherly love; and for this reason it may be that God has so bountifully blessed it.

But America was not alone; for old Boston in England, after which this stricken city was named, sent her kind words, and raised a considerable amount of money. London and Liverpool, and even Paris, sent their contributions; and as a worthy divine said, “It does seem, in a time like this, as if all the world loved us.”

Gen. Kilpatrick lectured in New York, Madame Rudersdorff sang in Gloucester, Mr. Froude, the great historian, gave a course of lectures in Boston, Father Tom Burke of Ireland lectured in the Boston Theatre, the proceeds of which were given in aid of the sufferers by the fire. The dramatic companies of a score of cities gave entertainments for the benefit of Boston. Hundreds of individuals sent in their gifts; and from Calais, Me., to Los Angeles, Cal., there were regrets, sighings, tears, giving.

“Great thoughts, great feelings, came to them 
Like instincts, — unawares.”

Some of these acts of generosity will be found recorded in the chapter upon “Scenes and Incidents.”



Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.