Friday, October 23, 2015

The Family's Fire Buckets

by Rebecca Kurtz

When taking a tour of Schuyler Mansion, you will see, in the yellow parlor as well as nearly every other room, black buckets that read : “P. Schuyler” and a number. These are fire buckets, which were commonly found in households during the eighteenth century.

In 1733, Benjamin Franklin, upon observing that fires in Philadelphia were extinguished primarily by groups of well-meaning citizens, suggested that a “Club or Society of active Men belonging to each Fire Engine; whose Business is to attend all Fires with it whenever they happen " should be formed.
Benjamin Franklin
Thus, throughout the 1700’s, early incarnations of fire departments were developing throughout the United States. These primal versions of fire departments still, like all other citizens, relied on wells and water pumps as a source of water. Therefore, to increase the probability of having enough water to douse fires, homeowners were mandated to have leather fire buckets in the houses.The number of fire buckets per household was determined by the amount of fireplaces in the house. For example, Schuyler Mansion has eight fireplaces (one in each room of the house) so the Schuyler family would have been issued eight fire buckets. When there was a fire, each household would be expected to fill their fire buckets with water from the well (or have their slaves or servants do it) and throw them on the fire, forming citizen bucket lines. 

When the fire was extinguished, the buckets would be collected, distinguished by the names painted on them, and returned to their owners.  If a household’s fire
Citizens working together to extinguish a fire with buckets
buckets were not found (or not all of them were found) it would be known that that family did not adequately participate in the effort to put out the fire, and they would face repercussions that could include exclusion from the service. 

The fire buckets that are currently on display at Schuyler Mansion are reproductions. Oftentimes, when visitors see the fire buckets on tours, they ask whether they would have sometimes contained sand as well as water. The answer is yes, they would have. Not only would the Schuyler family have utilized their fire buckets in order to contribute to the community effort to extinguish fires, but they also would have used them to put out fires in their own fireplaces. It would often be easier to store sand in the buckets, which we kept nearby fireplaces, because, unlike water, sand did not evaporate.

Come see the fire buckets today at Schuyler Mansion! Our final day of the season, October 31st, is just over a week away!

No comments:

Post a Comment