To Sarah Savage Thatcher

    Philadelphia        29, 31 December 1794

    My dear —

    The last mail that left this place, on saturday, will pass through Biddeford without any Letter from me—which is the second omission I have made since the Session began—

    This omission, like the former, must be set to the account of Judge [David] Sewall—On fryday, the day before the mail sets off from this place, I began a Letter to him, & forgeting myself as St. Paul did when by the length of his Sermon he preached young Eutichus out of the window,1 I continued to write till the house broke up, when I found what I intended for a Letter had actually grown to the size of a Book, & it wanted nothing but a preface to make it one—And that the thing might be uniform I promised to write a preface to it the next morning; And that night the Great Church of the Germans took fire & was consumed—In the morning I set down to give the Judge an account of this grand religious flame, & again forgeting how rapidly time passes when the mind is engaged, spun out the history till General [Peleg] Wadsworth called for my Letters to carry them to the office—I looked at my watch & found it wanted but ten minutes of twelve, which left me only time to seal my Letter & get it to the office before the mail was closed, which always is done precisely at twelve oClock—

    I have hitherto made it a rule to write my Letters to you on the morning the mail is closed, to the intent they may reach you with the smallest possible interval after their date—and if any thing of consequence happens I may communicate it—But to guard against any omission in future, I shall write my Letters before the day they must be sent to the mail office—

    On fryday evening between six & seven I had just taken off my shoes & put on my slippers to set down to my book, & I heard the cry of fire—My curiosity compelled me to to put on my shoes again & hasten to the fire—I no sooner got into the street but I found the current of people tending towards fourth street, & the general cry was, that the Great German Church was on fire2—I observed to Mr. Bradley,3 who was with me, it would make a grand spectacle & being very calm there was no danger of the fire spreading—and we hastened on among the the croud which began to be very thick in the street—When we got within sight of the fire I discovered it to be on the roof of a small building on the back part of the body of the Church, designed to support a Steeple & Bell & improved below for the vestry room—The fire was then busting thro the top & soon wraped all the wood work in flame. Several Engines played briskly & threw prodigious quantities of water; but all they could effect was to prevent the fire extending to the body of the Church & the buildings adjoining—The croud was unusually great—men, women & children—black & white all rushed towards the fire & seemed anxious to behold the religious flame—the air was almost in a dead calm—the sparks & flakes of fire ascended high & were carried at the distance of two squares; & fell on peoples heads & the tops of houses like snow—but all were extinguished—About half after eight the wooden work of the building being pretty much consumed, it was generally believed the fire was out & the danger passed—Some Engines, & many people retired—But my curiosity was not yet satisfied, And I pushed into the Church, where I found between one & two thousand of men, boys, women & Devils of all kinds, emulous who should make the most noise & confusion—I crouded about in the throng who appeared to enjoy themselves mighty well—A few minutes before nine a cry was heard that fire was between the Sealing & the roof of the Church; & instantly the croud rushed towards the doors with a confused clamour of fear & distress—I stood just forward of the Gallery & keept my place, being desirous to see as much as I could—And in a moment somebody came to the door & called out there was no fire—no danger—And multitudes rushed again into the Church, & with surprise gaized up at the Sealing—I then took a turn into the Gallery, & had no sooner got there than the cry of fire was heard from every part of the Church, & a blaize broke through by the Candle-stick [chandelier] that was suspended from the center of the arched cealing—Terror again seized the mob & they rushed down head long through the stairs, while below they run to the doors & windows screaming as if the roof was actually falling in all of a blaize—After this the fire frequently droped down from the crevice by the Candle-stick—And the people, on a fresh cry of fire without, began to assemble again; & the engines were got ready to play upon the roof of the Church—About this time also the people began to pull down the organ, one of the best in the United States it cost upwards of three thousand pounds—

    I continued in the Church till about forty minutes after nine; and when I went out the fire was begining to be discovered through the roof—The engines were throwing water, but to no purpose—A little before ten the flame burst forth from every part of the roof, & the Engines gave over any further attempts to to quench it & turned to throwing water on the surrounding houses—& in ten minutes more the cealing fell & the whole body of the Church became a solid fire! It was grand & awfull every window was a furnice & the top a prodigious volcano! I frequently shifted my place & crouded among the people who seemed to fill the streets for a mile every way—And I must say except one or two instances I never saw people who enjoyed themselves so well in my life—had they been at a national Festival they could not have enjoyed themselves better than they appeared to by their countenances & chat—I thought the people manifested an uncommon courage to or temerity, for many keept possession till most of the roof & cealing had fell in, & the Galleries were in a blaize—even after the Galleries had fallen, some were loth to retire & worked to get off the doors while the other side of them were on fire—At twelve the Pillars had fallen & the fire subdued for want of fuel—I went home—I could but lament the destruction of so large, elegant & costly a Building—especially as it was owing to the want of order in regulating fires! for I never saw less order & authority at fires than in this City—every one is master—& those only give aid who pleases4

    The two last mails brought yours of the 10th. 14th & 15th. instant all full of information—[. . . .]

    I have no objection to Phillips coming home for the vacation if it be convenient for him; but only on the express condition that he return punctually at the time it expires, or one day before—I should think it would be a good ride for you to go with Mr. Webster & his wife,5 to the [Fryeburg] Acadamy, your friends will be glad to see you—But wean Harry first—it will be too troublesom to carry him with you—

    Inclosed is a ten dollar Bill—Pay of[f] the school committee as soon as you can—

    Decr. 31. The weather through the whole of this month has been as moderate as April & May—we have not had a single cold day—& tis now mild—

    I have wrote Brother [Prentiss] Mellen & the Collector [Jeremiah Hill] pretty copiously—I think they will not complain very soon—I should write them oftner but we have no news—And things seem in a kind of torped state, as to politics—All we can do is to spin theories & conjectures out of our own imaginations & then grow a little warm about them among ourselves—

    I certainly could mean nothing more by the word jejune, in speaking of your account of Phillips departure for the Acadamy, than its shortnessshort, uncircumstantial, or something like that—I believe jejune properly means—dry, or applied to composition, a want of copiousness—But I do not vouch for the propriety either of the use I made of it in my Letter, or my present explanation—

    Embrace our dear children6 & assure them their papa loves them most ardently, as he does their dear mamma—


    * * *

    ALS, TFP. Omitted text relates to the settlement of household accounts.