To Sarah Savage Thatcher

    Philadelphia        17 December 1799

    “12 oClock at night”

    My dear

    I have this moment returned to my chamber from a most tremendous fire—

    At the hour of nine this evening as I was reading in my chamber, I heard the cry of fire—supposing it might be a chimny, of or some small stable I did not lay down my book for some time, but the increasing clamor & its continuance, at last, induced me to look out of the window, but seeing no light I returned again to my book—

    The cry, however still continued, & I went again to the window which faces the east, & at the distance of one Square about south east I saw the light shine on the steeple of the [Christ] Church—I then went to a window on the west side of the house & beheld the whole horizon was illuminated. I put on my shoes & my cloak & set off. I soon heard the [Ricketts] Circus was on fire; I ran as fast as I could & before I got there, (it was within six rods of Congress Hall) the building which was of wooden walls, & the roof of pitch-canviss, was all one blast; It communicated to three private dwelling houses, that were seperated only by a street from the Hall, on one side, & to a very large Hotell [Oeller’s Hotel] on the other with some small buildings all which were burnt to the ground before half after eleven—It was [by] far the most extensive fire I ever saw—Tis said some theatrical exhibition was acting in the Circus in mock imitation of Hell, in which sulphur & Gunpowder were made use of, & a greater quantity took fire than was intended so that the explosion extended to the scenery—& instantly the whole building the upper parts whereof were of the most arid & combustable materials, exhibited a little hell in miniature—I dont vouch for this mode of the fires commencing—This was said by the spectators of which there were many thousands—

    To conclude—pray be cautious—you know how much I am distressed with apprehensions of you or the childrens being burnt—I cant describe the millionth part of the pain I feel!1

    Give my Love to Katy—I wish her name was Nancy—and to the children—From your most affectionate husband

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    ALS, TFP. Addressed to Biddeford.