Richmond Theatre Fire 26 December 1811
“Fire King” Sewell Osgood (1776-1819)
Hardworking Father Meets a Tragic End
Sewell Osgood is a sixth-generation descendant of George and Hannah (Christopher Osgood5, Sarah Abbott Osgood4, Joshua3, John2, George1). He was born in Newfane, Vermont in 1776 the sixth oldest of seven children of Christopher Osgood and Hannah Brown.
Sewell was one of the few Abbott descendants that made the move to the southern states, as opposed to migrating further north or west. He located in Richmond, Virginia where he was a blacksmith and wheelwright and was a partner in the company Baker and Osgood, Blacksmiths. He was considered a useful member of the community, not only due to his skills as a blacksmith, but also for his work as a firefighter, for which he earned the moniker “Fire King.” “With the activity of a monkey, he would, in an instant, be perched on the peak of a roof, or wherever the fire was hottest and his efforts could be most available” (Mordecai, 1860, p 57). He played an important role in fighting the Richmond Theatre Fire of 26 December 1811 in which 72 people perished including Virginia Governor George William Smith.
Very soon after the Richmond Theatre fire, another major fire broke out in Richmond near Main and Fifteenth Streets and Sewell Osgood was acknowledged as a hero in stopping the spread of that blaze. Following the fire in January, it was Sewell that advocated for the formation of volunteer fire companies who would be trained and adequately equipped (Baker, 2012).
Sewell also fulfilled his military obligations enlisting as a private in the 19th Regiment of Virginia militia during the War of 1812. At one muster of the militia, the musician was absent, and Sewell filled in by simultaneously playing the drum and flute keeping the marching troops in time.
Sewell married Frances Courtney in Richmond on 14 January 1805 and they were the parents of five daughters: Lemira, Sarah Ann, Eliza Peace, Frances, and Mary.
Although Sewell was for some time successful in his business as a blacksmith, over the years he became distracted from his business and fell into debt. He became despondent over his failures, and it was thought that this contributed to his final tragedy. On 23 December 1819, Sewell hung himself with a silk handkerchief tied to the banister of his stairs.
Picture Credit: University of Virginia, Public Domain
Baker, Meredith Henne, 2012. The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America’s First Great Disaster. LSU Press.
Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812 1812-1815
Mordecai, Samuel. 1860. Virginia, Especially Richmond, in By-gone Days; With a Glance at the Present: Being Reminiscences and Last Words of an Old Citizen. Richmond, VA: West and Johnson.
Mr. Sewell Osgood, The Colombian, New York, NY, volume X, issue 2905, Dec 29, 1819, p 2
U.S., Craftperson Files, 1600-1995