Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Buchanan Fire of 1862

When I first saw that the topic for the 77th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy (to be hosted by Miriam Robbins Midkiff at AnceStories) was Disaster, several potential disasters sprang to mind. There was the Wreck of the Flyer, the explosion at Split Rock and a couple of tornadoes. I haven't researched the epidemic that claimed the lives of my grandfather's father and sisters. Then I read that it should be a disaster that my family survived and how it affected them. What better way to do that than in their own words?

Some Background Information

Some of my Carlisle family's history has been passed down through the generations and written down. I have copied some of the notes kept by my Aunt Sue.

Daniel and Louisa ran an Inn in New York State. By 1840 they had a hotel in Edwardsburg and Mary and Isaac were born there. Before June of 1845 they had moved to a farm in LaGrange and Fanny was born there. Louisa died between 1850 and 1852 when Daniel married her youngest sister, Hannah. Daniel and Hannah then moved to a farm south of Buchanan and that was where Arabella was born in 1857. They then moved into town (Buchanan) and lived on Second St (now Dewey Ave). That house burned down with part of the town and they moved to Main St in 1863.

The Buchanan Museum of Fine Art website includes a brief history of the city of Buchanan, Michigan and contains the following information about the fire.

"Reports of a devastating 1862 fire, which leveled half of downtown Buchanan, also tell us what businesses were established and taken by the fire along Front and Main Streets, east of Mill Ally and Main St., including Ross & Alexander's building, several dry goods concerns, a shoe shop and millinery, a paint shop, blacksmith, livery stable, barber shop and meat market and a dwelling and barn. The losses totaled over $28,000, a not considerable sum for those days."

I have highlighted what I believe to be the area that burned. The map is from 1873. The Carlisle family would have lived near where I have added the words "Second St." I believe their home was rented and that it is the dwelling and barn named above.

At the time of the fire 65 year old Daniel Carlisle was living in Buchanan with his four daughters, Tamerson Zipporah (25), Mary Elizabeth (22), Fannie Louisa and Arabella (5). His son, Orville, lived nearby with his wife Julia. It is unclear where son Ashley was at the time. He servered in the 2nd Michigan Calvary and was probably away, at war. Daniel's wife, Hannah L., was in Columbus, KY where she was a Matron at the Post Hospital.

Unpleasant News

Nov. 1st <1862>

Dear Mother

It is with a sad heart that I now seat myself to inform you that we are now left desolate. Our house, barn and all (with many other buildings) was yesterday burned to the ground. About two o'clock afternoon a fire broke out in a shop. just a little south of the sash factory, it was burned and Kelly's shop Mrs. Dutton's house, Rea_den and Mead's grocery. Ross and Bainton store. The grocery and store joined Dutton's house. The old brick store and all the buildings up to Miller's shop. Dr Dodd's barn, Livery Stable paint shop and Blacksmith shop. We thought the whole town would burn the wind blew very hard and we had no fire Engine. They telegraphed to Niles for theirs, but in such confusion that it could not be read when it got there. A man was sent - finaly on horse back. Some of our things were saved. one bed stead three or four feather beds, and some bed clothes. tables and chairs. no dishes or spoons. No one

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was at home when the fire comenced. Tamerson went to Mr. Dewey's a visiting and was taken sick, but she had recovered so that when the alarm came there she was able to come home Pa was over the river digging potatoes. Fannie was up to Aunt Julia's. Bell and myself were at school. Fannie and the men suceeded in getting most of the things out of the front room and some out of the chamber. but what is that towards housekeeping. None of us but fannie have a chang of under clothes some of our dresses were saved. Aunt Julia had a conjestive chill a few days ago she was very sick, but is better now. Alonzo How was hurt while digging sand a few days since and died last night. his back was broken. Many folks are sick. some of them in the country. Some of the folks were so exhausted and frightened that it was thought that they could not recover. in all about twenty four buildings. Mrs. Dutton has nothing but the clothes on her back. After her things were taken out they were burned. Alexander says to his wife we are poor now that is himself. It really seemed as though the day of judgement had come. but we are preserved alive

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we will rent a house for the present - I think it will be the old cottage house on the hill back of the parsonage. You of core will use your own judgment about coming home. It seems to me if you can earn any thing there you had better stay. The people are very kind to us. they say that we shall have a new house right - away. Mr Dewey wants to employ Fannie in his office to set type the terms were good. perhaps since our trouble he will give more. we do not know what to do. I wrote to uncle A. I guess he will help us. write as soon as you get this.

Mary E. Carlisle.

I wonder what Hannah's reaction was when she received the letter with unpleasant news written on the outside? A second letter with more details was soon dispatched.

Buchanan Nov 4th 1862

Dear Mother

No doubt you will hear of our misfortune by Mary's letter ere you receve this. The fire broke out about 2 1/2 oclock on Friday afternoon Oct. 31st. ____ from the sparks in the Berghum mill next to the machine shop burning in all 24 buildings burning most of the business buildings. our house + barn all that we have left is 4 feather beds 5 quilts 11 chairs the best rag carpet very little clothing. I have not a second change of under clothes Mary Father + Bell the are in the same condition we have rented the cottage house on the hill called the old Blanchard house, we cleaned 3 rooms to day will get family settled one week. you know it wont take long we saved one bedstead the cottage one got another one of Mr. Hahn. John did not hear of the fire untill Saturday eve he came down on Sabbath morn Gave me $20. said to buy dresses with but have not spent

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it for that and told me to go to Mr. Black's shop and get + bedsteads. The people are very kind to us we stay with different ones

Aunt Julia has forgotten how many things you gave her, she gave me one pair of pillars 1 straw tick. 3 or 4 spoons that is all so far. Sister Hoag the ministers wife gives as she can + lends some things Pa and Bell did not have one thing only what they had on I am so tired that it is almost impossible for me to write. I was at Mr. Dewey's during the fire had been very sick with a congestive chill. Sarah Chopin died in Dowagwiac the funeral was there her remains were brought to Niles for internment I went to the Cemetery with Mrs. Dewey. I fainted while there was ____ to __ was but with difficulty I am usually well now. we are well. Fannie will go to Niles on Monday is going to set type I told her that she could not go to Rochester. she declared that she could go I told her that she should work. gets $1 per week and board if she learns rapidly can earn __, by spring I told her that she should stay until spring do just as you think best about coming home if you come bring all that you can. anything will be acceptible/ excuse this in haste


The family was left with very little and have split up at least temporarily. Both daughters are concerned about money and replacing the items necessary to life. Daniel's brother-in-law, Issac Ashely, a well to do hotel keeper in Rochester, NY, has already been looked to for help. Friends and neighbors have been generous but Julia was criticized for not doing enough.

Hannah responded to Mary's letter.
Columbus Nov 7 / 62

My Dear Family

I have just read Mary letter and learned that all we had is gone truly it is sad news to think we have no home and all that we had to make home pleasant gone I am very thankfull your lives were all saved no limbs broke all must look dark I feel so sorry that all the silver is gone and beding was the Bureau burned up and all that was in it? are the coverlids gone to well never mind we must bear it the best we can under the circomstances try + make the best of it the pay master has not come yet and dont know when he will come I cannot write I cannot tell how I feel Yours Truly

H L Carlisle

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PS when you direct yours do it in this way

Mrs H L Carlisle
Post Hospital

Hannah seems a bit overcome, her letters were rarely brief. She understands the family's need for money but is helpless to do anything until she receives her pay. There must have been other letters that either did not survive or I have yet to locate.
Dear Wife Sunday Evening Buchanan Dec 7 1862.
We received yours of Nov 30 on the 4th the Bundle you Sent by the man has not come I have just been to see I think he was not honest the reason Fannie had a little more clothing saved was she got home in time to help take her own out some of it She + Mary were when the fire first started and the door locked they were helping __ grain get her things out the unwise plan of leaving A house alone which you know I have always been opposed too we see now the impropiety, + danger the reason the drawers were not taken out strangers to the house as they were knew not where to look for it Tamerson having directed the cleaning the house + put everything in a new place + upside down + put the Bureau in to the Butrey where no one would think looking for it had it been in the front room where I have always wanted it would have been saved a matter of fine I have always thought of but my family have always disregarded my advice in these matters there was nothing nothing taken out of the butrey unless the spoons were ____ no remains have as yet been found of them I forgot to mention in my last that the letter with the 2$ in money came all right it being southern money it was difficult geting rid of it I made out ___ last I would not _ind on take any, none of it taitt not so here. Orville started night before last to Ga noiss Portenfa County __ the sale of the history of the rebellion + tok with him some mass to pay his expences

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I recieved a letter last night from R B Ashley with 10$ in it to pay the freight on a box of things they have started us containing some bedding some clothing some dishes table cutlery + perhaps articles he did not mention May Heavens Blessings rest appon such friends Mr Havens on __ the river gave some flour + potatoes last week + and said when he butchered he would foe more It has been hinted that the folks in the river Bend are making two quilts for us but the most novel case is that of Poor A C Day After giving a stack of hay to me + Russell he Rusel went to see him to know where to go to draw We were going to gather to get it that day he told Russell he had to take some cattle on a debt + could not let it go poor man he ought to have a contrinution + I hope he may never be Burned out he would dispair + die he has just bought 100 + 20 dollars worth of furs for his wife + two daughters What doe we live for Julia has given some small articles Sineed wrote she + Henry + Tamerson ___ Are one A long visit now with _____ team to ____ + Lowells Pots + _____ Mary is at Eamens yet + Tamerson at Deweys have not seen them home Tamerson says Mary must come + help her she can get no time to sew there is about 3 inches of snow but no sleighing ground froze hard Weather cold and blustering the machanics that wer burned out have all got shops + going on again with business _ times ___ hand every thing in the hands of merchants __ are high Salt 4$ pr barrell J R was here yesterday

(The rest of the letter discussed politics and was signed D Carlisle.)

So Hannah was able to send money, even if it was not in a currency that was easy to spend. The relatives in New York have come through. The bureau seemed very important and I would love to know what it contained. Daniel has placed blame for it's loss squarely on Tamerson so I'm not surprised she has not come home. Did Fannie go to Niles to set type? And who is looking after little Arabella?

The above are the only letters from this period that I have transcribed. There were wish lists sent to Hannah. Fannie did go to Niles for a time. The Ashley's sent more money and Tamerson went to visit them in the spring of 1863. Care of Arabella, household chores and keeping Hannah updated fell to Mary and she seemed to resigned to her fate. Hannah tried to manage all of the family's business by mail. By May of 1863 Arabella had joined her mother in Columbus.

I believe that prior to the fire that all of the homes the family had lived in had been rented. Sometime in 1863, most likely with the help of Isaac Ashley, the family bought the property on Main St. that would remain in the family for well over 100 years. Was the fire the push they needed?

Did Hannah stay with the Army because of a sense of patriotism or because the family needed her income? I believe it was some of both but she did have a strong sense of duty.

Would Fannie's life have turned out differently if she hadn't been forced to take a job she didn't want?

Orville D. Carlisle was discharged for disability from the 2nd Michigan Calvary on 4 November 1862. One more unhappy event for the family.

Thanks to Footnote Maven for the COG poster.


Buchanan Museum of Art. About page. Viewed 21 July 2009.

Carlisle, Mary E. (Buchanan, MI) to “Dear Mother”
[Hannah Glover Carlisle]. Letter. 1 November 1862. Digital Images 1-3.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,]
Snowville, New York. 2009.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Correspondence, 1862,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]

Carlisle, Tamerson Z. (Buchanan, MI) to “Dear Mother”
[Hannah Glover Carlisle]. Letter. 4 November 1862. Digital Images 1-2.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,]
Snowville, New York. 2009.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Correspondence, 1862,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]

Carlisle, Hannah Glover. (Columbus, KY) to “My Dear Family”
[Daniel Carlisle and children]. Letter. 4 November 1862. Digital Images 1-2.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,]
Snowville, New York. 2009.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Correspondence, 1862,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]

Carlisle, Daniel. (Buchanan, MI) to “Dear Wife”
[Hannah Glover Carlisle]. Letter. 7 December 1862. Digital Images 1-7.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,]
Snowville, New York. 2009.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Correspondence, 1862,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]


Nikki - Notes of Life said...

How sad!

TK said...

Unpleasant news indeed! What must Hannah have felt, reading all this terrible news and being so far away? Your post was so interesting, with first-hand accounts of all the family went through, Apple.

Janet Iles said...

What a tragedy for the family but thankfully no one was hurt. How fortunate you are to have these letters telling of what happened.

Leah Kleylein said...

It's so overwhelming, you can feel it in their words. But it's so great that you have all these letters, thanks for sharing them!

Anonymous said...

I think it is amazing that you have these letters. Very intersting.