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Town  Portsmouth, NH
Date  1813
Author  Pamela & Melanie Keene with Kevin Auger

Read about Portsmouth's Three Fires

gloss The so-called "Great" Fire of 1813 started when long tongues of flame burst from the barn belonging to a Mrs. Woodward at the comer of Court and Church street. These flames lit up the early evening sky. By 11 o' clock that evening almost every house on State Street and the south end of Daniel Street was engulfed in a blazing inferno. The utter destruction of the entire town seemed an inevitable doom. When, indeed, the fire did cease, its ravages in the early morning of December 23,1813, had consumed 108 dwellings, 64 shops, and at least 100 barns. Witnesses said the sky was so illuminated by the fire, that the people of Dover, New Hampshire, ten miles distant, could read by the light.

More than 40 years passed before a cause of the enormous fire was found. It seems that Mrs. Woodward, whose barn was the tinder point, employed a young domestic named Colbath. The two women got into an argument over two bottles of wine a gentleman boarder at the house had given to young Miss Colbath. She had left the house in anger, reportedly shouting again her employer, 'll burn her out!"

The very next day, December 22nd, the ravaging fire began. The folks with whom Miss Colbath shared her raging feelings kept her secret for almost 40 years, fearing public revenge against this girl who spent most of her life desolate in the local poorhouse. It was not until her death many years later that the facts were reported.

SOURCE: Brewster, Chaties W. Rambles About Portsmouth, "The Great Fire In Portsmouth." (second series). 1869 pps. 202-207

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