main menu Sponsor Banner
page menu

He thought of others
first and died young

Brewster image

By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

William Brewster - Display of dauntless bravery at New York - The fatal disaster on ship-board - A model of self-devotion.

ON Hanover street, in the rear of our office, there is now a block of buildings which covers a site where the residence once stood of one of the most noble-spirited boys of our town. WILLIAM BREWSTER possessed in an uncommon degree a spirit of boldness, enterprise and daring, yet modestly retiring from the praise which was justly due to him for his labors in the cause of humanity. So forward was he to fly to the relief of the suffering, that his own personal safety was ever, in his estimation, of secondary importance. The consciousness of having performed his duty was all the reward he sought. Numerous instances might be given, illustrating his character,--such as exposing his own life to rescue the drowning, where others dared not venture, etc., but we shall only advert to two instances, which are borne in the recollection of many of our citizens.

In May, 1811, while he was in New York, the first officer of the brig Fame, a great fire commenced in Chatham street, which destroyed over a hundred houses. The flames at length communicated to the lofty steeple of the Presbyterian church, at the head of Beekman street. At this moment, with the flames above the reach of the engines, when destruction not only to the church but also to a vast amount of property in the neighborhood seemed inevitable, there was seen ascending the lightning rod an intrepid young man bearing a bucket of water. The fearful height was attained, and the flame was quenched. He sought not to be known, and refused a reward when it was tendered to him. He replied to the tender, I have done no more than my duty. The vessel with which he was connected sailed in three days; and another individual, named Knapp, had the address to claim the reward which young Brewster so nobly refused.

As an evidence of his unobtrusive and modest turn of mind, the following extract from a letter, which he wrote to his mother, is subjoined. It was dated at Gustavia harbor, in St. Bartholomew's, June 17, 1811: "You have, doubtless, heard of my little exertion in arresting the progress of the fire in New York, which I should not have mentioned, had I not seen it published in a Charleston paper. I hope my conduct on that location gave you satisfaction."

In an ode written by John Lothrop of Boston, for the anniversary of the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society, is preserved an honorary memorial of this brave and meritorious youth.

top of page

By John Lothrop

See on the sacred temple's spire
The impious demon's ruthless hand,
While half the city sinks in fire,
Has fixed the wildly blazing brand.

His red right arm, with mighty power,
Launched the fell instrument of woe;
And lo, a desolating shower
Pours on the humbled roofs below!

Aghast, the trembling crowds survey
The sparkling torrent from on high!
Ah, what can now the ruin stay,
Unless some aid divine be nigh?

While yet they gaze, behold, with speed,
The dauntless BREWSTER eager springs;
Angels! who noble actions heed,
Uphold him with your guardian wings!

He swiftly mounts on Franklin's rod,
The steeple's smoky height ascends,
Nobly preserves the house of God,
And calms the fears of virtue's friends.

Such was the deed, that lately saved
Our sister city's beauteous domes!
The champion's image is engraved
On hearts secure in peaceful homes.

top of page

One Last Act

On the 18th of October, 1811, this young man lost his life in a distressing calamity which occurred at Bombay Hook. The vessel with which he was connected as mate, on board of which were thirty casks of powder, took fire and blew up, destroying all on board except one boy. In this closing calamity, the intrepidity which marked his whole course of life, was also nobly displayed. The boys stated that he saw the mate, just before the explosion, throwing water upon the binnacle. Destruction seemed inevitable, and he had opportunity, by taking to the water, to save his own life,--but he sacrificed it in the hope that he might do some good to those who were on board. Thus he left the world only three days before arriving at the age of manhood, in this act of humane self-devotion.

The place of his early home, the house of Capt. William Brewster on Hanover street, which was taken down in 1848, has ever awakened pleasant emotions in our memory, and we cannot see the last ruins pass away without some record of the worth of that dauntless young man.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
Design © 1999

top of page

[ New | Site Map | Talk | Store | Sponsors ]

[ Brewster's Rambles | About Brewster | Theme Sites ]
[ Contact Era | Colonial Era | Revolution Era ]

line rule


Site label
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801 Email:

line rule