The Richmond Theater Fire Book

A tubercular actress, a dead Governor, a “Bleeding Nun,” a heroic enslaved blacksmith, a POW of the Barbary Pirates, Virginian Presidents, an avant-garde church, a French refugee headmaster, and fiery Calvinist preachers.

What do they have in common? The Richmond Theater Fire of 1811. 

The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America’s First Great Disaster  (Louisiana State University Press: February, 2012) is the award-winning account  of the deadliest urban disaster in the early years of the United States–the Richmond Theater Fire. In the first book about the event and its aftermath, Meredith Henne Baker pulls the curtain back on this forgotten catastrophe and its impact using private letters, personal diaries, rancorous newspaper articles, and a score of printed sermons, many of them rare or never-before-published primary documents. By viewing the event and its outcomes through the fascinating lenses of early nineteenth-century medicine, theater, architecture, and faith, The Richmond Theater Fire reveals a rich and vital untold story from America’s past.

The book has been awarded the 2012 Jules and Frances F. Landry Award for most outstanding book on a southern topic published by LSU Press and Baker was the recipient of the 2012 Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society “Best First Book Award.”

What are reviewers saying?

“The Richmond Theater Fire is totally engrossing, a real page turner….the most detailed and heartbreaking account of this disaster that I have ever read.” Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, author of Celebrate Richmond Theater

“Best study yet of antebellum Richmond…highly recommended.” CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

Baker’s gracefully written book tells the story of nineteenth-century Richmond’s cultural transformation….A solid contribution to early American history.” Nancy Isenberg, author of Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

“The theater fire has never been the subject of a book-length study. Baker’s well-informed and impressively researched book fills that gap, telling an engaging story in the process…Baker has written a smart and responsible popular history…Exhaustively researched and thoughtfully contextualized, this book is a welcome contribution.”  Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

“Meredith Henne Baker…tells the story in vivid detail. Her book explores not only the fire itself but also its aftermath, and it serves as an important chronicle of a tragedy that marked — and changed — Richmond.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Engaging and informative…bringing attention to an oft-overlooked historic event …Her vivid and dramatic prose allows the reader to smell the smoke in the air and hear the ensuing cries of “Fire!” that filled the theater that evening.” The Journal of Southern Religion 

For more reviews and interviews about The Richmond Theater Fire book, visit this page.


The Richmond Theater Fire received the 2012 Jules and Frances Landry Award, bestowed annually to the most outstanding book on a southern topic published by LSU Press. Honoring innovative works that they believe will have great impact, the Landry is considered the most prestigious literary award in the field of Southern Studies. Through the years, the winners have represented a wide range of fields and methods of inquiry, but all have made notable contributions to the study of the South. Previous winners include four Pulitzer prize winners and such notable names as John Hope Franklin, Robert Penn Warren, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Lewis P. Simpson.

The Phi Alpha Theta National History Honorary Society also awarded The Richmond Theater Fire the 2012 Phi Alpha Theta Best First Book Award, a prestigious and highly competitive honor. (LSU’s press release about the award may be read here.)



Where can I find it?
LSU Press publications may be found at all major booksellers, through online retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and on the LSU Press website. The book is available in an e-reader version for Nook and Kindle as well. Thank you for your interest!