Many people ask me about survivors of the fire. There were obviously hundreds who escaped, although all of their names are not known. There is no master list of survivors, but here are names I’ve pulled out from various sources in a largely haphazard list, but one that some genealogists may find useful. Family lore passed down for generations often reports that one person or another was present at the fire. Maybe you’ll find a name you know here?
Sources: Calamity at Richmond booklet, Richmond Enquirer, Ann Tuke Alexander’s Narrative and Casualties, Committee of Investigation Report
- Mr. Hopkins Robertson: actor who announced fire to audience
- Mr. Taylor: musician who retreated from the pit, the last of the musicians to leave, found “his retreat by the back way cut off” so he “leapt into the pit whence he entered the semicircular avenue which leads to the door of the Theatre, and found it nearly empty.” He was the last to escape from the pit.
- Mr. Noland: fell towards window and was saved. Attending with Venable’s crowd.
- Mr. John G. Jackson (a United States Representative at the time from what is now West VA, later a judge): passed out and came to in the pit, revived by fresh air as he lay in a pile of people, a lady clung to him and they both found a door. Escaped just before the roof tumbled in.
- Mr. M.W. Hancock: niece, the 2 Miss Herons, and 3 boys went with him to the play. Became stuck in the window and nearly trampled by people. All his charges escaped with their lives.
- Mr. John Lynch: jumped out the window after Hancock. Left Gibbon and Conyers. Would have died but a window burst open and let in fresh air to the lobby. Hair caught fire.
- Robert Greenhow: threw himself down the stairs over fire and bodies with his son.
- Robert Greenhow, Jr.
- Mr. (James) Head Lynch “made a wonderful escape” with child.
- Head Lynch’s wife Polly Perley Lynch pulled by her hair over the bodies in the stairway to safety by unnamed strong man. Head Lynch owned the Lynch Coffee House.
- Mr. Stetson : “Mr. Stetson fell in the lobby with his head to the wall–but for a crack which his mouth accidentally caught, he would have died for want of air–the fresh air that streamed through it revived him enough to lift his head to the window–a fresh draught of it revived him and he jumped out.”
- Mr. Gordon: “saved while insensible.”
- Mrs. Gordon: jumped out window and clung to a man.
- Gordon daughter saved by hanging on her mother’s mantle. Other 2 children also saved
- Mr. Doyle: received those who were jumping out windows.
- Mr. Grant: received those who were jumping out windows.
- Mr. Rice: property-man of theater, gave orders to blow out lamp
- Mr. West: actor, saw lamp, heard Rice’s directions. According to Shockley (357), he was a painter of scenery along with Graim [in other places “Grain”], another staff member.
- Mr. Cook: regular carpenter of theater, saw carpenter trying to lower lamp and it getting caught, tried to put out fire but ceiling caught on fire
- Mr. Anderson: actor, noted oscillation of lamp
- Mr. Yore: crew workman with the machinery; saw lamp contact lower part of one of the front scenes.
- Mr. Utt: prompter
- Mrs. Hatcher: broken a limb, from Manchester
- Richard Dabney: died after the fire and possibly of related health issues, although his death was sometimes reported. John Hastings Marks to Reuben Lewis (half-brother of Meriwether Lewis), January 22, 1812 (letter in UVA Special Collections): Wrote that relations and friends “have suffered in that unfortunate affair in Richmond,” and note that Richard Dabney died of burns. He did not actually die, as his obituary in the Richmond Enquirer, was on November 25, 1825. “He had survived the Richmond Theatre fire of 1811, though badly burned. He was a well-known poet.” In the work of Ann Tuke Alexander, Remarks on the Theatre, and on the Late Fire at Richmond, in Virginia. York, England: T. Wilson & Son, 1812 under “casualties,” she writes Richard Dabney: “one of the most promising literary characters in Virginia; he was in the upper tier of boxes, and in the act of assisting some ladies unknown to him, when that destructive vapour, mentioned in other communications, suddenly issued from the eastern part of the building–he saw no flame, yet his face and one of his hands have been deeply burnt; he attempted to save himself by the stairs… strewed by the bodies of prostrated ladies he thought sooner than injure them with his feet, he … his fate to chance, and accordingly jumped out of one of the upper windows–his life is, thank God, saved, yet he has suffered severely, and indeed, still suffers.”
more names coming soon!