The Lost Museum Archive

"The Rebel Plot, Attempt to Burn the City," New York Times, November 26, 1864

This newspaper report appeared the morning after the failed attempt by a group of Confederate sympathizers to set fire to numerous public buildings in New York City, including the American Museum and several hotels. The fairly brief account suggests the chaos that greeted news of the fires and the measures taken by local hotels to guard against arson; it also mentions a suspect from Baltimore, a city in a border state known for its mixed loyalties to the Union and the Confederacy.



All the Principal Hotels Simultaneously Set on Fire

The Fires Promptly Extinguished

Prompt Arrest of Rebel Emissaries

The Police on the Track of Others

The city was startled last evening by the loud and simultaneous clanging of fire-bells in every direction, and the alarming report soon spread from street to street that a preconcerted attempt was being made by rebel emissaries, in accordance with the fiendish programme recently set forth by the Richmond papers, to burn New-York and other Northern cities, in retaliation for the devastation of rebel territory by Union armies. The facts gathered by our reporters appear to confirm the truth of these reports.

The plan adopted by the incendiaries was to set fire at once, or nearly at once, to the principal hotels and other public buildings in the city. At seventeen minutes of nine the St. James Hotel was discovered to be on fire in one of the rooms. On examination it was discovered that the bed and several other articles of furniture had been saturated with phosphorous and set on fire. A few minutes afterward Barnum's Museum was discovered to be on fire; but the flames were soon extinguished, and the building sustained very little damage. At five minutes of nine fire was discovered in rooms No. 138, 139, 140, and 174 of the St. Nicholas Hotel. The fire was got under without much difficulty by the fire department of the hotel, but not until the furniture and the rooms had been damaged to the amount of about $2,500. The beds in this case, also, were found to be saturated with inflammatory materials. At twenty minutes past nine the inmates of the Lafarge House were alarmed by the cry of fire; but the flames were extinguished without much difficulty, and the damage received was comparatively alight. Shortly after 10 o'clock the Metropolitan Hotel was discovered to be on fire; but by this time the police had given warning at all the hotels of the designs of the incendiaries, and the watchmen being on their guard, discovered the fire in time to put it out before it had done much damage. The Brandreth House, Frenche's Hotel, the Belmont House, Wallack's Theatre, and several other buildings were fired during the course of the evening, but none of them were seriously damaged.


About ten o'clock the Detective Police arrested a woman at the Metropolitan Hotel, under circumstances that involve her in serious suspicion. She hails from Baltimore, and was noticed going from one hotel to another, leaving each hotel just previous to the breaking out of the fire. She strongly protests her entire innocence of the crime charged upon her; but the fact that the fires followed closely in her wake as she passed from house to house, is a very suspicious circumstance, and justifies her arrest and detention.

The Police also made several other arrests; but in accordance with a request from Police Headquarters, we refrain from mentioning the names of the parties taken into custody.


The scenes at the various hotels, where the usual quiet of the evening was broken by the alarm of fire, and by startling rumors of extensive conflagrations throughout the city, were very exciting. At several of the hotels, the inmates of the rooms were requested to vacate their quarters and permit them to be carefully searched for incendiary materials. In several instances, beds in vacant rooms were found saturated with phosphorous and filled with matches. A box filled with inflammatory material was taken from the Metropolitan to the Police Headquarters, and after being exposed to the air for a short time, burst into flames.

To guard against the threatened conflagration, watchmen were put on at all the hotels, and a dozen pails of water were set on every floor, ready for instant use. Fire-Marshall Baker is busy investigating the origins of the fires, and the Police are said to be on the track of several suspected persons.