Main content

Records of the Friendship Fire Company of Wilmington, Delaware


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Friendship Fire Company of Wilmington, Delaware, the first volunteer fire department in the city's history, was founded in December of 1775 by a group of prominent citizens who were frustrated with the lack of fire protection in their region. The sixty-three original members agreed to respond to local conflagrations, bringing with them two leather pails for the bucket brigade. The Revolutionary War quickly disrupted the early organizational efforts of the Company, but after the War's end the members were determined to strengthen their "languid state" (Minutes, 23 Sep 1784). In September of 1784, the organization resolved to recruit more members, and the following month the Company began holding public meetings at the Town Hall building. The Friendship Fire Company remained the only fire company in Wilmington until 1796, when the Reliance Fire Company was organized. During the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, the Friendship Fire Company continued to grow. It acquired more sophisticated equipment, including a small hand engine in 1790 to supplement the two supplied by the Borough of Wilmington. The organization was headquartered at several different engine houses during its early years, the first one located on Fifth Street, between Shipley and Orange Streets. The Friendship Fire Company was incorporated in 1805, and continued to serve the community, along with a number of other volunteer fire companies, until the founding of the professional Wilmington Fire Department in 1921.

Conrad, Henry C. History of the State of Delaware. Wilmington, Del.: Published by the author, 1908. Volume 1, pp. 328-329. Lukaszewski, Chester P. The Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department, 1775-1921. Master's Thesis, University of Delaware, 1965. Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Delaware, 1609-1888. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co., 1888. Volume 2, pp. 674-675. Snellenburg, David. "Volunteer fire companies of old Wilmington." Unpublished paper, [1941]. Located in Special Collections, University of Delaware Library. Welde, Charles. History of the Wilmington Fire Department. Wilmington, Del.: Press of Homer Barry, 1897. Biographical AND/OR historical information derived from the collection.

The Records of the Friendship Fire Company consist of one volume and two loose documents. The documents include the Constitution of the Friendship Fire Company with its Act of Incorporation, dated 15 January 1805, and an undated list of the Company's rules and regulations, which seems to have been written at the time of the incorporation. The volume contains the Friendship Fire Company's official minutes from 1784 to 1828 and several other records.

The minutes of the semi-monthly meetings of the Company, which make up most of the volume, contain details on the routine operations of the organization. Topics include the Company's membership and attendance; dues and fines owed by members; the acquisition of firefighting equipment; the elections of officers; and the administration of the Company, including issues relating to incorporation, the bylaws, and the Constitution. Other fire prevention concerns, such as cooperation with other fire companies and local ordinances on chimney maintenance (passed in 1793 and 1803), are also addressed in the minutes. At the back of the volume there is an assortment of other records, including Company accounts dated 1784-1806; attendance records for 1789-1802 and 1805; and a separate, undated list of members noting their attendance records and the fines they paid. The final pages of the volume contain a brief note on three fires that occurred in the area in 1824-1825. In general, however, there is little information in this collection concerning fires that took place in Wilmington. Rather, this collection provides researchers with a thorough picture of the structure, membership, and management of a volunteer fire company in the early years of the United States.

Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes (1 inch)

Purchase, 1956

Processed by Carrie L. Foley, May 2003. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, June 2021.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2021 June 16
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

Constitution of the Friendship Fire Company and its Act of Incorporation, 1805 January 15.
Box 1 Folder F1
List of the Company's rules and regulations, 1805?.
Box 1 Folder F2
Scope and Contents

Item is undated, but probably written in 1805 at the time of incorporation.

Volume containing minutes, attendance records, and accounts, 1784-1828.
Box 1 Folder F3

Print, Suggest