A little after midnight on September 21, 1776, the Fighting Cocks Tavern on Whitehall Street caught on fire. The drunken revelers inside the tavern were unable to stop the blaze, and it soon raged into a dangerous inferno, spreading up the west side of Manhattan.
Some reports state that the fire started accidentally in the tavern fireplace. But was it actually set on purpose – on the orders of George Washington?
To understand that damning speculation, we unfurl the events that lead up to that moment – from the first outrages against the British by American colonists to the first sparks of the Revolutionary War. Why did New York get caught up so early in the war and what were the circumstances that led to the city falling into British hands?
Underneath this expansive story is another, smaller story – that of a young man on a spy mission, sent by Washington into enemy territory. His name was Nathan Hale, and his fate would intersect with the disastrous events of September 21, 1776.
PLUS: The legacy of St. Paul’s Chapel, a lasting reminder not only of the Great Fire of 1776 but of an even greater disaster which occurred almost exactly 225 years later.
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