Colonial AmericaThe Angel of Death and the Great Boston Fire - 1760 Woodblock Printing Plate by Fowle and Draper
1760 Woodblock Printing Plate of the Angel of Death Flying over the Great Boston Fire, by Zechariah Fowle and Samuel Draper, Boston MA, Choice Very Fine.
This woodblock printing plate measures 5” x 3” x .75” and corresponds to a print of a burning city and the Angel of Death soaring above the city, as featured on page 282 of Reilly’s “Colonial American Printers” (1975). Two original copies of this print are held by the Library Company of Philadelphia (1760: 8595; 1762: 9116). This original woodblock was used to print this detailed illustration of a burning city from 1760--which Fowle and Draper would have printed for an almanack or broadside related to this event. Most likely it depicts the Great Boston Fire of March 20, 1760, in which 349 buildings were destroyed. The loss of property made it the worst fire to date in American colonies. A long history of smoldering towns had given colonial Americans a healthy appreciation for the threat that fire posed. Major "Great Fires" ravaged Charleston, South Carolina, in 1740, Boston in 1760, and a multitude of smaller fires had plagued other cities.
This outstanding engraving reflects that colonial fear. The city stretches out on both sides of the engraving, yet the centerpiece is very obviously the large winged angel of death surveying the harvest it is about to reap. Observers in rowboats and sailboats sitting in the water in the foreground watch in alarm as houses, churches and buildings on the hilly terrain emanate swirling billowing flames. The woodblock has a noticeable warp split along the middle of the bottom edge, but the plate is still useable and a great, historic find!
Fowle and Draper were two of the pre-eminent printers in colonial New England. Their partnership constituted one of the most successful printing companies at the time; in addition they provided noted printer Isaiah Thomas with his first apprenticeship!
On March 20, 1760, the dreaded cry of "Fire!" roused sleeping Bostonians. Over the next ten hours, the worst fire to strike a colonial American city ravaged the capital. Beginning in a tavern near the central market, the wind-whipped blaze spread quickly. The flames consumed shops and homes along King and Congress Streets and continued down to the wharves, where ten ships were left in ashes. Faced with staggering losses, Boston sought aid from the King and Parliament. While other colonies took up charitable collections for the city, the British government refused to help. Some historians have suggested that the Crown's indifference to Bostonians' plight after the Great Fire of 1760 was an early spur to the spirit of rebellion. (See: “Boston on Fire,” by Stephanie Schorow, 2003).