1822: Thomas Conn Flournoy to Captain Thomas E. Boswell

The 1816 Ohio State House in Columbus. It was threatened in 1822 and finally destroyed by fire in 1852, hastening the completion of the present state house.

This letter was written by Thomas Conn Flournoy (1796-18xx), a lawyer from Georgetown, Kentucky who was residing, in 1822, in Columbus, Ohio and serving as a State Representative in the Ohio Legislature, representing Franklin County. Thomas was the son of David John Flournoy (1760-1839) and Cassandra Conn (1776-1828) of Georgetown, Kentucky.

Flournoy wrote the letter to Thomas E. Boswell who came from Virginia to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1818 to manufacture hemp bagging and used his earnings to acquire real estate around Lexington and to speculate in Ohio lands. He served as a Lieutenant Colonel during the War of 1812 but was a Captain of militia in Lexington in 1822. Bowell owned the 40 acre tract of land that was purchased for the Lexington Cemetery in 1850. Boswell received some notoriety for the breeding of horses.

The February 1822 letter is significant for its description of the first serious fire in Columbus, Ohio, which destroyed eight buildings. Following the fire, the city council passed an ordinance establishing a fire company and selected 25 residents, led by a fire captain, who were to train on Saturdays as a fire brigade.

The city’s first fire engine was purchased in 1823 and the following year an engine house was built on the Public Square, east of the State House.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Captain Thomas E. Boswell, Lexington, Kentucky

Columbus, Ohio
9th February 1822

Dear Sir,

The night before last, Harel’s house ¹ took fire at about one o’clock. The flames spread rapidly in all directions. It was found impossible to arrest their progress for more than an hour in which time they had entirely consumed eight houses. The fire was particularly alarming on account of its nearness to the Statehouse, the public offices, and the United States Court House — the two latter of which buildings were for some time literally covered with cinders — blazing books and papers from Johnson’s bookstore.² There is not at this moment the appearance of a house on any part of your lot, nor a stick of lumber of any description. Such being the state of the case, I must decline taking the lot myself but will lease it for you to anybody else to the best advantage.

Of the eight houses burnt, I presume the two which belonged to me were worth as much as any other two.

It is a little remarkable that since I have lived in Columbus, one fourth of the houses burnt in town have belonged to me and that precisely one fourth of the horses stolen have also belonged to me. But who cares for all this? I am sure I do not! It is a rule with me never to mind accidents.

I wrote to you some weeks ago but have received no answer. Let me hear from you soon and believe me to be very respectfully yours? — T. C. Flournoy

¹ The 26 February 1822 issue of the Baltimore Patriot reported: “A fire at Columbus, Ohio, consumed several buildings occupied as shops by Mr. Harel, Jackson, Johnson, Dixon, and Anthony. The public offices would have all been burnt had not the night been perfectly calm.”

² The United States Court House was erected in Columbus in 1820. It was built on the Public Square in a line with the first state house and state offices, and fifty or sixty feet north of the latter. It was a plain brick building, with a rough stone foundation and two stories high. It was 45 or 50 feet square; the roof rose from the four sides to a circular dome in the center.



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