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Richmond Theater Fire of 1811

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  • Sen. Abraham Bedford Venable (DemRep-VA) (1758 - 1811)
    grave Abraham Bedford Venable (November 20, 1758 – December 26, 1811) was a representative and senator from Virginia. He was the uncle of congressman Abraham Watkins Venable. Born on "State Hill"...
  • Ann Wills (1768 - 1811)
    Sometimes listed as "Mary Ann Wills," she married under the name "Ann" at St John's Church in Richmond on July 1, 1786. Her older sister was "Mary" (1757-1810) and married Col Richard Napier. Named i...
  • Mary Clay (1789 - 1811)
    grave Miss Mary Clay, daughter of Matthew Clay, U.S. Congressman. She lived in Madison Ward. She was a victim of the 26 Dec 1811 Richmond Theatre Fire. Her name was inscribed on the West side of the ...
  • Richard Dabney (1787 - 1825)
    Richard Dabney: died after the fire and possibly of related health issues, although his death was sometimes reported. John Hastings Marks to Reuben Lewis (half-brother of Meriwether Lewis), January 22,...
  • Rep. John G. Jackson (DR-VA) (1777 - 1825)
    ) John George Jackson (September 22, 1777 – March 28, 1825) was a U.S. Representative and federal judge from Virginia, the son of George Jackson, brother of Edward B. Jackson, and grandfather of Wi...

The Richmond Theatre fire occurred in Richmond, Virginia, United States on December 26, 1811. It devastated the Richmond Theatre, located on the north side of Broad Street between what is now Twelfth and College Streets. The fire, which killed 72 people including many government officials, was the worst urban disaster in American history at the time. A monument church was erected on the site as a memorial to the disaster.

Credited with helping save lives was Gilbert Hunt, a former slave who had purchased his freedom, then a blacksmith whose shop was located near the theatre. Along with Dr. James McCaw, a physician who was attending the theatre that evening, Hunt was credited with saving close to a dozen people. McCaw would lower them from the burning second story, and Hunt would catch them. Hunt also saved McCaw, who jumped just as a burning section of wall was about to fall on him. Today Hunt is memorialized by a historical marker on the site. A book, entitled Gilbert Hunt, the City Blacksmith, later was published in his honor and to provide financial assistance for him in his old age.

Of the 72 who died in the fire 54 were women and 18 were men. Among the victims were Virginia's sitting governor, George William Smith, and former senator Abraham B. Venable; the governor had purportedly tried to save his child from the flames. Also killed were Benjamin Botts, of Dumfries, and his wife; Botts had made a name for himself as a member of the defense in Aaron Burr's 1807 trial for treason.

Names of the Victims

The names inscribed on the monument, (which is of white marble and enclosed by a substantial wrought-iron railing, in the middle of the front or main porch to the church,) are the following:

On the South Side or Face of monument:

Benjamin Botts, William Brown, George Dixon, Robert Ferril, Thomas Frayser, James Gibbon, Edwin J. Harvie, Joseph Jacobs, Thomas Lacroix, Almarine Marshall, Nuttal, Pleasant, John B. Rizi, John Schaub, George Wm. Smith, William Southgate, Abraham B. Venable, James Walden, Edward Wanton, John Welch.

On the East Side or Face of the Monument:

Adeline Bausman, Sarah C. Conyers, Margaret Copland, Elvira Coutts, Ann Craig, Judith Elliott, Fanny Graff, Patsy Griffin, Julia Harvie, Arianna Hunter, Eliza Jacobs, Littlepage, Maria Nelson , Mary Page, Charlotte Raphael, Eliza Stevenson, Cicilia Trouin, Sophia Trouin, Jane Wade.

On the North Side or Face of the Monument:

Mary Bosher, Jane Botts, Anna F. Braxton, Josephine Convert and child, Rebecca Cook and child, Mary Davis, Mary Gallego, Mary Geradine and child, Eleanor Gibson, Ann Greenhow, Sarah Herron, Jerrod, Betsy Johnson, La forest, Ann Leslie, Zipporah Marks, Moss, Elizabeth Page, Elizabeth Patterson, Pickett, Scott. Lucinda C. Wilson.

On the West Side or Face of the Monument:

Margaret Anderson, Mary Clay, Sally Gatewood, Ann Morton Green, Lucy Gwathmey, Judith Judah, Louisa Mayo, Nancy Patterson, Mary Gabriella Whitlock.


Gilbert Hunt - one of the heros

Information about survivors

victim stories