ON THE SITE OF A THEATRE WHOSE BURNING MOVED THE ENTIRE COUNTRY
“Last night the playhouse in this city was crowded with an unusual audience. There could not have been less than 600 persons in the house. Just before the conClusion of the play, the scenery caught fire, and in a few minutes the whole building was wrapt in flames. It is already ascertained that 61 persons were devoured by that most terrific element. The Editor of this paper was in the house when the ever-to-be-remembered, deplorable accident occurred. He is informed that the scenery took fire in the back part of the house, by raising of a chandelier; that the boy, who was ordered by some of the players to raise it, stated, that if he did so, the scenery would take fire, when he was commanded in a peremptory manner, to hoist it. The boy obeyed, and the fire was instantly communicated to the scenery.”
This story the editor of the Richmond (Virginia) American Standard told in the columns of his paper on Friday, December 27, 1811. He added the fact that among those who perished were the Governor of the State, as well as many of the leaders in the business and social life of the city.
By order of the city council the remains of the victims were buried on the site of the burned building, which was bought for the purpose. At the same time it was ordered that ” no person or persons should be permitted for and during the time of four months . . . to exhibit any public show or spectacle . . . within the city.”
By ordinance it was also decreed that a monument should be erected on the site. Later it was suggested that there should be built there, by public subscription, “an edifice to be set apart and consecrated for the worship of God,” and that this should be the monument.
Accordingly, on August 1, 1812, the corner stone of the Monumental Church was laid, the lot having been purchased by the city for $5,000. The building was consecrated as a Protestant Episcopal church in May, 1814. In April, 1815, the subscribers to the fund for the building, who had organized under the title, ” The Association for building a Church on Shockoe Hill,” were notified that one-half of their subscription money would be returned to them on application at the Bank of Virginia.
In the middle of the front or main porch of the church a white marble monument was erected to the memory of the victims of the fire.
To the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal church, which assembled in Philadelphia on May 18, 1814, report was made that ” a magnificent church has sprung up in Richmond from the ashes of the Theatre; it has the patronage and support of men of the greatest talents and highest rank in Virginia.”
Among the communicants of the Monumental Church have been numbered many of the most prominent men in the Virginia capital, and men famous in the early history of the country were attendants from time to time. In February, 1824, General Lafayette worshipped in the building.