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Today In Charleston History: February 3 – Charleston First

FEBRUARY 3, 1736

The “Friendly Society for the Mutual Insuring of Houses Against Fire” was organized in Charlestown,by Charles and William Pinckney.  but was short lived. Four years later, the devastating Great Fire of 1740, destroyed over 300 buildings and bankrupted the company. However, the “Friendly Society” was the first fire insurance company established in the American colonies. 

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin brought together a group of Philadelphians to create the first North American property insurance company. Franklin named the company The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. Franklin’s company was more successful, and is often cited as the first fire insurance company, but it was sixteen years later than Charlestown’s ill-fated, short-livef Friendly Society.

At one point Charlestown had more than a dozen Fire Insurance Companies that issued metal fire markers to policyholders which signified their property was insured against fire damage. For owners the markers served as proof of insurance and a deterrent against arson. For insurance companies it served as a form of advertising, and alerted volunteer firefighters that the property was insured.

Local legend will tell you that a fire company would not extinguish the fire of a building without a marker since they would not be paid. That is false. Charlestown ordinances required all fire companies to respond to any conflagration. There was, however, a reward system for the first company on the scene of a fire, paid by the city.

Today you will see “fire mark plaques” on buildings throughout the city. Most of them are reproductions.

Fire markers on various Charleston buildings.

Fire markers on various Charleston buildings.

 

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