In the mid 1700s Boston created a reservoir, fed by wells and springs, for the storage of water for firefighting. Many towns required homeowners to own fire buckets in order to assist with fires and often the number of fire buckets that each citizen owned related to the size of their house. Pumping engines first appeared in 1679 and were filled with water either by a pump or by bucket brigades. In some places, like Boston, bucket brigades became such a tradition that they continued to be used even after better means for supplying the engines became available.
In houses, fire buckets were used to store bed keys and linen salvage bags. Bed keys were used to disassemble the household’s most valuable piece of furniture, the bed, and salvage bags were used to secure the smaller items of value, such as silver and jewelry.
The two fire buckets on the right are marked with the inscription “Sam Torrey 1796” on the front of the bucket and are inscribed “No. 4” on the side. Torrey was a merchant who lived in Boston during the Otises time. “No. 4” related to the location in Dock Square where he lived. Embossed near the seams of the buckets is the name “J.(James) Fenno.” Fenno was a leather bucket maker whose shop at 87 Orange Street (now Washington Street) was open from 1755 until 1850.
The fire bucket on the left belonged to the Otises and is marked “H.G.OTIS./1834”.
Pair of Fire Buckets (center and right)
John Fenno, maker
Boston, c. 1796
Fire Bucket (left)
Boston, c. 1834