Friday, April 18, 2014

Detroit Firefighter Certificates in the Clarke

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Detroit Firefighter Certificates in the Clarke

By Marian Matyn

I recently cataloged two oversized certificates of two men who were early Detroit firemen. The certificate of Thomas Hanks is one of appointment as a Detroit fireman, undated, but definitely early to mid-nineteenth century. The certificate is nicely illustrated with an engraving of Poseidon, a female goddess holding a staff, two women, one with a baby, a river behind them, and a city with a fire in it in the distant background. The engraver was Geo. W. Hatch. The phrase "Protection and Benevolence" is included. It was signed by F. Huhl, Treasurer. At the bottom, is an engraving of a small, hand-pulled, hand pump engine with "Wolvereen [sic] 3" handwritten onto it. There is some slight damage. There was a grocer named Thomas Hanks in the 1861 Detroit city directory. He is possibly this fireman.

The other certificate is for John Quigley as an active member of the Detroit fire department, 1858. This certificate is engraved on canvas which measures approximately 16 x 13 inches. It is attached at the top to brown cardboard which measures approximately 17.5 x 20 inches. The certificate is beautifully engraved in blue, yellow, pink, brown, black, and green colors, with two firemen in uniform, firefighting equipment, including a hand-pulled hand pump, leaves, Poseidon with two water creatures, and an engraved seal of Michigan. The phrase "Fire department incorporated 1840" is at the top of the certificate and also on a blue seal in the center of the certificate surrounded by circles. Within the circles, Quigley's status was attested to by secretary B. Vernor [or Vernon], president Robert B. Roberts, and treasurer Alex. Paton, Aug. 11, 1858. The certificate was engraved by Capewell and Kimmel of New York. The certificate is badly stained, dirty, and is not completely square. John Quigley is a fairly common name at this time in Detroit and Michigan so further identification of him is impossible.

The fire department in Detroit was incorporated in 1840. Prior to this firefighters were all volunteers. Very little is known about early firemen of Detroit. None of the men listed on the certificates are identified in books about the fire department's history.

To learn more about the fire department of Detroit you can search the CENTRA catalog for these terms:
  • Detroit (Mich.) Fire Dept.--History
  • or for various departments search Fire departments--Michigan
I am very proud to say that my great-uncle Remy Matyn and his two sons, Edwin and Fred, were members of the Detroit Fire Department. They served in the early twentieth century and are identified in the Detroit Fire Dept. history books. If you have any questions about archival collections, contact Marian Matyn at