Feuding Fire Companies – Hope and United, September 16, 1871

The Virginian newspaper reported on September 16,1871: About 9 o'clock on Saturday evening an outrage occurred in this city which, if the perpetrators are not brought to justice a foul blot will be cast upon the fair fame of our community, and which, occurring at this peculiar time, cannot be too strongly reprobated. For some time past a feeling of ill-will has been nursed and kept warm by several unfortunate collisions. On Saturday night it culminated in a wanton assault made by a number of the members of one company upon the other, and in the affray several parties were wounded by pistol shots.

Some 20-40 members of the United Hose Company in revenge for an alleged assault committed upon one of their members the previous night, proceeded to the Hope engine house. After ringing the bell the United took the hose reel out of the engine house. Only one member of the Hope was at the engine house at that time, and as he ran out he was fired upon twice. When he made his way back to the station house the alarm was sounded. The crowd marched down to Main Street, where a party of the members of the Hope stood collected nearly in front of the Atlantic saloon. A quarrel ensued, when there commenced an indiscriminate fire of pistols.

But, few of the Hope were armed, but some 20 shots were fired on both sides in the melee, while sticks and stones were freely used. The firing continued for some minutes, and several parties were injured. The attacking party then drew off and scattered. The wounded men were taken in charge and attended to. James Dernay, member of the United, was fatality shot in the back. The ball went through his body and lodged under the skin over the abdomen. Firefighter Dernay was taken to his house on Water Street to receive medical attention. He died 2 days later.

"Nothing short of a paid fire department will meet the exigencies of our position. The feud is too bitter to allow us to believe that these two companies can continue their organized existence without further bloodshed and danger to the public. We can conceive of no apology for this daring violation of the laws, and the community stands aghast at a realization of the fact that so large a number of our firemen have been found ready to participate in a deadly encounter in the chief thoroughfare of our city."

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