RVA50 Object 14 “Richmond Theatre Fire Needlework Sampler”

Richmond Theatre Fire Needlework Sampler
Sally Washington Clark, 1812
Linen, silk

One of this city’s most tragic events was a fire that destroyed the Richmond Theatre on December 26, 1811.  On that night patrons had purchased 518 dollar tickets and 80 child tickets, with 50 additional people seated in the galleries of the theatre.  When the stage caught fire, the patrons had to fight their way through the building’s one door.  More than 10 percent of the attendees lost their lives that night, including the newly-appointed Governor of Virginia, George W. Smith.  This tragedy marked this early generation of citizens and civic leaders, who decided to build Monumental Church (1814) as a lasting memorial on the exact location of the theatre.

The design and the verse for this needlework piece were both taken from a printed broadside published in Richmond, Virginia, just after the fire.

One evening in December last,

The sixth and twentieth day,

The people that with joyful taste,

Did go to see a play.

While in the midst of joy and mirth

The house it caught on fire.

Hundreds enveloped in flames

And many did expire.

May theatres be done away

From off this earthly shore.

The houses put to better use

An Plays be seen no more.

 Museum Purchase, 1981