From Joy to Sorrow
The General Assembly prepared for a day of "general Rejoicing" to take place on Friday, May 23rd.
People thronged to the town to participate. In the morning, churches rang their bells and ships in the Connecticut River unfurled their flags.
At noon, 21 cannons fired and the town prepared for a "general Illumination," an early form of fireworks.
The Connecticut Courant, as shown at left, described the scene as one of Joy and Gladness. People of all "Ranks and Degrees," meaning all parts of society, appeared to be enjoying the festivities.
But it was not to be.
As the Courant later stated, "Sudden was the Transition from the Height of Joy, to extreme Sorrow!"
A group of young men prepared the fireworks in the upper rooms of the town's brick schoolhouse, which stood to the southeast of the town's central square (now the block southeast of where Prospect Street meets State House Square). The General Assembly had rented it for this purpose.
At the same time, two companies of militia received gunpowder on the main floor of the schoolhouse so that they could take part in the festivities.
So many men and so much powder (a pound per person!) led to the scattering of the powder out of doors as people left the building.
A "Number of Boys," perhaps accompanying their fathers to collect the powder, without any malicious intent, set fire to some of the powder outside of the schoolhouse. Little did they know that so much powder had been scattered outside that it would wind its way back into the schoolhouse.
As the Courant reported, "in an Instant" the building was "reduc'd...to a Heap of Rubbish" as the building exploded, burying people "in its Ruins" and raining bricks into the crowd.