Who started the fire and why, according to the Loyalists and the Patriots?

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The New York fire of 1776 was a big and highly destructive fire. It started at Fighting Cocks tavern in Whitehall, and it spread quickly from building to building partly because of the building construction of the time and how tightly together the buildings were built. The other contributing factor was the weather. Strong winds quickly spread the flames throughout the area. The Patriots and the Loyalists each blamed the other party because each side had reasons to ignite the blaze. The Loyalists thought that the Patriots started the blaze to deny housing to the British army. There is some merit to this notion, as the tactic was discussed by Washington and Congress prior to Washington removing his army from the area; however, Washington denied any knowledge of the fire's cause.

Providence—or some good honest fellow, has done more for us than we were disposed to do for ourselves.

The Patriots figured that the British set the blaze in order to more easily plunder the city. One Loyalist soldier even noted that some soldiers that fought the blaze were able to "pay themselves well by plundering other houses near by that were not on fire."

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A fire broke out in New York on September 21, 1776. The "Great Fire of New York," as it was later called, burned down nearly 1/3 of the city. It appeared that the fire started in several different places, so New York City residents immediately suspected arson.

British soldiers and Loyalists accused the American Revolutionaries of starting the fire to kill British soldiers and destroy British property. British General William Howe accused Patriots, and Governor William Tryon believed General George Washington had orchestrated the fire.

Patriots disagreed with this assessment and denied starting the blaze. They, in fact, placed the blame on the British. The Patriots claimed that the British wanted an excuse to plunder the possessions of New York City residents; the fire gave them the excuse they needed to do so.

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