Defying the Odds: The Inspiring Legacy of Defiance Fire Company No. 2 in Statesville's History

Last Updated 2/5/2024Posted in Latest City News, Statesville Fire Department, Homepage

In the wake of the Civil War's end in May 1865, the United States embarked on a journey of recovery and rebuilding. It was a challenging time, especially for communities that had been devastated by fires. Statesville was one such community that had suffered catastrophic fires in the late 19th century, prompting the need for organized fire protection.

In 1876, in response to the recent fire disasters, Statesville took a significant step by establishing a fire company to safeguard its residents and property. This marked the beginning of a new era in fire protection for the town.

However, it wasn't until around 1894 that a group of determined individuals from the Black community in Statesville came together to form one of the first all-black fire companies in North Carolina. They named themselves Defiance Fire Company No. 2, and their mission was clear: to protect their community and defy the odds stacked against them.  The inaugural officers of the company were elected in May 1894 and included J.P. Murphy as President, Fred F. Chambers as 1st Director, S.G. Grey as 2nd Director, George W. Steward as 3rd Director, R.D. Baily as Secretary, J.A. Richardson as Treasurer, and J.W. Gaither as Janitor.

Defiance Fire Company No. 2 started with just 15 members, but their determination was unmatched. They knew that unity and preparedness were key to their success. On July 4, 1899, the company organized a contest between their reel teams.  The race started at the square of town and went to a hydrant 240 yards away. It was Team No. 1 under the command of J.P. Murphy that emerged victorious.

In August 1899, members of Defiance Fire Company No. 2 proudly represented their company at the Colored State Fireman's Association meeting in Washington, N.C. They were gaining recognition not just locally, but within the larger fire service community.

As they entered the new century in September 1900, Defiance Fire Company No. 2 prepared for contests at the meeting of The Colored State Fireman's Association in Salisbury. Their dedication was evident as they selected a reel team and expressed gratitude to Wallace Bros. Company for generously providing a bolt of cloth to make new pants for their uniforms.

In June 1902, Defiance Fire Company No. 2 took a significant step to improve their firefighting skills by deciding to send a team to the State Fireman's Association in Raleigh. They reached out to the community, soliciting contributions to support their preparations, highlighting their commitment to service and self-improvement.

By 1905, Statesville boasted a roster of 125 Black volunteer firefighters, a testament to the growth and importance of Defiance Fire Company No. 2 within the community.

May 7, 1907, saw the Colored Fire Company undergo reorganization, aiming to retain efficient members and reduce their numbers for better control, ensuring that their operations ran smoothly.

The legacy of Defiance Fire Company No. 2 continued to burn bright throughout the years. In 1958, two of the last remaining members, Melvin Feimster and John Quincy Davidson, retired after an incredible 45 years of dedicated service to their community. Their commitment and sacrifice served as an enduring symbol of the resilience and determination of Defiance Fire Company No. 2, a trailblazing institution that had defied the odds and made an indelible mark on the history of firefighting in North Carolina.

Melvin Feimster

John Quincy Davidson

The known members of Defiance Fire Company No. 2 formed a dedicated and courageous team that stood at the forefront of protecting their community. Among these members were individuals like J.P. Murphy, Fred F. Chambers, S.G. Grey, George W. Stewart, R.D. Baily, J.A. Richardson, J.W. Gaither, R.B. Murdoch, H.C. Cowan, Jack C. Sprouse, John P. Robinson, J.W. Campbell, Lee Martin, John P. Chambers, P.W. Steele, W.M. Hunter, Lee Dunnigan, Barney Stewart, Gus Byers, B.L. Moore, Adolphus Crawford, Henry Roberts, J.A. Chambers, J.A.W. Byers, J.P. Fraley, Thomas Allison, Henry Hall, J.A. Sherrill, Nick Williams, J.W. Hampton, T.G. Bitting, John Gray, Melvin Feimster, and John Quincy Davidson. Each member contributed their skills, dedication, and bravery to Defiance Fire Company No. 2, leaving an indelible mark on the history of firefighting and their community, and ensuring that their legacy continued to inspire generations to come.

Captain John Gray

Captain Luther McNeely

Unknown Defiance Member

Special thanks are extended to Captain Matt Thompson and Dr. Steve Hill for their invaluable work and dedication in uncovering and preserving the history of Defiance Fire Company No. 2.

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