When the British occupied New York, they found a city that seemed to cater to all of their wishes. Beautiful houses, nice restaurants, and citizens who seemed delighted that the British were there. All of this independence talk, many of the soldiers decided, was coming out of congress, and not the people, all of whom were pleasant and friendly.
Before leaving New York, Washington had considered burning the city to the ground so that the British would be unable to use and enjoy its benefits. He was, however, overruled by Congress, who directed him to leave the city undamaged, under the misguided belief that the British occupation would be of sort duration. The British enjoyed not only the “many fair houses” for quarters, but the plentiful amounts of food which was produced in harvest season.
But on September 20 through the 21st, a fire raged in New York that burned a large part of the city to the ground. Fire was always a great danger in any city, given the numerous wooden houses, and London had had its own share of fires. But the British found it hard to believe that the inferno that spread so quickly across the city was a mere accident. There were “lurking” villains General Howe said. Meanwhile, Governor William Tryon believed that Washington himself had devised the plot. Others believed that New England men had plotted to set fire to the town.
Hundreds of people were arrested, but no evidence was ever found that pointed to any single individual, and eventually these people were released.
According to Washington himself, the burning of New York was an accident. However, he wrote to Lund Washington, “Providence or some good honest fellow, has done more for us than we were disposed to do for ourselves.