Newspaper Accounts of the New Madrid Earthquake
Friday, February 14, 1812
Nashville, (Ten.) January 21
Previous to my leaving the country I heard that many parts of the Mississippi river had caved in; in some places several acres at the same instant. But the most extraordinary effect that I saw was a small lake below the river St. Francis. The bottom of which is blown up higher than any of the adjoining country, and instead of water it is filled with a beautiful white sand. The same effect is produced in many other lakes, or I am informed by those who saw them; and it is supposed they are generally filled up. A little river called Pemisece, that empties into the St. Francis, and runs parallel with the Mississippi, at the distance of about twelve miles from it, is filled also with sand. I only saw it near its bend, and found it to be so, and was informed by respectable gentlemen who had seen it lower down, that it was positively filled with sand. On the sand that was thrown out of the lakes and river lie numerous quantities of fish of all kinds common to the country.
The damage to stock, &c. was unknown. I heard of only two dwelling houses, a granary, and smoke house, being sunk. One of the dwelling houses was sunk twelve feet below the surface of the earth; the other the top was even with the surface. The granary and smoke house were entirely out of sight; we suppose sunk and the earth closed over them. The buildings through the country are much damaged. We heard of no lives being lost, except seven Indians, who were shaken into the Mississippi. - This we learned from one who escaped.
Previous to the shocks coming on, we heard a rumbling noise like that of thunder. They continued until I left the country - some very sincere. - I cannot tell how many there were.
The above account is confirmed by letters from the country. A gentleman attempting to pass from Cape Girardeau to the pass of St. Francis, found the earth so much cracked and broke, that it was impossible to get along. The course must be about 50 miles back of the Little Prairie. Others have experienced the same difficulty in getting along, and at times had to go miles out of their way to shun those chasms.
We have no idea that the principal cause of the shocks originated on the Mississippi - we have not yet heard the worse."
On Friday morning, the 7th inst. about 4 o'clock, a shock of an earthquake was severly felt in this town. The effects of the convulsion were much more sensibly felt, than the one which happened on the 16th of December. Many of the houses were violently shaken.
The following extract, taken from a letter received from Mr. Zadock Cramer, to his friend in this place, dated Natchez, Jan. 23, 1812 serves to corroborate the account hitherto received besides noting other remarkable phenomena in nature, with which we have not before become acquainted.
"This morning at eight o'clock, another pretty severe shock of an earthquake was felt. Those on the 16th ult. and since done much damage on the Mississippi river, from the mouth of the Ohio to Little Prairie particularly. Many boats have been lost, and much property sunk. The banks of the river, in many places, sunk hundreds of acres together, leaving the tops of the trees to be seen above the water. The earth opened in many places from one to three feet wide, through whose fissures stone coal was thrown up in pieces as large as a man's hand. The earth rocked - trees lashed their tops together. The whole seemed in convulsions, throwing up sand bars here, there sinking others, trees jumping from the bed of the river, roots uppermost, forming a most serious impediment to navigation, where before there was no obstruction - boats rocked like cradles - men, women and children confused, running to and fro and hallooing for safety - those on land pleading to get into the boats - those in boats willing almost to be on land. This damning and distressing scene continued for several days, particularly at and above Flour island. The long reach now, though formerly the best part of the river is said to be the worst being filled with innumerable planters and sawyers which have been thrown up from the bed by the extraordinary convulsions of the river. Little Prairie, and the country about it, suffered much - new lakes having been formed, and the bed of old ones raised to the elevation of the surface of the adjacent country. All accounts of those who have descended the river since the shocks give the most alarming and terrific picture of the desolating and horrible scene."
Friday, March 13, 1812
Mississippi River, Natchez
February 18, 1812
Your being editors of the useful guide, the Ohio and Mississippi Navigator, induces me, for the sake of the western country traders to inform you as early as in my power the wonderful changes for the worse in some parts of the Mississippi river, occasioned by the dreadful earthquake which happened on the morning of the 16th of December last, and which has continued to shake almost every day since. As to its effects on the river I found but little from the mouth of Ohio to New Madrid, from which place to the Chickasaw Bluffs, or Fort Pickering, the face of the river is wholly changed, particularly from Island No. 30, to island No. 40; (see page 185) this part of the river burst and shook up hundreds of great trees from the bottom, and what is more singular they are all turned roots upwards and standing upstream in the best channel and swiftest water, and nothing but the greatest exertions of the boatmen can save them from destruction in passing those places. I should advise all those concerned to be particular in approaching Island No. 32, where you must warp through a great number, and when past them, bear well over from the next right hand point for fear of being drawn into the right schute of Flour Island, Island 33, which I should advise against, as that pass is become very dangerous unless in very high water. Two boats from Little Beaver are lately lost, and several much injured in that pass this season. Boats should hug the left shore where there is but few sawyers, and good water and fine landing on the lower point of the island, from there the next dangerous place is the Devil's Race Ground, Island No. 36, (page 187). Here I would advise boats never to pass to the left of the island and by all means to keep close to the right hand point, and then close round the sandbar on the lower end of the schute is very dangerous and the gap so narrow that boats can scarcely pass without being dashed on some of the snags, and should you strike one you can scarcely extricate yourself before you receive some injury. From this scene you have barely time to breathe and refresh, before you arrive at the Devil's Elbow, alias the Devil's Hackle, Islands No. 38 and 39 (p. 188) by far the worst of all; in approaching this schute you must hug close around the left hand point until you come in sight of the sand bar whose head has the appearance of an old field full of trees, then pull for the island to keep clear of these, and pass through a small schute, leaving all the island sawyers to the right, and take care not to get too near them, for should you strike the current is so rapid it will be with great difficulty you will be able to save, your boat and cargo.
I shall advise all those descending the river not to take the right hand of Island No. 38, as it appears entirely choked up with drift and rafts of sawyers. When through these bad places the worst is over, only fuller of snags, but mind well the directions in the Navigator and there will be no danger. Run the Grand Cut-off No. 55, (p. 192) in all stages of the water, and hug close the right hand point, this pass is good. Take the left of St. Francis No. 59, left of No. 62, right of large sand bar and Island No. 63, and right of No. 76, in all the different stages of the water. All these channels are much the best and safest. Should this be the means of saving one boat load of provisions to an industrious citizen, how amply shall I feel rewarded for noting this, whilst with gratitude I acknowledge the obligation we as boatmen are under to you for your useful guide, that excellent work the Ohio and Mississippi Navigator, much to be valued for its accuracy and geographical account of this immense country.
I have the honor to be, gentlemen, your sincere friend and humble servant.
"SIGNS OF THE TIMES"
Has such a succession of Earthquakes as have happened within a few weeks been experienced in this country five years ago, they would have excited universal terror. The extent of territory which has been shaken, nearly at the same time, is astonishing - reaching on the Atlantic coast from Connecticut to Georgia and from the shores of the ocean inland to the State of Ohio. What power short of Omnipotence, could raise and shake such vast portion of this globe? What a tremendous natural agent must have ( sed) to produce such mighty effects as stated that in North Carolina a volcano has appeared, and that in an eruption a few days since, a flood of lava poured out which ran to the distance of three quarters of a mile. - The period is portentous and alarming. We have within a few years seen the most wonderful eclipses, the year past has produced a magnificent comet, the earthquakes within the past two months have been almost without number - and in addition to the whole, we constantly "hear of wars and summons of wars." May not the same enquiry be made of us that was made by the hypocrites of old - "Can ye not discern the signs of the times."
Wednesday, December 25, 1811
Richmond, (Vir.) Dec. 16.
An earthquake was witnessed by many people in the city - about three o'clock in the morning there were three successive shocks; another about 6; and again about 8. Several persons were under a persuasion that thieves had broken into their houses; and in one of the most elevated houses of the city, the bells, both above and below, were set a ringing.
Norfolk, December 16.
This morning two distinct shocks of an earthquake were felt in this place: The first, and (according to most accounts) the most violent, was about 3 o'clock. It was so severe as to awaken a number of persons out of their sleep. The shock, at two very short intervals, might have continued about a minute. The shaking of the beds is described as if a strong man had taken hold on the posts, and shook them with all the violence in his power. Several clocks were stopped. The houses were shaking with great violence. Again about eight o'clock another shock was felt by a great number of persons, as many had risen; this was also very violent. The most sensible effect produced by this, that we have yet learned, was that of throwing a pipe of wine off the skids, in a warehouse, in Commerce street.
Charleston, Dec. 16
An Earthquake - This morning, a few minutes before three o'clock, a severe shock of an earthquake was felt in this city. Its duration is supposed to have been between two and three minutes. For an hour previous, though the air was perfectly calm, and several stars visible, there was, at intervals of about five minutes, a rumbline noise, resembling distant thunder; which increased in violence of sound, just before the shock was felt. The vibrations of St. Phillip's steeple caused the clock bell to ring about 10 seconds. Two other shocks were felt this morning, one a little before 8 o'clock, and the other ten minutes after that hour; both slighter than the first, and of shorter duration: the vibrations of the second lasted probably rather more than a minute, and of the last two or three seconds. Many of the clocks were stopped; and the water of the different wells was much agitated. We have not heard of any damage having been done by these repeated shocks; nor have we heard how far they have extended into the country; except that they were felt at Rantowle's.
Such phenomena, until lately, were very rare. One is remembered to have happen on the 19th May, 1754, about 11 o'clock, A.M.; but it was very slight. Another slight one was felt on the 11th April, 1799, about 1 o'clock in the morning. In the year 1811, on the 13th January, another occurred, and was felt at Columbia and Granby, in this state, and in Augusta in Georgia, but not in Charleston.
Alexandria, Jan. 24.
A shock of an Earthquake was distinctly felt in this town yesterday morning, about 20 minutes after nine o'clock. Its duration was sopposed to be about 30 seconds, and its motions from N.W. to S.E. Considerable sensation was excited by this event.
New York, January 24.
Another Earthquake - A correspondent at Jamaici (L.I.) under date of this day, says - "Yesterday morning, at fifteen minutes after nine o'clock, a shock of an earthquake was sensibly felt in this village. Every thing suspended in my store was set in motion for more than a minute. The motion was a steady swinging backward and forward. The shock was felt also by my family, and by several of our neighbors."
We understand that the shock was noticed by many people in this city.
Arkport, (N.Y.) Jan. 6
Messrs. Miner & Butler,
A very singular phenomenon took place near Angelica, in the country of Allegany, on Monday morning the 16th of December, which I will state, as related to me by one of the eye witnesses. Early in the morning, about sunrise as sitting at breakfast, he had a strange feeling, and supposed at first that he was fainting, but as his sight did not fail, he then concluded that he was going into a fit, and removed his chair back from the table. - He then had a sensation as though the house was swinging and observed clothes hanging on lines in the room were swinging, as also a large kettle hanging over the fire. He observed that his wife and family appeared to be greatly alarmed, and still supposing that it was in consequence of his apparently falling into a fit, but on enquiry found that all felt the same sensation. This continued as he supposed for at least 15 minutes. There was no noise or trembling, nor any wind, but only an appearance of swinging or rocking, as he supposed, equal to the house rocking two feet one way and the other. - One of his neighbors felt the same, and on the opposite side of the river, at the farmhouse and dwelling house of Phillip Church, the same motions and sensations were felt. Mrs. Church was in bed, and when she first felt the motion, and a strange sensation as if suffocating, she jumped out of bed, supposing the house was on fire. The motion was so considerable as to set all the bells in the several rooms a ringing, and an inside door was observed to swing open and shut.
The same motions were felt up the river, about eight miles above, at a house near a small brook; the people ran out of the house, and observed the water to have the same motion. Accounts state, that the same motions have been felt at sundry other places 30 miles distant.
I could relate many other similar motions felt and perceived at the same time, but leave it for the present. How to account for it I know not. If you think it worthy of notice, you may make it public, and if the same or similar motions have been felt at other places, doubtless it will be communicated. I should like to hear it accounted for on rational principles.
Baltimore. Jan. 27
Extract of a letter dated West River, January 23.
"This morning, at about 9 o'clock, a friend of mine, Captain Franklin, miss Webster, and myself, had just sat down to breakfast, when Captain F. observed, "What's that? An Earthquake!" at the same instant, we felt as if we were in the cabin of a vessel, during a heavy swell. This sensation continued for one or two minutes, possibly longer. For although I had the presence of mind to take out my watch, I felt too sick to accurately observe its duration. The feeling was by no means tremulous, but a steady vibration. A portrait, about four feet in length, suspended from the ceiling by a hook and staple, and about five eights of an inch from the side wall, vibrated at least from eighteen inches to 2 feet each side, and so very steady, as not to touch the wall. My next neighbour and his daughter felt the same sensation about the same time. The father supposed it was the gout in his head. The daughter got up and walked to a window, supposing the heat of the fire had caused what she considered a faintness. Two others that I have seen mentioned to have felt the same, but none of them had thought of an earthquake. The two last being mechanics, and up late, mentioned that they were much alarmed at about 11 o'clock last night, by a great rumbling, as they thought, in the earth, attended with several flashes of lightning, which so lighted the house, that they could have picked up the smallest pin - one mentioned, that the rumbling and the light was accompanied by a noise like that produced by throwing a hot iron into snow, only very loud and terrific, so much so, that he was fearful to go out to look what it was, for he never once thought of an earthquake. I have thrown together the above particulars, supposing an extract may meet with corroborating accounts, and afford some satisfaction to your readers.
P.S. - The lightning and rumbling noise came from the south - I have just heard of its being felt in several other houses, but not any particulars more than related.
Easton, (Md.) . Jan. 25.
The Earthquake - Last Thursday morning, about nine o'clock, the shock of an Earthquake was very sensibly felt in this place. The vibratory motion, which continued nearly a minute, seemed to be north and south, and was so violent that the pendulums of several clocks stopped vibrating, and the weights were thrown into an irregular and confused motion. Considerable giddiness, some nausea, much wonder, and a little terror, were among the consequences.
Annapolis, Jan. 23.
An Earthquake - A severe shock of an earthquake was experienced by a number of persons in this city yesterday morning, the 22nd inst. about sixteen minutes before ten o'clock. Its duration is supposed to have been about two or three minutes, from beginning to end, and its direction apparently from E. to S.W. This phenomenon was dissimilar in its nature and effects from any of the kind that we have heretofore heard of, as it was not accompanied or preceded by the usual rumbling noise, nor any sudden concussion of the earth, but a continued roll, similar to that of a vessel in a heavy sea. One circumstance which renders its effect more singular is, that it was very sensibly felt by some, while others altho' in same room, and perhaps within a few feet of them, were not in the least affected by its operation, and those who were in the street, or open air, were insensible as to any extraordinary motion of the earth. The first intimation to those who experienced its effects was from the motion of every thing around them, and a sudden and deadly sickness, accompanied with a giddiness in the head. We judge of the severity of the shock from the motion which was given to substances saspended from the ceilings of houses. The fairest opportunity that was presented (to our knowledge) of judging of its force and direction, was from an ostrich egg which was suspended by a string of about a foot in length from a first floor ceiling, which was caused to oscillate at least four inches from point to point. We are informed that the steeple of the State House, which is supposed to be 250 feet in height, vibrated at least 6 or 8 feet at the top, and the motion was perceptible for 8 or 10 minutes. A number of clocks were stopped, and the ice in the river and bay cracked considerably. Some persons, who were skaiting, were very much terrified, and immediately made for the shore. In the lower part of the city it appears to have been most forcible, some people abandoning their homes, for the purpose of seeking safety in the open air. It is said that a noise like distant thunder was heard about 4 o'clock in the morning, and a slight motion of the earth observed about 8, but neither were very sensibly heard or felt.
There was nothing extraordinary in the atmosphere, except that it was remarkably calm, and rather inclined to be warm, altho' there was a deep snow on the ground, and for several days past it had been extremely cold.
FROM THE NORFOLK HERALD
Extract of a letter from a gentleman who in descending the river Mississippi, to his father in Norfolk, dated Chickasaw Agency, Dec. 17, 1811.
"On the 13th we reached the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi; and on the 14th we entered the father of rivers, on the 15th we passed New Madrid, a small settlement in the upper Louisiana, and at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 16th, we sensibly felt the jar of a distant convulsion, which we conjectured to be an earthquake, caused by eruption of some operations far to the west of the Mississippi. - We hope in God that its seat was far from human habitation. - We have frequently heard a distant noise like thunder since; the 16th was indeed a solemn, awful, and gloomy day; but now all seems quiet and serene; safety has returned our cheerfulness to us, and our hearts are warmed with grateful thanks to the Supreme Ruler of Nature for our preservation. From Natchez or New Orleans I will write you a full and minute account of the convulsions."
Raleigh, (N.C.) Jan. 24
The Earthquake. - A letter has been received in this city, from a gentleman of the first respectability in Tennessee, which states that the Earthquake, so generally felt on the 16th of Dec. was so violent in the vicinity of his residence, that several chimnies were thrown down, and that eighteen or twenty acres of land on Piney river had suddenly sunk so low, that the tops of the trees were on a level with the surrounding earth. Four other shocks were experienced on the 17th, and one or more continued to occur every day to the 30th aft., the date of the letter.
A slight shock of an Earthquake was felt in this city about eight o'clock yesterday morning. It continued only a few seconds.
From the New York Evening Post
Yesterday morning, at half past four o'clock, a smart shock of an earthquake was felt in this city. During the last two-months, this city, and every town in the U. States to the Southward of us, have been visited with one or more earthquakes.
From Poulson's American Daily Advertiser
Several distinct shocks for undulations of the earth were felt in this city on Friday morning, a few minutes before 4 o'clock. To several persons it appeared as if their bedsteads were raised under them by a pressure below.
One gentleman described it, as being so violent as to force open the folding doors of a wardrobe in his bed chamber, and others, state, that their chamber doors were thrown open, and articles loosely suspended from the ceilings and walls were kept in a state of oscillation for more than a minute. The undulations were more sensibly felt in the southern, than in the northern part of the city.
THE EARTHQUAKE which happened this morning was, by my watch, at 4 h. 24 m. A.M. - I find by T. Parker's regulator, that my watch was slow 3 M. 30 s. This will give the correct time, 4 h. 27 m. 30 s. A.M. The duration of the trembling was at least 1 m. 30 s. probably 2 m. with short intervals of quickness. The person who awakened me at the commencement stated, that it began with a noise resembling the very quick passage of a dray over hard ground. The motion appeared to be from West to East, or from East to West.
All the furniture in my chamber was much agitated, particularly the bed on which I slept, and the drawer handles of a desk and book case, standing on the west side, which continued rattling for some seconds after the motions of the bedstand had ceased.
I send you these remarks with the assurance that you may depend on the correctness of the time. - Perhaps some other persons may have made similar observations, in different places; by comparing which together an idea may be formed, of the centre from which the numerous late shocks have proceded. Yours, Sc. W.V. Feb. 7, 1812
We are informed (says the Baltimore Federal Gazette of Friday last) by several persons of respectability, that a shock of an Earthquake was very sensibly felt here this morning about half past four o'clock.