New England’s Great Snow of 1717

Scene at snow carnival, Lancaster, New Hampshire, photograph by Arthur Rothstein, February 1936; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Scene at snow carnival, Lancaster, New Hampshire, photograph by Arthur Rothstein, February 1936; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In February 1717 occurred the greatest fall of snow recorded in the annals of New England–almost burying under the frozen mass the small log houses of the new plantations. So effectively were even the most traveled roads blocked that the magistrates and ministers of Boston, who had come out of the town on the first day of the storm to attend the funeral of the Rev. Mr. Brattle at Cambridge, were unable to return for some days. The storm began on the 20th and ended on the 24th of February. Old Indians, of a hundred years, said that their fathers had never told them of such a snow.

It was six feet deep in the streets of Boston, ten feet at Dunstable, twelve feet at Deerfield,

Workmen dumping ice and snow from streets of Berlin, NH 1939, Marion Post Wolcott; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Workmen dumping ice and snow from streets of Berlin, NH 1939, Marion Post Wolcott; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

on the Connecticut. At Exeter and Dover, cottages and cabins of one story were entirely buried, so that the people dug paths from one home to another under the snow. Many farmers lost their sheep, and in some instances sheep and swine which they saved lived from one to two weeks without food. One man had some hens buried near his barn, which were dug out alive eleven days after. During the snow a great number of deer came from the woods for food and were followed by the wolves, which killed many. Others were shot by the people. It is related that some deer fled to Nahant, and chased by the wolves leaped into the sea and were drowned. Great damage was done to the fruit trees in the latter part of the storm, by the freezing of the damp snow to the branches, which were broken by the weight.

The mail from Boston was ten days in reaching Portsmouth and seven in returning. Hon. John Winthrop said in an account of the storm: “We lost at the island and farms 1100 sheep besides some horses and cattle. It was very strange that twenty-eight days after the storm, the people of Fisher’s Island in digging out the remains of one hundred sheep found two of them alive, which had kept themselves alive by feeding upon the wool of others.” For forty years after, the old people dated events as so many years after or before “the great snow.”

THE GREAT SNOW OF 1717 — Wednesday, February 27, 1886, New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene NH), Issue 4, page 1

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