Earthquakes in New England

Eighteen years after the pilgrim fathers landed on Plymouth rock they experienced their

Chinatown in San Francisco after 1906 earthquake

View of Chinatown buildings in ruins following the earthquake in 1906 San Francisco, California. DN-0053564, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum. From American Memory

first New England earthquake. This was in 1638, and was very severe, so much so as to throw persons to the ground. Since it occurred down to the year 1850 one hundred and

forty-nine earthquakes are registered as having been experienced in these Eastern States, of which 40 happened in winter, 16 in the spring, 32 in summer and 46 in autumn, while of 15 the year only is stated.  Nearly twice as many have occurred in winter and autumn as in spring and summer. In these cooler latitutdes the severest earthquakes take place in cool or cold weather, a rule that in the tropical countries is reversed.  The shock of November 18, 1855, was very severe. “Let this shock be repeated,” writes W.T. Brigham “and half Boston would be destroyed and the loss of life would be terrible.”  It came near being repeated October 20, 1870.

New York and Philadelphia have never experienced one of these convulsions in any considerable degree of severity. But the site of Montreal, Quebec, Cincinnati and Chicago has in time past been fearfully shaken. The extraordinary visitation of the winter of 1663 convulsed all Canada in a most surprising manner. It lasted six months, and shook down mountains, turned the course of rivers, and made havoc of the whole land. In the valley of the Mississippi, the first shock on record is set down for 1776. Others occurred in 1791, 1795 and 1796.  Then in 1804 one took place near the site of the city of Chicago, and of such severity that should it be repeated the city would suffer terribly.   In 1811, Nov 16, began an earthquake of which a writer in the Atlantic truly says: “Since human history began, the earth has rarely been shaken by a more tremendous convulsion.” Its repetition would endanger the safety of all our Western cities.  Some writer affirms it to have been as severe as the great shock that destroyed Lisbon in 1755.  The seat of the disturbance was at New Madrid fifty miles below the mouth of the Ohio river. Here, from Nov 16 to Dec. 28, over sixty-seven shocks were counted. Fifty miles below St. Louis, five hundred shocks were counted; then the enumerator ceased counting for very weariness of the rumbling task.  At Cincinnati, over one hundred shocks were counted. At Columbia, S.C., plaster fell from ceilings, while the bells of Charleston were rung by the rocking steeples.  Washington was alarmed by the seismic throbs.  On the Mississippi valley, the ground rose and sank in awful waves, and split into chasms one or two hundred feet in depth. This remarkable earthquake reached from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic ocean, and lasted full two years, the movements never ceasing until 1813.

(original article named “Earthquakes in America”) From: New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, NH), Volume: LXXIII, Issue 30, Page 1; Thursday July 27, 1871


Earthquakes in the United States, From “Earthquake Investigation in the United States, Special Publication No. 282, 1958 edition, United States Government Printing Office.

Earthquake History of New England,  by Edward Fratto, John E. Ebel and Katharine Kadinsky-Cade, from “Earthquakes & Volcanoes, Vol 22, Number 6, 1990

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