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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New England's Dark Day in 1780

The History and Antiquities of New England ...Embracing the Following Subjects, Viz:... Anecdotes, Traditions, Remarkable & Unaccountable Occurrenceswith a Great Variety of Curious & Interesting Relics of AntiquityBy John Warner Barber
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In or near the area of the southern part of Maine were living at this exact time in history certain ancestors of ours, including (but not limited to) . . . Daniel Merrill & and his wife, Hannah Runnels . . . and their son, Levi Merrill & his wife, Jerusha Milliken . . . and Jerusha's father, Edward Milliken . . . and Edward's father-in-law . . . Samuel Nathaniel Harmon

Also Thomas Thurston and his wife, Lucy Fenderson . . . and his widowed mother, Martha Piper

Also Morrill Hobbs and his wife, Miriam Brackett . . . and his widowed mother, Abigail Urann Hobbs . . . and Miriam's parents, John Brackett and Miriam Thompson . . . and John's father, Samuel Brackett.

The darkness commenced between the hours of 10 and 11 A.M., and continued to the middle of the next night. It was occasioned by a thick vapour or cloud, tinged with a yellow color, or faint red, and a thin coat of dust was deposited on white substances.

The wind was in the southwest; and the darkness appeared to come on with clouds in that direction. Its extent was from Falmouth, (Maine,) to New Jersey. The darkness appears to have been the greatest in the county of Essex, (Mass.) in the lower part of New Hampshire, and Maine; it was also great in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

In most parts of the country where the darkness prevailed, it was so great, that persons were unable to read common print, determine the time of day by their clocks or watches, dine, or manage their domestic business, without additional light; 'candles were lighted up in their houses; the birds having sung their evening songs, disappeared and became silent; the fowls retired to roost; the cocks were crowing all around as at break of day; objects could be distinguished but a very little distance; and every thing bore the appearance and gloom of night.'

The following is an extract of a letter from Dr. Tenney to the Massachusetts Historical Society, giving an account of the dark day of May, 1780.

"You will readily recollect that, previously to the commencement of the darkness, the sky was overcast with the common kind of clouds, from which there was, in some places a light sprinkling of rain. Between these and the earth there intervened another stratum, to appearance of very great thickness. As this stratum advanced, the darkness commenced and increased with its progress till it came to its height; which did not take place till the hemisphere was a second time overspread. The uncommon thickness of this second stratum was probably occasioned by two strong currents of wind from the southward and westward, condensing the vapours and drawing them in a north-easterly direction. I remember this observation was made by an anonymous writer in one of the public papers soon after the event.

As I set out the next day, from my father's at Rowley, to join my regiment in New Jersey, I had an opportunity to inform myself what were the appearances in different parts of the country between here and Pennsylvania. The result of my enquiries, on that journey, and after my return, was that the darkness was most gross in the county of Essex, the lower part of the State of New-Hampshire and the old Province of Maine. In Rhode-Island and Connecticut it was not so great, and still less in New-York. In New-Jersey the second stratum of clouds was observed, but not of any great thickness; nor was the darkness very uncommon. In the lower parts of Pennsylvania, if my recollection does not fail me, no extraordinary appearance was noticed. Through this whole extent the lower stratum had an uncommon brassy hue, while the earth and trees were adorned with so enchanting a verdure as could not escape notice, were amidst the unusual gloom that surrounded the spectator. This gradual increase of the darkness from southwest to northeast, which was nearly the course of the clouds, affords a pretty good argument in favour of the supposition that they were condensed by two strong currents of wind blowing in different directions. To these two strata of clouds we may, without hesitation, impute the extraordinary darkness of the day."


Beth Niquette said...

How perfectly interestng--I'm fascinated and stumped. Wow! Thanks for sharing. I LOVE history. Now I'm going to have to find out what might have been the cause! (grin)

Beth Niquette said...

I just read that recent research has revealed the cause of the darkness was a gigantic fire in the forests of Ontario, Canada. They say this can be found in the tree's growth rings!

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