Wednesday, July 20, 2016

New Madrid Earthquake1811

 Annelise “Anni” Morris will present a program on the black pioneer families of Lawrence County at the next meeting of the Lawrence County Historical Society on Monday, July 25, at 7:00 p.m., at the History Center on the corner of 12th and State in Lawrenceville.

Lawrenceville Republican January 3, 1924

Letter tells of 1811 Earthquake

Dear Editor:
I am sending a copy  of a very interesting letter I have  of one Eliza Byran to Lorenzo Dow telling of the earthquake that destroyed New Madrid, Mo. In 1811, which is said to have been felt in Wabash and Lawrence Counties, causing rails to fall off fences and chimney to fall, creating what is today known as the sunken lands of  south east Missouri.

Lorenzo Dow was known in southern Illinois as the crazy preacher, and traveled over the greater part of the U.S. on foot and horseback, preaching in the wood by the roadside and in school houses. I have quite a collection of his rare old papers, letters and poems. Perhaps the one I am sending will interest your readers.
T.M. Cisel

New Madrid. Territory of Missouri March 22, 1816
My Dear Friend:

In compliance with your request I will now give you a history as full in detail as the limits of a letter will permit, of the awful visitation of Providence in this place and vicinity. On the 16th day of December 1811, about 2:00 a.m. we had a violent shock of an earthquake accompanied by a noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the air with sulphurious vapor causing total darkness. The screams of the frightened inhabitants running to and fro not knowing where to go or what to do, the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species, the cracking of trees and the roaring of the Mississippi, the current of which was retrograde for a few minutes owing as is supposed, to an eruption in its bed formed a scene truly horrible. 

From that time until about sunrise a number of lighter shocks occurred at which time one still more violent that the first took place, with the same accompaniments as the first  and the terror which had been excited in everyone and indeed in all the animal nature was now, if possible, doubled. The inhabitants fled in every direction to the country supposing there was less danger at a distance from than near to the river. In one person, a female, the alarm was so great that she fainted and could not be recovered. There were several shocks each day, but lighter than those mentioned. Until the 23rd of January 1812, when one occurred as violent as severest of the former ones, accompanied by the same phenomena as the former. From this fate until the 4th of February the earth was in continual agitation visibly waving as a gentle sea.  On that day there was another shock nearly as hard as the preceding ones. Next day four more such and on the 7th about 4:00 a.m. a concussion took place so much more violent that those which had preceded it that it was denominated the hard shock.

The awful darkness of the atmosphere which was saturated with sulphurious vapors and violence of thundering noise, together with the phenomena mentioned as attending the former shocks formed a scene the description of which would require the most sublimely fanciful imagination. At first the Mississippi seemed to recede from its banks, its waters gathering up like a mountain, leaving stranded on the sand many boats here on their way to New Orleans. Then rising fifteen or twenty feet and expanding as it were at the same moment, the banks were overflowed with a rapid torrent, teasing the boats from their mooring driving them inland where they were left grounded. The river falling as rapidly as it had risen, receded within its banks with such violence that it carried with it whole groves of trees which lodged its borders. They were broken off with such regularity that had you not witnessed the fact it would be difficult to believe. A great many fish were left on the banks being unable to keep pace with the water. 

In all the hard shocks mentioned the earth was horribly torn to pieces and the surface of thousands of acres was from time to time covered with various depths of sand that issued from the fissures which were made with great numbers some closing immediately after vomiting forth the sands while other discharged the coal and sand. It is impossible to estimate the depth of the fissures. We have reason to believe them very deep. The site of this town (New Madrid) has settled down more than fifteen feet, while a short distance away lakes have been elevated and drained. On the opposite side of the Mississippi the Indian Territory a lake has been formed more than one hundred miles in length and from one to six miles wide and a depth from ten to fifty feet deep. It has communication with the river at both ends and will be in a few years the principle bed of the river. 

We were twelve or eighteen months after the first shock in little camps made of boards but have become callous and returned to our homes again. Most of those who fled have returned. Slight shocks are still felt this date. March 22, 1816. Seldom a week passes without feeling one or more shocks. I have now finished my promised description of the earthquake, imperfect it is true yet just as it occurred to my memory of that awful scene when our homes were destroyed. In the full confidence that I have given this to a friend and wishing you all good, I must bid you adieu,