Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shake Rattle and Roll

For those who are following, bear with me. I'm still working out the teething issues with this stuff...especially the graphics.

Anyway, back to the story at hand...New Madrid. The quake was powerful enough to ring church bells in Virginia, and crack a brick building in Charleston. It was even reported in newspapers as being felt as far away as Quebec and Montreal.

But how did all this affect us here in the Cumberland River valley? Here's an article from the Nashville Clarion, December 17, 1811, describing the first tremble:

"An alarming earthquake was felt in this town and the adjoining county as far as we have heard, about 15 m. past two o'clock yesterday morning. The shocks, which continued until after day, were some of them very severe -- so much so that the heaviest houses seemed to be racked to pieces; however, we have heard of no real injury sustained, except the fall of some chimneys in the county."

How far were the effects felt? In a piece of breaking news reporting (pretty snazzy for 1812), the editor of the Clarion, Mr. Bradford, reports. (Note the lack of synchronization in the clocks involved):
"At Richmond, (Virg.) it was felt very distinctly. Between the hours of 3 and 4, and about 8 - no mention of injury.
At Norfolk, Virginia, very sensibly perceived -- and about the same time as at Richmond -- shook the goods off the counters, &c.
At Alexandria (Virginia) between 2 and 3 o'clock one shock was felt and another about 8, and continued about 30 seconds. It shook the furniture in the house and stopped some clocks.
At Baltimore, about 3 and 8 o'clock a shock was experienced, and the undulations continued for 40 minutes. Not sufficient to damage any thing.
At Lexington (Kentucky) about half past 2 it was felt and lasted 2 minutes. A little after 3 it was again felt, and between 7 and 8 there were two more shocks.
At Knoxville, it was much the same as here.
At Carthage, about 3 o'clock the shock was felt. They continued for 4 hours - the tops of chimneys shaken off."
So what caused it all? Well, depends on who you talk to. The loquacious Mr. Bradford hypothesized:
"We rather incline to suppose it how ever to be an eruption of the volcano to the west, mentioned by Lewis & Clark."
Well, you can't blame him for inclining to suppose. The uninspired might describe it today as a simple shift of tectonic plates beneath the earth. But there were many who considered it to be a divine revelation. Among them was a Shawnee leader who was at that time engaged in some intricate negotiations. In the fall of 1811, he had come from Ohio to make an alliance with the Muskogee people in what would one day be Alabama, but they were reluctant to fully commit to his cause and risk an all out war with the settlers to their north. Frustrated, he broke off the council and went home empty handed. But legend has it that before he left, he threatened to stamp his foot, and cause all the buildings in the Muskogee town to fall to the ground.

It was either prophecy or an incredibly lucky call, but either way, his supporters among the Muskogee formed a coalition called the Red Sticks and joined his cause.

The Shawnee leader was called Tecumseh. We will meet him again.

Next time, a change of pace.


  1. Very good once again! Great illustrations as always!

  2. I agree! I love every post. The illustrations are stunning.