New Madrid 1811-12 First Steamboat, quakes, comet
The first steamboat ever to ply the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi had several unexpected events, including a major earthquake as the boat was anchored between Louisville and Owensboro, Ky. Go directly to the quake details
1911 replica of Steamboat New Orleans - UIUC
As they were at Yellow Bank, between Louisville and Owensboro KY, getting a full load of coal, the first mid-December, early morning earthquake jolt came. The New Madrid earthquake caused destruction all along the course of the Mississippi. Local native Americans thought the steam-driven paddle was associated with the shaking earth. Wherever the New Orleans stopped to cut wood for fuel the crew encountered terrified people who feared the quake was not yet done. The quake caused debris to end up in the river, which was already clogged with deadly snags.
The Earthquake America Forgot - David Stewart pages 162-181 have excellent details and description of this first steamboat trip down the Mississippi, with map and daily locations. Mrs. Roosevelt's son was born Oct. 30th. The boat's engineer married Mrs. Roosevelt's maid, while the boat was at Natchez. When the boat made it to New Orleans on Jan. 10, young Jefferson Davis was one of those on hand. You can read this account, online. THIS BOOK'S TITLE AND AUTHOR ARE INCORRECTLY LISTED BY GOOGLE. The correct title page is at the beginning of the text.
It appears the crew may have been doing its own mining of coal at this outcropping Roosevelt had spotted on a previous trip.
Below is apparently an almost first-hand account of the trip.
THE First Steamboat Voyage
ON THE WESTERN WATERS.
by J. H. B. LATROBE.
Baltimore, October, 1871. PRINTED BY JOHN MURPHY,
PRINTER To THE MARYLAND HISTORICAL
SOCIETY, BALTIMORE, OCTOBER, 1871.
Mr. Nicholas J. Roosevelt married my eldest sister in the year 1809; and she made the voyage with her husband in 1811. Its events were the stories I listened to in my childhood. The impressions then made have never been effaced. They were deepened, when my father removed his family to Pittsburg, in 1813, having become interested with Livingston and Fulton in the steam navigation of the Ohio. Here he superintended the building of the Buffalo, the fourth of the steamboats launched at Pittsburg. The second and third were the Vesuvius and Etna, already in course of construction when the Buffalo was commenced, and completed before it.
My playmates were the boys who had seen the New Orleans leave for the lower Mississippi, only two years before. Our playground, on Saturday afternoons, was often the ship-yard where she had been built, at the foot of Boyd's Hill, on the banks of the Monongahela. Steam navigation was the one engrossing thought of Pittsburg in those days.
In the latter part of September, 1811, the New Orleans commenced her voyage. There were two cabins, one aft, for ladies, and a larger one forward for gentlemen. In the former there were four berths. It was comfortably furnished. Mr. Roosevelt and his wife were the only passengers. There was a captain, an engineer the pilot, six hands, two female servants, a man waiter, a cook, and an immense Newfoundland dog, named Tiger.
Its speed was eight to ten miles an hour. It cost in the neighborhood of $38.000. There were those who insisted that the comet of 1811 had fallen into the Ohio and had produced the hubbub!
The stay at Cincinnati came the fourth day after leaving Pittsburg. It was midnight on the first of October, 1811. Keelboatsmen agreed the boat could never navigate against the current. Roosevelt showed them otherwise.
It was found on reaching Louisville that there was not a sufficient depth of water on the Falls of the Ohio to permit the vessel to pass over them in safety. Nothing was to be done, therefore, but to wait, as patiently as possible, for a rise in the river.
Like a sudden grounding
The first shock that was observed was felt on board the New Orleans while she lay at anchor after passing the Falls [Louisville, Ky.]. The effect was as though the vessel had been in motion and had suddenly grounded. The cable shook and trembled, and many on board experienced for the moment a nausea resembling sea sickness. It was a little while before they could realize the presence of the dread visitor. It was wholly unexpected. The shocks succeeded each other during the night. When morning came, the voyage was resumed; and, while under way, the jar of the machinery, the monotonous beating of the wheels and the steady progress of the vessel, prevented the disturbance from being noticed.
|After weeks at Louisville, waiting for higher river levels, they were finally on their way, moored for the night at Yellow Bank. A wildlife refuge by that name is near Derby (see map). They may have been nearer the present Owensboro near a visible outcropping of coal. They likely kept the boat light to get over the falls at Louisville, then were taking a full load of coal. First quake (after 2 am) felt like the boat had run aground. They were 215 air miles from the epicenter.|
Some miles above the mouth of the Ohio, the diminished speed of the current indicated a rise in the Mississippi. This was found to be the case. The bottom lands on either shore were underwater, and there was every sign of an unwonted flood. Canoes came and went among the boles of the trees. Sometimes, the Indians attempted to approach the steamboat; and, again, fled on its approach. The Chickasaws still occupied that part of the State of Tennessee lying below the mouth of the Ohio. On one occasion, a large canoe, fully manned, came out of the woods abreast of the steamboat. The Indians, outnumbering the crew of the vessel, paddled after it. There was at once a race, and for a time the contest was equal. The result, however, was what might have been anticipated. Steam had the advantage of endurance; and the Indians with wild shouts, which might have been shouts of defiance, gave up the pursuit, and turned into the forest from whence they had emerged.
Land shook and trembled
Early in the afternoon of each day, the steamer was rounded to, and fastened to, the bank, the crew going ashore to cut the wood required, after the coal was exhausted, for the next' day's consumption. On some of these occasions, squatters came on board with tales of their experience upon the land, which they insisted shook and trembled under their feet.
Deaf ear to terrified residents
At New Madrid, a great portion of which had been engulphed, as the earth opened in vast chasms and swallowed up houses and their inhabitants, terror stricken people had begged to be taken on board, while others dreading the steamboat, even more than the earthquake, hid themselves as she approached. To receive the former was impossible.
The would-be refugees had no homes to go to; and ample as was the supply of provisions for Mr. Roosevelt and his wife, it would have been altogether insufficient for any large increase of passengers: and as to obtaining provisions on the way, the New Orleans might as well have been upon the open sea. Painful as it was, there was no choice but to turn a deaf ear to the cries of the terrified inhabitants of the doomed town.
One of the peculiar characteristics of the voyage was the silence that prevailed on board. No one seemed disposed to talk; and when there was any conversation, it was carried on in whispers, almost. Tiger, who appeared, alone, to be aware of the earthquake while the vessel was in motion, prowled about, moaning and growling; and when he came and placed his head on Mrs. Roosevelt's lap, it was a sure sign of a commotion of more than usual violence. Orders were given in low tones; and the usual cheerful "aye, aye, sir," of the sailors, was almost inaudible. Sleeplessness was another characteristic. Sound, continuous sleep, was apparently unknown. Going ashore for wood was the event of each twenty-four hours, and was looked forward to by the crew with satisfaction, notwithstanding the labor that it involved.
Solid ground, constant fright
And yet the men, if not sullenly, toiled silently; and if the earth shook, as it often did, while they were at work, the uplifted axe was suspended, or placed quietly on the log, and the men stared at each other until it ceased. Nor was this depression confined to the steamer. Flat boats and barges were passed, whose crews instead of bandying river wit, as they had done when met on the voyage from Pittsburg to Louisville, -uttered no word as the New Orleans went by. Before the travelers had been many days on the Mississippi, they fancied, as they looked at each other, that they had become haggard. Mrs. Roosevelt records "that she lived in a constant fright, unable to sleep or sew, or read."
Comet, chimney sparks, rumbling of the earth
Sometimes, Indians would join the wood choppers; and occasionally one would be able to converse in English with the men. From these it was learned that the steamboat was called the "Penelore," or "fire Canoe," and was supposed to have some affinity with the Comet that had preceded the earthquake,-the sparks from the chimney of the boat being likened to the train of the celestial visitant. Again, they would attribute the smoky atmosphere to the steamer, and the rumbling of the earth to the beating of the waters by the fast revolving paddles. To the native inhabitants of the boundless forest that lined the river banks, the coming of the first steamboat was an omen of evil; and as it was the precursor of their own expulsion from their ancient homes, no wonder they continued, for years, to regard all steamboats with awe. As late as 1834, when the emigration of the Chickasaws to their new homes, west of the river, took place, hundreds refused to trust themselves in such conveyances, but preferred making their long and weary pilgrimage on foot.
Where am I?
One of the most uncomfortable incidents of the voyage was the confusion of the pilot, who became alarmed, and declared that he was lost; so great had been the changes in the channel caused by the earthquake. Where he had expected to find deep water, roots and stumps projected above the surface. Tall trees that had been guides had disappeared. Islands had changed their shapes. Cut-offs had been made through what was forest land when he saw it last. Still, there was no choice but to keep on., There was no place to stop at. There was no possibility of turning back.
A large river tsunami or seiche was produced upriver in the New Madrid bend area, whereas downriver of Little Prairie, tremendous volumes of groundwater squeezed out by liquefaction drained into the river and caused a rapid rise in level and a much swifter current than normal.
Certain reaches of the river from Little Prairie (Caruthersville) to the fourth bluffs (Memphis) were clogged with tree trunks, branches, and roots, some uprooted by vibration, liquefaction, and failing river banks and others brought from the riverbed to the surface by the intense, prolonged shaking or liquefaction of the riverbottom sediments. --enigma
In the first part of the voyage when the steamboat rounded to at night, she was made fast to the river bank: but when it was seen, that - trees would, occasionally topple and fall over, as the ground beneath them was shaken or gave way, it was thought safer to stop at, the foot of an island, which might serve as a break water, taking care the trees were far enough from the boat to obviate apprehension from them. Once, however, when such a fastening had been made and a plank carried ashore, and the wood chopping had been finished at an earlier hour than usual, a new experience was had. No shock had been felt during the day, and Mrs. Roosevelt anticipated a quiet rest. In this, however, she was disappointed.
All night long she was disturbed by the jar and noise produced by hard objects grating against the planking outside the boat. At times severe blows were struck that caused the vessel to tremble through its entire length. Then there would follow a continuous scratching mingled with the gurgling sound of water. Driftwood had caused sounds of the same sort before, and it was thought that drift wood was again busy in producing them. With morning, however, came the true explanation. The island had disappeared; and it was the disintegrated fragments sweeping down the river, that had struck the vessel from time to time and caused the noises that Mrs. Roosevelt had been disturbed by.
At first, it was supposed, that the New Orleans had been borne along by the current: but the pilot pointed to land marks on the banks which proved that it was the island that had disappeared while the, steamboat had kept its place. Where the island had been, there was now a broad reach of the river; and when the hawser was cut, for it was found impossible otherwise to free the vessel, the pilot was utterly at a loss which way to steer. Some flat boats were hailed, but they too were lost. Their main effort was, by dint of their long oars to keep where the current was the strongest. This was, evidently, the best plan for the New Orleans. It was not without its peculiar risks, however.
In the bends, where the rushing waters struck the shore, to whirl around the curve, and glance off to form a bend in an opposite direction, the deepest water was immediately under the bank; and here the trees, undermined by the current, would be seen at times, to sink into the stream, often erect until the waters covered their topmost twigs-sometimes, falling against each other, interlacing their great arms, as strong men might do, struggling for life when drowning - sometimes, they fell outward into the water; and, then, woe to the vessel that happened to be near them in the bend. This danger, however, steam enabled the New Orleans to avoid. Referring to it all, it is not wonderful that the survivor of the voyage still speaks of it as "one of anxiety and terror."
Pierce was not on the Roosevelt boat, but on one that was probably just north of the present I-155 Caruthersville Dyersburg bridge (116 miles south of the mouth of the Ohio). He is (?) the son of a lesser signee of the Declaration of Independence.
The following very interesting communication is from an intelligent friend at N. Orleans. - It is, we presume, the most particular and satisfactory account of the earthquakes on the Mississippi, which has, as yet, been published: And Mr. Pierce being an ear and eye witness to the scenes he describes, the authenticity of his narrative cannot be doubted.
To the Editor of the New-York Evening Post
Big Prairie, (on the Mississippi, 761 miles from N. Orleans,) Dec. 25, 1811.
Desirous of offering the most correct information to society at large, and contributing in some degree to the speculations of the Philosopher, I am induced to give publicity to a few remarks concerning a phenomenon of the most alarming nature. Through you, therefore, I take the liberty of addressing the world, and describing, as far as the inadequacy of my means at present will permit, the most prominent and interesting features of the events, which have recently occurred upon this portion of our western waters.
Proceeding on a tour from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, I entered the Mississippi, when it receives the waters of the Ohio, on Friday the 13th day of this month, and on the 15th, in the evening, landed on the left bank of this river, about 116 miles from the mouth of the Ohio. The night was extremely dark and cloudy, not a star appeared in the heavens, and there was every appearance of a severe rain - for the three last days, indeed, the sky had been continually overcast, and the weather unusually thick and hazy.
It would not be improper to observe, that these waters are descended in a variety of small craft, but most generally in flat bottomed boats, built to serve a temporary purpose, and intended to float, with the current, being supplied with oars, not so much to accelerate progress as to assist in navigating the boats, and avoiding the numerous bars, trees and timber which greatly impede the navigation of this river. In one of these boats I had embarked - and the more effectually to guard against anticipated attacks from the savages, who are said to be at present much exasperated against the whites, several boats had proceeded in company.
Precisely at 2 o'clock on Monday morning, the 16th instant, we were all alarmed by the violent and convulsive agitation of the boats, accompanied by a noise similar to that which would have been produced by running over a sand bar - every man was immediately roused and rushed upon deck. - We were first of opinion that the Indians, studious of some mischief, had loosed our cables, and thus situated we were foundering. Upon examination, however, we discovered we were yet safely and securely moored. The idea of an earthquake then suggested itself to my mind, and this idea was confirmed by a second shock, and two others in immediate succession. These continued for the space of eight minutes. So complete and general had been the convulsion, that a tremendous motion was communicated to the very leaves on the surface of the earth. A few yards from the spot where we lay, the body of a large oak was snapped in two, and the falling part precipitated to the margin of the river; the trees in the forest shook like rushes; the alarming clattering of their branches may be compared to the affect which would be produced by a severe wind passing through a large cane brake.
Exposed to a most unpleasant alternative, we were compelled to remain - here we were for the night, or subject ourselves to imminent hazard in navigating through the innumerable obstructions in the river; considering the danger of running two-fold, we concluded to remain. At the dawn of day I went on shore to examine the effects of the shocks; the earth about 20 feet from the waters edge was deeply cracked, but no visible injury of moment had been sustained; fearing, however, to remain longer where we were, it was thought much advisable to leave our landing as expeditiously as possible; this was immediately done - at a few rods distance from the shore, we experienced a fifth shock, more severe than either of the preceding. I had expected this from the louring appearance of the weather, it was indeed most providential that we had started, for such was the strength of this last shock, that the bank to which we were (but a few moments since) attached, was rent and fell into the river, whilst the trees rushed from the forests, precipitating themselves into the water with a force sufficient to have dashed us into a thousand atoms.
It was now light, and we had an opportunity of beholding, in full extent, all the horrors of our situation. During the first four shocks, tremendous and uninterrupted explosions, resembling a discharge of artillery, was heard from the opposite shore; at that time I imported them to the falling of the river banks. This fifth shock explained the real cause. Whenever the veins of the earthquake ran, there was a volcanic discharge of combustible matter to a great height, as incessant rumbling was heard below, and the bed of the river was excessively agitated, whilst the water assumed a turbid and boiling appearance - near our boat a spout of confined air, breaking its way through the waters, burst forth and with a loud report discharged mud, sticks, &c, from the river's bed, at least thirty feet above the surface. These spoutings were frequent, and in many places appeared to rise to the very Heavens. - Large trees, which had lain for ages at the bottom of the river, were shot up in thousands of instances, some with their roots uppermost and their tops planted; others were hurled into the air; many again were only loosened, and floated upon the surface. Never was a scene more replete with terrific threatenings of death; with the most lively sense of this awful crisis, we contemplated in mute astonishment a scene which completely beggars all description and of which the most glowing imagination is inadequate to form a picture. Here the earth, river, &c. torn with furious convulsions, opened in huge trenches, whose deep jaws were instantaneously closed; there through a thousand vents sulphureous streams gushed from its very bowels, leaving vast and almost unfathomable caverns. Every where nature itself seemed tottering on the verge of dissolution. Encompassed with the most alarming dangers, the manly presence of mind and heroic fortitude of the men were all that saved them. It was a struggle for existence itself, and the mede (?) to be purchased was our lives.
During the day there was, with very little intermission, a continued series of shocks, attended with innumerable explosions like the rolling of thunder; the bed of the river was incessantly disturbed, and the water boiled severly in every part; I consider ourselves as having been in the greatest danger from the numerous instances of boiling directly under our boat; fortunately for us, however, they were not attended with eruptions. One of the spouts which we had seen rising under the boat would inevitably sunk it, and probably have blown it into a thousand fragments; our ears were continually assailed with the crashing of timber, the banks were instantaneously crushed down, and fell with all their growth into the water. It was no less alarming than astonishing, to behold the oldest trees of the forest, whose firm roots had withstood a thousand storms, and weathered the sternest tempests, quivering and shaking with the violence of the shocks, whilst their heads were whipped together with a quick and rapid motion; many were torn from their native soil, and hurled with tremendous force into the river; one of these whose huge trunk (at least 3 feet in diameter) had been much shattered, was thrown better than an hundred yards from the bank, where it is planted into the bed of the river, there to stand, a terror to future navigators.
Several small islands have been already annihilated, and from appearances many others must suffer the same fate. To one of these, I ventured in a skiff, but it was impossible to examine it, for the ground sunk from my tread, and the least force applied to any part of it seemed to shake the whole.
Anxious to obtain landing, and dreading the high banks, we made for an island which evidenced sensible marks of the earthquake; here we fastened to some willows, at the extremity of a sunken piece of land, and continued two days, hoping that this scene of horrors was near over - still, however, the shocks continued, though not with the same frequency as before.
On Wednesday, in the afternoon, I visited every part of the island where we lay. It was extensive, and partially covered with willow. The earthquake had rent the ground in large and numerous gaps; vast quantities of burnt wood in every stage of alteration, from its primitive nature to stove coal, had been spread over the ground to very considerable distances; frightful and hideous caverns yawned on every side, and the earth's bowels appeared to have felt the tremendous force of the shocks which had thus riven the surface. I was gratified with seeing several places where those spouts which had so much attracted our wonder and admiration had arisen; they were generally on the beach; and have left large circular holes in the sand, formed much like a funnel. For a great distance around the orifice, vast quantities of coal have been scattered, many pieces weighing from 15 to 20 lbs. were discharged 160 measured paces- These holes were of various dimensions; one of them I observed most particularly, it was 16 feet in perpendicular depth, and 63 feet in circumferences at the mouth.
On Thursday morning, the 19th, we loosed our cables, with hearts filled with fervent gratitude to Providence, whose protection had supported us through the perils to which we had been exposed.
As we descended the river every thing was a scene of ruin and devastation; where a short time since the Mississippi rolled its waters in a calm and placid current, now subterranean forests have been ushered into existence, and raise their heads, hard and black as ebony, above the surface of the water, whose power has been so wonderfully increased, that strength and skill are equally baffled. Our boat was borne down by an irrestible impulse, and fortunately escaped uninjured; we passed thousands of areas of land which had been cleft from the main shore and tumbled into the water, leaving their growth waving above the surface. In many places single trees, and whole brakes of cane, had slipped into the river. A singular instance of this kind peculiarly attracted my observation; a large sycamore had slipped from its station on the bank, and had so admirably preserved its equilibrium, that it has been left standing erect in the river, immersed about 10 feet, and has every appearance of having originally grown there.
The shocks I conceive were most sensibly experienced upon the islands, and numbers of them have been much shattered, for I observed where the stratum of earth was fairest, it did not crack, but undulated excessively. At Fort Pickering in the extremity of the fourth Chickasaw Bluff, and 242 miles from the mouth of the Ohio, the land is strong and high; here, however, the earth was extremely agitated, and the Block-house which is almost a solid mass of hewn timber, trembled like the aspen leaf.
The obstructions in this river, which have always been quite numerous, are now so considerably increased as to demand the utmost prudence and caution from subsebuent navigators. Indeed I am very apprehensive that it will be almost impassable in flood water; for until such time it will be impossible to say where the currents will hereafter run, what portion (if any) of the present embarrassments will be destroyed, and what new sand bars, &c. may yet be caused by this portentous phenomenon.- Many poor fellows are undoubtedly wrecked, or buried under the ruin of the banks. Of the loss of four boats I am certain.
It is almost impossible to trace, at present, the exact course of this earthquake, or where the greatest injuries have happened. From numerous enquiries, however, which I have made of persons above and below us at the time of the first shock, I am induced to believe, that we were very nearly in the height of it. The ruin immediately in the vicinity of the river is most extensive on the right side in descending. For the first two days the veins appeared to run a due course from W. to E. afterwards they became more variable, and generally took a N.W. direction.
At New Madrid, 70 miles from the influence of the Ohio, and on the right hand, the utmost consternation prevailed among the inhabitants; confusion, terror and uproar presided; those in the town were running for refuge to the country, whilst those in the country fled with like purpose towards the town. I am happy, however, to observe, that no material injury has been sustained.
At the Little Prairie, 103 miles from the same point, the shocks appear to have been more violent, and were attended with severe apprehensions. The town was deserted by its inhabitants, and not a single person was left but an old negro man, probably too infirm to fly: everyone appeared to consider the woods and hills most safe, and in these confidence was reposed. Distressing, however, as are the outlines of such a picture, the latest accounts are not calculated to increase apprehensions. Several chimnies were destroyed, and much land sunk, no lives however have been lost.
A little below Bayou River, 103 miles from the same point, and 130 miles from the spot where we lay, the ruin begins extensive and general.
At Long Reach, 146 miles, there is one continued forest of roots and trees, which have been ejected from the bed of the river.
At the near Flour Island, 174 miles, the destruction has been very great, and the impediments in the river much increased.
At the Devil's Race ground, 193 miles, an immense number of very large trees have been thrown up, and the river is nearly impassible. The Devil's Elbow, 214 miles, is in the same predicament; below this the ruin is much less, and indeed no material traces of the earthquake are discoverable.
The western country must suffer much from this dreadful scourge; its affects will I fear be more lasting than the fond hopes of the inhabitants in this section of the union may at present conceive. What have already been the interior injuries I cannot say. My opinion is, that they are inferior in extent and effect.
The continuance of this earthquake must render it conspicuous in the pages of the Historians, as one of the longest that has ever occurred. From the time that the first shock was felt, at 2 o'clock in the morning of the 16th until the last shock, at the same time in the morning of the 23rd, was 168 hours. Nothing could have exceeded the alarm of the aquatic fowl: they were extremely noisy and confused, flying in every direction, without pursuing any determinate course. The few Indians who were on the Banks of the river, have been excessively alarmed and terrified. All nature indeed seemed to sympathize in the commotion which agitated the earth. The sun rarely shot a ray through the heavens. The sky was clouded, and a dreary darkness brooded over the whole face of the creation. The stars were encircled with a pale light, and the Comet appeared hazy and dim. - The weather was incessantly varying from oppressive heat to severe cold, and during many of the shocks some rain fell.
I subjoin the ensuing table of the shocks, with the exact order of time in which they occurred, as extracted from my minutes.
16th December - the first shock followed by 3 others at two o'clock in the morning. 7 A.M. happened a very severe shock - 8, nine shocks in quick succession - 9, three more shocks - 10 minutes after 11, one shock - 25 after 11, another - 5 after 12, a violent shock - 25 after 1 P.M. another - 31 after 1, a long and violent shock - 42 after 1, a shock - 10 after 5, a very severe shock - 42 after 5, a shock - 10 before 6 do. - 15 after 7 do- 35 after 7 do. - 10 of 8 do. - 5 after 8 do. - 5 of 9 do. - 25 after 9 do.- 20 of 10 do. - 15 of 10 do. - 10 of 10 do. - 15 to 20 of 11, three do. - 12 of 11, great shock - 28 after 11, severe shock. 17th December, 30 minutes after 5, a shock - 5 in the morning, a great and awful shock followed, with 3 others; 5 after 12 meridian, a long and dreadful shock, appearances extremely threatening; 18 after 11 P.M. two severe shocks - 24 after 11 a shock - 26 after 11 do. - 35 after 11 do. - 48 after 11 do. 18th December, 17 minutes of 3, A.M. a shock; 17 after 3 do. - 30 after 3 do. - 5 of 4 do. - 10 after 4 do. - 10 after 5 do. - 35 after 5 do. very severe - 5 after 6 do. - 45 after 6 do. - 7 of 8 do. - 10 after 12 meridian - 10 after 1 P.M. do - 25 after 2 do. severe - 30 after 2, five shocks in succession - 3 o'clock, a shock - 15 minutes after 3 do. severe - 43 after 4 do. - 8 after 10 do. - 10 after 11 do. very severe. 19th December, 30 minutes after 5 A.M. 4 shocks in succession- 17 of 9 severe shock - 30 after 1 P.M., a shock - 17 of 2 do. - 30 after 8 do. - 30 after 9 do. - 30 after 11 do. 20th December, 30 minutes after 9 A.M. a shock - 10 after 11, a long and tremendous shock. 21st December, several reports of shocks or distant thunder were heard. 22nd December, 11 o'clock A.M. a slight shock. 23rd December at 2 in the morning a very severe shock.
Thus we observe that there were in the space of time mentioned before, eighty-nine shocks - it is hardly possible to conceive the convulsion which they created, and I assure you I believe that there were many of these shocks, which had they followed in quick succession were sufficient to shake into atoms the firmest edifices which art ever devised.
I landed often, and on the same shore, as well as on several islands, found evident traces of prior eruptions, all of which seem to corroborate an opinion that the river was formed by some great earthquake - to me indeed the bed appears to possess every necessary ingredient, nor have I a doubt but that there are at the bottom of the river strata upon strata of volcanic matter. The great quantities of combustible materials, which are undoubtedly there deposited, tend to render a convulsive of this kind extremely alarming, at least, however, the beds of timber and trees interwoven and firmly matted together at the bottom of the Mississippi, are tolerable correct data from which may be presumed the prior nature, &c. of the land. The trees are similar to the growth upon the banks, and why may not an inference be drawn that some tremendous agitation of nature has rent this once a continued forest, and given birth to a great and noble stream. There are many direct and collateral facts which may be adduced to establish the point, and which require time and investigation to collect and apply.
It is a circumstance well worthy of remark, that during the late convulsions the current of the river was almost instantaneously and rapidly increased. In times of the highest floods, it rates from 4 to 5 knots per hour. The water is now low, and when we stopped on the 16th inst. at half after 4 P.M. we had then run from that morning 52 miles, rating at 6 knots generally. This current was increased for two days, and then fell to its usual force. It is also singular that the water has fallen with astonishing rapidity. The most probable and easy solution of this fact, which presented itself to my mind, was, that the strength of the Mississippi current was greater than the tributary streams could support. Either this must have been the case, or some division of waters above has occurred, destruction below has created some great basin or reservoir for the disemboguing (?) of the main body of water. The latter presumption I apprehend cannot be correct, as our progress towards the mouth of this river is marked with little or no injury.
Thus, my dear sir, I have given you a superficial account of this awful phenomenon; not so much to convey instruction upon a very interesting subject, as to gratify the curiosity of the public relative to so remarkable an event. At some more convenient season it is my intention, from facts which I had the opportunity of collecting, to canvas the subject more in detail; you are therefore at liberty to make whatever use you please of this brief sketch; and publish the whole, or extract such parts as you may deem best adapted.
Should other interesting circumstances occur relative to this phenomenon, I will do myself the pleasure of mailing you another communication.
With much respect, I am, sir
New Orleans, Jan. 13, 1812
Agreeably to my promise, in the last communication which I had the pleasure of making you, I present a further detail of the late earthquake.
Its range appears to have been by no means confined to the Mississippi. It was felt in some degree throughout the Indiana Territory, and the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. I have conversed with gentlemen from Louisville and Lexington, (in Kentucky,) who state that it was severe in both of those places. At the latter, indeed, it continued for 12 days, and did some inconsiderable injury to several dwellings. From thence it ranged the Ohio river, increasing in force until it entered the Mississippi, and extending down that river to Natchez, and probably a little lower. Beyond this it was not perceived.
It is a singular, but well authenticated fact, that in several places on the Mississippi, where the shocks were most severe, the earth was rent (as it were) by two distinct processes. By one it was burst asunder, and instantaneously closed, leaving no traces whatever of the shock; by the other it was rent, and an elective flash ran along the surface, tearing the earth to pieces in its progress. - These last were generally attended with an explosion, and streams of matter, in a liquid state, gushed from the gaps which were left open when the shock subsided, and were in many instances of an immense depth.
It is also reported, through the medium of some Indians, from the country adjacent to the Washita, who arrived a few days since at the Walnut Hills, some distance above Natchez, that the Burning Mountain, up the Wichita river, had been rent to its base. This information I received from a settler at the Hills, and his appearance was such as to attach credit to his information. - Your obedient servant,
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