Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More New Madrid Earthquake Reports - 200 Years Ago

In the papers of the USGS, I found these published reports on the New Madrid Earthquakes. The publication titled "A Detailed Narrative of the Earthquakes which occurred on the 16th day of December, 1811, and agitated the parts of North America that lie between the Atlantic Ocean and Louisiana; and also a particular account of the other quakings of the earth occasionally felt from that time to the 23d and 30th of January, and the 7th and 16th of February, 1812, and subsequently to the 18th of December, 1813, and which shook the country from Detroit and the Lakes to New-Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. Compiled chiefly at Washington, in the district of Columbia," was intended as a report to Congress.

"The beautiful comet which travelled through the northern celestial hemisphere during 1811, had offered itself plainly to view until the approach of the following year. Its elements, as calculated by Nathaniel Bowditch, Esq. and his learned associates, have already been placed before the public eye.

The tremendous storm from the northeast, near the end of December, 1811, began to leeward, near Cape Hatteras, and swept the American coast to the banks of Newfoundland, doing great damage to navigation, and exhibiting some curious facts in the history of the atmosphere. The particulars of this furious and memorable tempest have been collected by myself; and are in readiness to be offered to the society at the first convenient time.

My present intention is to read to you the information I have gathered on another occurrence of those portentous days. I mean the phenomena of the earthquakes, which terrified the country about the same period, and which continued a long time afterwards.

On the morning of Monday, the 16th of December, 1811, several shocks of earthquakes were felt at the city of Washington. The first of these happened at three o'clock; and in some houses was considerable enough to shake the doors and windows, and wake persons from their sleep. There were successive tremors. Tassels of curtains were seen to move; and pitchers of washing-stands were heard to rattle upon their basins. The sound was very distinguishable, and was believed by many to pass from southwest to northeast. The alarm was so great in some families, that searches were made from room to room, to discover the robbers who were imagined to have broken into the houses.

A second shock, though lighter, was experienced about six o'clock, and a third about eight.

A gentleman standing in his chamber at his desk and writing, in the third story of a brick house, upon the Capitol Hill, suddenly perceived his body to be in motion, vibrating backward and forward, and producing dizziness. Not suspecting the moment that the uncomfortable sensation was caused by an earthquake, he examined his desk to know whether it stood firm. Finding that it did, he dropped his pen; and turning his eyes upward, discerned that the looking-glass, and other things hanging near him, were in a similar motion.

Another person was near a table placed beneath a mirror. Feeling a giddiness come upon him, he seized the table for support. The general agitation of the chamber and house ceased in about a minute; but the looking-glass, which was suspended in the usual manner, continued to swing for some seconds longer. These observations, made by Messrs. Bigelow and Mosely, may serve as specimens of a multitude of phenomena of those kinds.

The atmosphere seemed to forebode some unusual occurrence. One of my most correct and respectable friends, declared in conversation, and stated to me in writing, that he made an observation of the sky about ten o'clock that night. It was quite calm. There was not a breath of wind stirring. The air was perfectly clear and free from clouds. Nevertheless, it was uncommonly dark, and the stars which appeared in every part through the gloom, were lurid and dim, and afforded little light.

In Richmond the signs of an earthquake were witnessed by many persons. At three o'clock on the same morning, (the 16th of December,) there were said to be three successive shocks; another about six; and a third about eight. Several people were impressed with a belief that thieves had entered their dwellings; and in one of the most elevated mansions, the bells were set a ringing in both the upper and lower rooms. The noise and concussion were supposed by some to proceed from east to west.

It was stated at Norfolk that two very distinct shocks were felt in that town and in Portsmouth; to wit, at three and eight o'clock in the morning of the 16th. Some clocks were reported to have stopped; the doors rattled; and articles hanging from the ceilings of shops and houses, swung to and fro, although a perfect calm prevailed.

At Raleigh (N.C.) several slight earthquakes were felt on the morning of the 16th December. The first happened between two and three o'clock, and was distinctly perceived by all who were awake at the time. Two others were reported to have occurred between that time and seven o'clock, but were not plainly observed, except by some members of the legislature, who were in the state-house, and were considerably alarmed at the shaking of the building.

From Georgetown, (S.C.) it was told, that several shocks had been experienced between the hours of three and eight, on the morning of the 16th. The inhabitants were much alarmed. The shocks were so considerable, that the parade-ground of the fort was said to have settled from one to two inches below its former level. A tub of water, standing upon a table in the barracks, was reported to have been overset by the jarring of the building. Another severe shock was felt two days afterwards, at noon.

At Columbia, (S.C.) the inhabitants were alarmed by repeated shocks. The first took place at half after two in the morning of Monday, which was represented as shaking the houses as if rocked by the waves of the sea. It was followed, after the cessation of a minute, by three slighter ones. At eight o'clock two others took place, and at ten, some slight ones. The South Carolina college appeared to rock from its foundation, and a part of its plaster fell; which so alarmed the students, that they left the chambers without their clothes. It seemed as if all the buildings would be levelled. The dogs barked; fowls made a racket; and many persons ran about with lights, not knowing where to go, so great was their terror. During the first agitation, it was observed, that the air felt as if impregnated with a vapour, which lasted for some time.

On Tuesday, at a quarter after twelve, another smart shock was experienced. At Laurens and Newbury, in the interior districts, it was so violent as to crack and start several chimnies.

At Charleston (S.C.) the sensation was of considerable strength. One account stated; that on the morning of the 16th, at a few minutes before three o'clock, a severe shock of an earthquake was felt. Its duration conjectured to ahve been between two and three minutes. For an hour previous, though the air was perfectly calm, and several stars visible, there was, at intervals of about five minutes, a rumbling noise like that of distant thunder; which increased in violence of sound just before the shock was felt. The vibrations of St. Philip's steeple caused the clock bell to ring about ten seconds. Two other shocks were felt afterwards, one a little before eight, and the other about a quarter of an hour after. Both these were slighter and shorter than the first. Many of the family clocks were stopped by the concussions. In many wells the water was considerably agitated. From another source it was related that Charleston was shaken by an earthquake severely, at the time before specified. This was preceded by a noise resembling the blowing of a smith's bellows. The agitation of the earth was such that the bells in the church steeples rang to a degree indicative of an alarm for fire. The houses were so much moved that many persons were induced to rise from their beds. The clocks generally stopped. Another slight shock was experienced about fifteen minutes after; and yet another at eight o'clock. This last one produced a considerable rattling among glass, china, and other furniture. A looking-glass hanging against a west wall was observed to vibrate two or three inches from north to south.

The ingenious writer of the meteorological observations for Charleston during December, 1811, has noticed these occurrences in a manner too interesting to be omitted. According to his remarks, there were seven shocks during the month, having a vibratory motion from east to west. In many persons the motion produced nausea. All the shocks, except the last, were preceded by noises resembling the rattling of a carrage over a pavement. There had been less thunder during the preceding season than usual. THe days of thunder amount annually to about sixty; but this year there were no more than thirty-eight. The beautiful comet was visible in the northwest during the whole month.

The inhabitants of Savannah were sensible of four earthquakes. The first was on the morning of the 16th December, between two and three o'clock. It was preceded by a flash of light, and a rattling noise, resembling that of a carriage passing over a paved road. It lasted about a minute. A second soon succeeded, but its duration was shorter. A third happened about eight o'clock; and a fourth about noon on the 17th. Persons who experienced the hardest shock, were made to totter, as if on shipboard. Its course was believed to be from southwest to northeast.

It was observed, by Dr. Macbride of Pineville, (S.C.) that the earthquake terrified the inhabitants exceedingly. It was accompanied by several appearances that countenances the theory of this phenomenon, which brings in the agency of the electric fluid. 1. The unfrequency or absence of thunder storms; that is, they were much less frequent this year than usual, especially in the autumn. 2. Immediately before the earthquake, a red appearance of the clouds, which had much darkened the water for twenty-four hours immediately before the shock; and 3. The loudness of the thunder, and the number of the peals within twenty-four hours after the first shock, and but a few hours before the last, which was felt before he wrote. Such thunder was very unusual at that season.

At Natchez, the occurrences, as related by a careful observer, were as follow: Four shocks were felt on the morning of the 16th. The principal one was at tem minutes after two, A.M. There was no noise, except in a few situations. Several clocks were stopped. Articles, in some instances, fell from shelves. Plastered walls were sometimes cracked. The Mississippi was agitated as if the banks were falling in. The trees in the forests waved their tops. Many houses were shaken considerably. And things suspended on nails or pins swung backwards and forwards.

Information was forwarded from Tennessee, that the earth quaked so violently, as to throw down chimnies, in some places. Eighteen or twenty acres of land, adjacent to Piney river, suddenly fell down, and sunk so low, that the tops of the trees were on a level with the surrounding earth. Four other shocks were experienced on the 17th, and one or more continued daily until the 30th.

At Knoxville, the quaking of the earth on the 16th was represented to have lasted more than three minutes. The rattling of the windows and furniture of the houses were such as to awaken almost every family. This was about two in the morning. It was followed, in half an hour, by another, which continued half a minute. Between sunrise and breakfast, three others were felt, of only a few seconds in duration. At the end of the first and longest shock, there were, in a direction due north, two flashes of light, at the interval of about a minute, very much like distant lightning.

At Columbia, in Tennessee, between two and three o'clock on the morning of the 16th December, the inhabitants were suddenly alarmed by a voilent agitation in the earth. It was accompanied by a peculiar sound, proceeding from southwest to northeast. Immediately after the shock had ceased, a very large volume of something like smoke was discovered to rise in the quarter whence the sound appeared to come; and pursuing nearly the same course, finally settled in the north, exhibiting the appearance of a black cloud. The shock was computed to have continued from ten to fifteen minutes.

At Louisville, (Ken.) near the falls of the Ohio, on Monday morning about three o'clock, a violent shock of an earthquake was felt. It was judged to have continued about three minutes. This was followed by three or four others of less violence. A number of houses suffered considerable damage; the chimnies having been so much cracked as to require repairs by the mason. On the evening previous to the shock, there was a gentle rain, such as we have in April; and the night was rather close and dark; but at the termination of the first shock, it was light enough to enable a pin to be seen..."

More reports to come.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Earthquakes of 1811-1812

Landslide scarps in Chickasaw Bluffs, east of Reelfoot Lake, created by the New Madrid earthquake are still visible in 1904 (Fuller). (Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)

J. Mark Lowe

The residents of Kentucky, Tennessee and beyond were shaken by the events beginning early on the morning of the 15th of December, 1811. Their inability to watch an instant newscast of the action or even know what happened for days fueled much misinformation. The earthquakes of 1811-12 that destroyed New Madrid, Missouri and made Reelfoot Lake did considerable damage along the Mississippi river. These earthquakes shook the whole country. One of the worst occurred Dec. 15, 1811, at night, the shocks being felt about every 15 minutes. The navigable rivers were thrown into convulsions, and a number of boats were lost. Muddy logs from the bottom of the stream were thrown to the surface and became so thick that they impeded the passage of boats. Great sections of earth along the Mississippi river sunk, and islands were rent asunder and disappeared. Trees were twisted and lashed together. The earthquake was accompanied by a tremendous distant noise, resembling thunder. These disturbances occurred at intervals for some time and were very alarming to the people. This account by an unknown resident of Springfield [Tennessee] to his brother was found in a newspaper.
City Gazette and Daily Advertiser, Washington DC, 11 January 1812.
(Extract of a letter from a gentleman in Springfield (Tennessee) to his brother in Washington City [DC] dated December 16, 1811.
“We have since yesterday morning about two o’clock experienced one of the most sublime, grand and awful scenes perhaps on record: The night of the 15th, being remarkably dark and cloudy, accompanied by a stillness of the air equal to the silence of the tombs; a little past two o’clock, Mrs. (--), and myself, being awake, there appeared to be a rustling of something similar to wind at a distance; we were however, soon undeceived by a rattling of things in the house, and then a sensible rocking of the same, to a very great degree --- I made up a light as soon as possible and opened the door, more effectually to discover the cause; when to my utter amazement, there was a perfect calm, and nothing but an agitated rolling of the earth from southwest to northeast; this continued, I think from seven to ten minutes; after which the convulsions of nature, appeared to cease for about forty or fifty minutes, when a second shock, tho’ much lighter than the former, alarmed us if possible, more than the first – An interval then took place till about sunrise, when another shock equal I believe to the first gave us fresh alarm. I walked out into the yard, with difficulty could stand steady; saw the earth under my feet, oscillate, as plainly as I ever saw the pendulum of a clock, for some minutes; it then stopped, and was followed by three or four more in succession, for the space of thirty or forty minutes, since then we have had six light shocks – It is now one o’clock at night; we are in dread of other returns before morning. The consternation we are all in has prevented any speculative conjecture – I a now by myself, and will hazard to you my opinion – I think, from the short time I have had to reflect on the course of this phenomena of nature, that it must be owing to one of two causes, viz., either Orleans or New Mexico, or some large tract of land, surrounding the Gulf, has sunk, a similar circumstance, in all human probability, having formed the Gulf, previous to any historical account of this continent – or the other, which I think more improbable, that the Comet, in its ellipsis, forming so near a parallel with the sun and earth and adding its attractive force to that of the Sun, has had this wonderful effect – This in my mind is mere hypothesis. One thing I know, we have felt the effects, in some degree, and I wish some able philosopher to ascertain the cause, if possible.
The following excerpt was written by Judge John Haywood :
The day before the first earthquake, was darkened from morning to night by thick fog; and divers persons perceived a sulphurous scent. The wind ceased, and there was a dead calm, without the least breath of air, on the day of the earthquake. The like calm preceded all the shocks. A dull and heavy obscuration of the atmosphere also usually preceded them. The effluvia, which caused the dimness of the day, seemed to be neither cloud nor smoke, yet resembling both. It was too light for clouds, and too thin for common smoke, and of a lighter cast. It seldom terminated in condensation, a Tennessee vapors usually do
In the time of the earthquakes, lights were seen in the night, sometimes westwardly, like the light of the sun before it is closed by the darkness of the night; but shooting much farther toward the east, and continuing much longer than the light of the sun after setting. And sometimes in the night, the heavens would seem to be tinged with a reddish color, supposed to be the effect of invisible effluvia issuing through the pores of the earth, and collecting above us like smoke in the spring, a which rises from log-heaps and brush-heaps, and shows itself like light at a distance.
In the time of the earthquake, a murmuring noise, like that of fire disturbed by the blowing of a bellows, issued from the pores of the earth. A distant rumbling was heard, almost without intermission, and sometimes seemed to be in the air. Explosions, like the discharge of a cannon at a few miles distance, were heard; and at night flashes of lightning seemed sometimes to break from the earth.
In some places west of the Mississippi, a troublesome warmth of the earth was perceptible to the naked feet.
The frightened horses ran snorting in the fields, the hogs squealed; the dogs barked; and the fowls descended from their roosts. In the time of the shocks, many persons experienced a nauseating sickness at the stomach, and a trembling of the knees.
Sources: City Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 11 January 1812; Earthquakes in Missouri, 1913; History of Tennessee, Haywood.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How Tennessee and Kentucky Country Hams Became Famous

J. Mark Lowe

Although our consumption of country hams has declined, the special flavor is one that many still desire on special occasions. It was a tradition in the church where I was raised that a special country ham was the gift from the congregation to the minister at Christmastime.
It was always a special treat to have country ham and biscuit at a neighbor's home. I remember when as a Boy Scout our troop went to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We were allowed to bring along a girlfriend. We ate in the Dining Room there and I ordered ham from the menu. The server asked if I knew that it was 'country ham' not 'city ham?' Being somewhat embarrassed (in front of my date) being questioned about ham, I said, "I'm from the country and that's the only ham I eat" The ham was delicious, but the story got spread throughout our group.
Country ham is synonymous with hospitality and the South. Once at Old Washington in Mason County, Kentucky, I was honored to be at a re-created 18th Century Dinner. A variety of country ham was presented with numerous secret recipes. I know that at least one contained some sipping whiskey. Along with the scrumptious ham, we were served Cat Head biscuits, with regular butter. Rounding out the platter were sweet potatoes with options for Kentucky Bourbon butter with cinnamon. No wonder some of my Ancestors were large-boned.
I found two interesting stories about locally produced country ham. One was a wonderful story printed in the December 20th edition for 1898 in the St Louis Post-Dispatch about country hams from Robertson county Tennessee and the other a cookbook published in 1889 by Alex Fillippini. Get those hot biscuits ready.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Dec 20, 1898
“The ‘country hams’ made by three generations of Washingtons of Robertson county, Tenn., have ranked with the finest cured hams in America. For 75 years these hams have been noted for their flavor, and early in this country the leading hotels of Philadelphia and New Orleans had “Washington’s country hams” announced on their bills of fare.
Joseph Washington (1770-1848) was a Virginian. He went to Tennessee early in the present century. He grew tobacco and cured hams by the old Virginia method. His son, the late Col. George Washington (pictured at left)followed him, and he soon became the largest tobacco grower in the world[He was actually the second largest tobacco grower in the world, first in the U.S.] and the largest land cultivator in Tennessee. Col. Washington also kept up the quality of the Washington hams. Today George A. Washington (1868-1926), on the old estate of his father and grandfather, used the same formula for preparing his meat as the Washingtons of Virginia used in the last century. It has been given out by Mr. Washington for publication.
“There is no particular breed of hogs that I use to secure these hams.” He said. “I always kill my hogs in November, for November meat does not spoil like some slaughtered in December or January. I won’t kill in freezing weather, either, for it is not necessary to have it as cold as 32 degrees. I think 40 degrees is about the right temperature. If the weather turns suddenly cold and freezes my pork I do not salt it down, but in this case I put the pork in a warm cellar until it entirely thaws. Sometimes this takes two days, but I will not salt frozen meat.
I use none but Ohio River salt. I have a lot of red pepper ground up, and I mix it thoroughly with the salt. I make the mixture a reddish color, but cannot tell by measures how much pepper I put to the bushel of salt; I only go by the color. When the mixture is made I pour on New Orleans molasses and mix that to the consistency of soft dough. First I have the hams cut and a little saltpeter rubbed all around the center bone. I then put them out of doors in the sun for an hour, and afterwards rub well the skin with the mixture. The men wear hand leathers or mittens to rub with, and when this is done sufficiently, the skin is so soft that you can pinch it up. I then pack down all other pieces of meat and put the hams on top, for I do not want them pressed by the other meat. I cover, with a good coat of this mixture the flesh side of the ham; I suppose the thickness of the coating is about a quarter of an inch. I have no regular time to leave them in the salt; that depends on the weather. I can tell from their appearance when they should be hung up. When this time comes I have a kettle of strong pepper water, and dip the hams in that & wash them clean. I then smoke them sufficiently with green hickory. They are at last put in canvas cover and painted with a good coat of whitewash and in this manner they will keep for years.”
The Table: How to Buy Food, How to Cook It, and How to Serve It, 1889
How to Prepare Ham for Broiling and Frying.— Procure a fine, sound, smoked ham, preferably a Washington Ham from Tennessee, weighing about twelve to thirteen pounds, selecting it as lean as possible. With a sharp knife, begin cutting it carefully at the end of the shank bone, between the bone and the string used for hanging purposes, coming down on to the knuckle ; follow the edge of the bone, until the small edge bone is fully reached, then make a straight cross-cut from the bone, so as to separate it entirely. When this
is accomplished, put the bone part aside for soup, garnishing, scrambled eggs, sauces, or any other needful purposes. Keep the ham hung up in a dry place in a moderate temperature.
For broiling and frying. — Cut from the boneless part the necessary number of slices desired to be used each time, as thin as possible, always beginning from the side of the edge-bone. Pare off the skin neatly from the slices, and arrange them on the broiler, then broil them for two minutes on each side; take from off the fire, dress them on a hot dish, and send to the table. By preparing the ham as described in the above, it will always be crisp and enjoyable. When frying, four minutes will be sufficient in very hot fat.

Okay, friends - what's your story about Country Ham or Cat-Head Biscuits? I'm off to the kitchen to see what's cooking.
If you are interested in learning more about this plantation see The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family's Journey to Freedom by John Baker, Jr.