The Great Comet & New Madrid Earthquakes 1811/1812
The year 1811 started off with an amazing sight, one not many humans are “lucky” enough to ever see in their lifetime. The great comet of 1811 was first spotted in March of 1811 and its intensity increased through December 1811. Some recordings show it had a tail 25 degrees long and a head 50% larger than the sun. It's intensity was brightest on Oct, 1811; it faded away by April, 1812. This comet was the most visible celestrial sight that occurred in 2000 years. Like other great comets, it was a cause of great concern. Adding to their fears was the fact that in September of the same year, there was a total eclipse of the sun that moved across the tri-state lands, including the New Madrid region.
The appearance of this great comet, which was visible around the globe for seventeen months, and was at its brightest during the earthquakes. The comet, has an orbit of 3,065 years, was last seen during the time of Ramses II in Egypt.
In December of 1811 the comet appeared to some observers to fade and to others it appeared to “perform frightening acrobatics and split in two”. Curiously, it also had a circumpolar orbit as viewed by many, staying within view for 24 hours a day at certain latitudes, appearing to be “homing in” on the earth. When the earthquakes struck and the Mississippi actaully flowed backwards for a brief time, locals in the region, thought the comet had struck the earth on the upper Mississippi or Ohio Rivers.
The Great Comet of 1811, with a coma over a million miles across, was visible in the sky for almost a year. The Comet of 1811 was the brightest comet with the longest duration of brightness on record (260 days) until Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. To many people, the appearance of this unusual celestial visitor in the night sky portended doom. The comet passed closest to Earth on October 20th. The head and coma of the comet was reported to be wider than the diameter of the Sun and it had a very long, bright tail despite not coming very close to the Earth.
Two months later, on December 16th, the first of three extraordinary earthquakes struck the midwestern and southern United States. These quakes were so intense they shook church bells in New England and Charleston, and for a time, parts of the Mississippi River flowed backward. They were considered a magnitude 7 to 8 — and people blamed them on the comet.
Unfortunately for those in living near New Madrid, Arkansas in December 1811, this comet made life anything but ordinary. The massive New Madrid earthquakes began in December 1811 and continued through the Spring of 1812. The “comet” appeared to leave in 1812, although there is some uncertainty as to whether it really left entirely.
During the winter of 1811-12, a series of some 1,874 recorded tremors within the New Madrid fault dramatically altered the landscape on some 30-50,000 square miles of land creating Reelfoot Lake in extreme northwest Tennessee. The New Madrid Earthquake, the largest earthquake ever recorded in the contiguous United States, occurred on February 7, 1812, with magnitude estimates greater than 8.0 on the Richter scale. It got its name from its primary location in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, near New Madrid, Louisiana Territory (now Missouri). The first earthquake preceded three other major quakes: two on December 16, 1811, and one on January 23, 1812. There were also numerous aftershocks in the area for the rest of that winter. There are estimates that the earthquakes were felt strongly over 50,000 square miles and moderately across nearly one million square miles.
The New Madrid earthquakes were the biggest earthquakes in American history. They occurred in the central Mississippi Valley, but were felt as far away as New York City, Boston, Montreal, and Washington D.C. President James Madison and his wife Dolly felt them in the White House. Church bells rang in Boston. From December 16, 1811 through March of 1812 there were over 2,000 earthquake aftershocks in the central Midwest, and between 6,000-10,000 earthquakes in the Bootheel of Missouri where New Madrid is located near the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In the known history of the world, no other earthquakes have lasted so long or produced so much evidence of damage as the New Madrid earthquakes. Three of the earthquakes are on the list of America's top earthquakes: the first one on December 16, 1811, a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale; the second on January 23, 1812, at 7.8; and the third on February 7, 1812, at as much as 8.8 magnitude.
After the February 7th earthquake, the Mississippi River actually ran backwards for several hours. The force of the land upheaval 15 miles south of New Madrid created Reelfoot Lake, drowned the inhabitants of an Indian village; turned the river against itself to flow backwards, it devastated thousands of acres of virgin forest and created two temporary waterfalls on the Mississippi. Boats floating in the middle of the Ohio River they were protected from the earthquake tremors shaking the land, but not from the hazards of falling trees, disappearing islands, and collapsing river banks.
The area of strong shaking associated with these shocks was two to three times larger than that of the 1964 Alaska earthquake and 10 times larger than that of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The midwest experienced more than 2,000 earthquakes in five months, people discovered that most of crevices opening up during an earthquake ran from north to south and they would chop down trees in an east- west direction using the trees as a bridge. There were "missing people" who were most likely swallowed up by the earth. Some earthquake fissures were as long as five miles.
The world's largest sand boil was created by the New Madrid earthquake. It is 1.4 miles long and 136 acres in extent, located in the Bootheel of Missouri, about eight miles west of Hayti, Missouri. Locals call it "The Beach." Other, much smaller, sand boils are found throughout the area. Seismic Tar Balls; Small pellets up to golf ball sized tar balls are found in sand boils and fissures. They are petroleum that has been solidified, or "petroliferous nodules.” Earthquake Lights; Lights flashed up from the ground, caused by quartz crystals being squeezed. The phenomena is called “seismoluminescence."
The 1811-1812 earthquakes caused at least 221 landslides along the bluffs that define the eastern boundary of the Mississippi River. This implies that most of the landslides were triggered by a series of event, which is likely to have been the 1811-1812 earthquakes. Sounds of distant and loud prolonged peals of thunder and loud explosions accompanied the earthquakes. People reported strange behavior by animals before the earthquakes. They were nervous and excited. Domestic animals became wild, and wild animals became tame. Snakes came out of the ground from hibernation. Flocks of ducks and geese landed near people.
There were temporary river waterfalls where the Mississippi ran backwards during 1811-12 earthquakes. It happened when a thrust fault created a sudden dam several feet high near the bottom of the river loop near New Madrid. The uplift caused both a dam and waterfalls at different locations and raised eight to ten meters (26 to 33 feet). This is the event that created the so-called "Kentucky Bend", a small peninsula was created; it covers a land area of 17.5 sq miles, and is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River.
There was a little town they're called little Prairie Ark., which sank into the ground slowly over that first day. The people soon found themselves knee-deep in water and had to wade for several miles in a northeast direction to get up to high ground, the whole town simply disappeared with no trace of it today. Those who got out spoke of people who were carrying their children on their shoulders in water waist-deep at times. Animals of all kinds, possums and raccoons and coyotes and snakes were swimming around them. It was a really quite a scene, to them it was if Armageddon had struck. Meanwhile as they walked northward later that day another shock wave struck. Some panic, thinking if they get out of the flat ground they could probably be safe on the hills, but they didn't know until they reach the hills, that there were landslides to contend with too. They described scenes where people were gathering, praying together. Not surprisingly there was a tremendous religious revival following these earthquakes in the following years, as the regions’ rural congregations of the Christians, Methodists, and the Baptist's saw a sizable increase in membership. But those that suffered the most from these earthquakes were the Native Americans and we don't have a good census on them but they far outnumbered the white settlers and so there were probably several thousand Native Americans living up in this whole region. Where Helena Arkansa is today there was a tribe and during the earthquakes the ground sank flooded their village and not all of them survived many drowned near Osceola, Arkansas, and there was second Indian village they knew of that sank into the ground. Sadly, there is virtually no written history of what Native Americans experienced during this horrible natural disaster. Local Indians had an oral history of major earthquake events occurring within the memories of their elders, but geologists say that nobody in their tribes would have ever experienced anything remotely like this. Finally, as stories of devastation got out, there was a fleet of 19 boats docked at New Madrid the night the earthquake hit, 18 of them took off and went down the river one of them stayed and the 18 that left were never seen or heard of again.
The Arrival of the Tecumseh’s Comet In the USA, the comet was named Tecumseh's Comet and the Europeans called it “Napoleon's Comet”. Tecumseh was an important Native American mystic, warrior and military leader of the Shawnee. His name ominously meant “Shooting Star” or “He who walks across the sky.” Tecumseh’s brother, who was a religious leader, known as “The Prophet,” had predicted a solar eclipse in 1806. Supposedly, William Henry Harrison, then governor of Indiana was worried the Prophet was becoming too popular and challenged him to produce a miracle. The Prophet announced another solar eclipse occur and so it did, on September 17, 1811. It should be added that the Prophet had contact with visiting European astronomers allied with the Shawnees, who told him the solar eclipse would take place.
In 1811, Rev. Alexander Davidson, pioneer, circuit preacher, pastor, church founder, and former Kentucky state representative, decides its a good time to write out his Last Will and Testament. He will live long enough to revise it again in 1817.
ALEXANDER DAVIDSON III's Last Will and Testament Originally written written June 15th, 1811 IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN, the Fifteenth of June One Thousand Eight hundred and eleven; and of the Independance of America the Thirty Fifth year, I, Alexander Davidson being in good health and of perfect memory; but calling to rememberance the mortalitity of things sublunary and that all flesh must yield to the destiny of nature where it shall please God to call, Do make ordain constitute and declare, THIS, my last Will and Testament revoking and annulling by these presents all and every testament or testaments Will or Wills by me heretofore made and declared either by word or writing and this only to be taken for my last Will and none other. And first I resign my Soul to God who gave it in hopes of a happy immortality through the Mediation of my Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ, and my body to be decently interred at discretion and for the seting my temporal estate I do order give and dispose of the same as follows, towit: and first I will that all those debts I owe in right to any Person or named or persons shall be paid at a convenient time after my decease by my Executors here after named. I give and bequeath to my beloved wife Mary my real and persona] Estate during her natural life under the following restrictions towit That as the several Legatee share under named shall come of age she the said Mary shall give them as followeth: To my Sons: Jesse Davidson Thirty pounds in Stock and household furniture; The said Mary shall give in like Stock and furniture as above mentioned to Abram Jacob Ellice Asa and Alan Albert Davidson and my Daughters: Elizabeth and Sarah Davidson the sum of fifty Pounds to each of them should my 26 wife Mary decease before the above Legatees or any of them be entitled to and receive the above sums they shall never the less receive their respective shares of Fifty pounds befor an equal division shall take place. But at my said Wifes' death and after the said Legatees whether of age or non age have received their portions heretofore assigned them Then the remainder of my real and personal Estate shall be divided as folows towit: Equally betwen all my sons and Daughters and Step Daughters name1y: James, John, Alexander, Ann, Hezek1ah, William Margaret. Elizah, Benjamin, Isaac, Elizabeth, Jesse, Sarah, Rachel Abram, Jacob, Ellis, Asa, Alan and Albert Davidson.
Lastly I constitute and appoint my dear and loving wife Mary and my sons: Alexander, Hezekiah and Benjamin Davidson my Executors and, Executris of this my last will and Testament. In witness where of I have hereunto set my hand, and affixed my seal the date first written. Signed Sealed and declared in Presents of Alexander Davidson (Seal) Teste: George Murrell William Trigg William Depp (ancestor to Johnny Depp) Clement Montague (1817 Will Probate) - Barren County Towit August County Court (This Instrument of writing purporting to be the last Will & Testament of Alexr. Davidson Senr. dec'd was produced in Court & William Trigg & George Murrel two of the subscribing Witnesses being sworn deposeth that the said Alexr. Davidson delivered the said writing as his Last Will and the believe he was of a proper deposing mind and memory and thereupon the said writing was ordered to be recorded as the true last Will & Testament of the said Alexander Davidson. Will Records of Barren County, Kentucky