Hundreds of aftershocks were felt in 1813. These are estimated at between 7 and 8 on the richter scale. NEW MADRID EARTHQUAKE 1811-1812. Valencius, Conevery Bolton. Since 1812, frequent smaller earthquakes have been recorded in the area. St. Louis, farther removed from the epicenter, escaped with only toppled chimneys and a few cracked stone and brick walls. A series of minor earth tremors (maximum magnitude of just 2.6) have not so much shaken as shivered the Mississippi valley between Paducah and Memphis over the past 30 days. A second series of tremors started on January 23, 1812, and the final and most severe set of shocks followed on February 7. New Madrid resident Eliza Bryan vividly recalled the awful noises of the first shocks replete with the distant reverberations of hoarse and vibrating thunder, the cracking sounds of falling trees, and the river’s thunderous roar, all punctuated by the smell of sulfur. By late spring the aftershocks had gradually diminished, but in the forlorn New Madrid district, only the hardiest souls remained. Joseph Charless, the editor of the Missouri Gazette, momentarily thought that a volcanic eruption farther west might have been responsible for the clamor of windows, doors, and furniture in motion that interrupted his sleep. The New Madrid Earthquakes. All rights reserved. According to his reckoning, the earth had become lodged between the comet’s two horns and was now attempting to dislodge itself. John P. Rafferty writes about Earth processes and the environment. “A World Convulsed: Earthquakes, Authority and the Making of Nations in the War of 1812 Era.” PhD diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013. It probably had a magnitude of 7.5-7.9 on the Richter scale. The shock, whose epicentre was also located near New Madrid, Missouri, shook the region at 3:45 am and resulted in the destruction of New Madrid. On land the impact of the earthquakes was no less horrific. The temblors were felt far beyond New Madrid and its environs. The third principal earthquake, on February 7, however, matched or exceeded the strength and severity of the December 16 event. When the quakes finally ended, the most adversely affected areas were in shambles: buildings collapsed, great fissures appeared in the earth’s surface, some land sank and other land uplifted, sand blows deposited subsurface sediment over large areas, rivers and streams altered their courses, the Mississippi briefly reversed its flow, large new lakes were formed, and entire forests were toppled. At dawn’s first light Pierce beheld the full extent of devastation wrought by the nighttime shocks: “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. By Barbara Lewellen Introduction. Published March 13, 2020; Last updated March 19, 2020, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), The encyclopedia is freely provided with support from. They were among the most intense earthquakes in US history and by far the largest to occur east of the Rocky Mountains. Bradbury wisely opposed that course, and after dispensing glasses of spirits persuaded the uneasy crew to remain on board and continue downriver in deep water. The earthquakes and their aftershocks took place within a large region called the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ)—an area of high earthquake risk running from northeastern Arkansas and northwestern Tennessee to southeastern Missouri and southwestern Kentucky. U.S. Pres. The 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes were an intense intraplate earthquake series beginning with an initial earthquake of moment magnitude (7.5 -7.9) on December 16, 1811 followed by a moment magnitude 7.4 aftershock on the same day. Abstract Continental North America's greatest earthquake sequence struck on the western frontier of the United States. Image credit: USGS. Giant waves rose up and swept north, giving the impression that the river was actually flowing backwards. Structural damage also occurred in St. Louis, Missouri, where several chimneys fell because of the ground vibration. The frontier was not then California but the valley of the continent's greatest river, the Mississippi, and the sequence was the New Madrid earthquakes of the winter of 1811–1812. These events include clusters of large earthquakes that have been dated to 2350 bce, 900 ce, and 1450 ce. Although many people think of California’s San Andreas fault, which birthed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, as the most dangerous in North America, the quakes from 1811 to 1812 that erupted from the New Madrid Seismic Zone were the most destructive. We reexamine original felt reports from the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes … See Magnitude - replaces Richter scale. 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. New Madrid, Missouri, was the biggest settlement in the region at the time of the quakes, and the surrounding land were devastated in 1811-12. And far beyond, too: at magnitude 8.2 on the Richter scale, that earthquake reverberated over an area of more than 50,000 square miles, rattling windows as far away as Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Of greater importance is the resulting legislation, Bill No. The upthrusting of the land some 15 miles (24 km) to the south of the epicentre pushed water into a basin that dropped 5 to 20 feet (1.5 to 6 metres) and created Reelfoot Lake, which is located near Tiptonville, Tennessee. The waters of the Mississippi rose and fell like a great tide. Attempts to link the bright and long-appearing comet of 1811 to the onset of the North American earthquakes were commonplace among Euro-American and Native American observers alike. He serves currently as the editor of Earth and life sciences, covering climatology, geology, zoology, and other topics that relate to... Map of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12. There also was an aftershock of magnitude 7.4 on the same day. Some scientists estimate the February quake at 8.8 magnitude. The 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes were an intense intraplate earthquake series beginning with an initial earthquake of moment magnitude 7.5‑7.9 on December 16, 1811 … And finally, I have a letter Eliza Bryan wrote to Rev. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 92(8), 3259-3268. Over the years, estimates have placed the 1811-12 quakes’ magnitudes anywhere from under 7.0 to 8.5—an enormous range given that one additional unit … The Mississippi Valley Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812: Intensities, Ground Motion, and Magnitudes. 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. The epicentre of the aftershock is a matter of some debate; some Earth scientists noted that it was located in northeastern Arkansas, whereas others maintained that it was located in northwestern Tennessee near the southern end of the Reelfoot Fault, a large fault running northwest-southeast within the Reelfoot Rift. Explains differences, and Mercalli intensity scale. In 1815, Congress belatedly authorized persons owning lands damaged by the New Madrid earthquakes to relocate at no charge on the same quantity of land on any US public lands available for sale. This region had 4 major 8.0+ magnitude earthquakes from December 1811-February 1812, during the Dalton Minimum (which included the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816), as well as during other periods of intense seismic activity during solar grand minima. https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php. Huge cracks split the ground. There were thousands of aftershocks, of which 1,874 were large enough to be felt in Louisville, Kentucky, about 190 miles (300 km) away. US Geological Survey. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). Scholars do agree, however, that the New Madrid earthquakes were the strongest such events recorded in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Like the main shock, however, seismic waves from this event were also felt in cities along the Eastern Seaboard. During the winter of 1811 to 1812, the sparsely populated New Madrid, Mo., area was jolted by a series of three powerful earthquakes now estimated to have been of magnitude 7.5 to 8.3. Another local citizen echoed her sentiments: “we were awakened by a most tremendous noise, while the house danced about and seemed as if it would fall on our heads.” As the earthquakes persisted, the river town’s terrified inhabitants fled their rolling and jostling homes and established encampments on higher ground to avoid the dangers of flooding. The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes. Magnitude: December 16, 1811: 2 A.M. 8.2: January 23, 1812: 8.1: February 7, 1812: 3:15 A.M. 8.3: The estimated locations of the epicenters of these earthquakes are shown below: Several towns, including New Madrid, shown on the above map were destroyed by the quakes. On the Mississippi River itself, the shaking calved the soil along riverbanks and caused trees lining the river to fall into the water. 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. The relocated refugee Cherokee bands once again abandoned their farms, cattle, and property and headed farther west, where they encountered resistance from the nearby Osage population. It appears here by permission of the author and the original publisher. Between December 16, 1811, and February 7, 1812, seven earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 to 7.5 on the Richter scale and numerous lesser aftershocks ravaged the affected area. Since the area was sparsely populated there are few eye-witness accounts. Penick, James Lal, Jr. Reports indicate that between December 1811 and March 1812, there were over 2000 earthquakes and aftershocks along the New Madrid fault. The active faults in the New Madrid Seismic Zone are difficult to assess because they are hidden beneath thick layers of soft river-deposited soils, but current US Geological Survey maps show it to be a high hazard zone comparable to those in California. Native people generally viewed the tremors as signs of the Great Spirit’s displeasure with their impure ways of living and the continuing American encroachment on their lands, but they chose to respond in widely divergent ways. In 2011 the results of a report prepared by the USGS noted that residents within an area of approximately 232,000 square miles (about 600,000 square km) experienced very strong ground shaking, and people living in an area of roughly 965,000 square miles (about 2,500,000 square km) experienced shaking that was intense enough to frighten them. 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