Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System Part IV: Background Info to the Historic Quakes By Stephanie Osborn
Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System Part IV: Background Info to the Historic Quakes
Excerpted from Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System, ©2017
By Stephanie Osborn
Images in this article are public domain, unless otherwise specified.
This whole collection of writings started off with an email exchange, months ago. Our illustrious hostess was part of the discussion, and expressed interest in my converting the info to one or more blog articles. Then, when the LibertyCon programmers heard about it, they asked me to give a presentation on same, which I did.
The presentation was a full house, and at the end, there was a request for me to convert it to blogs and/or an ebook. I asked how many would like to see an ebook of the material; virtually every hand in the lecture hall went up.
A little over a month later, with additional research under my belt and factored into the manuscript, the book has gone live. And as promised, I am providing Sarah a series of blog articles on the subject. This series of blog articles is only a small fraction of the material contained in the ebook; it may be considered in the nature of a series of informative abstracts of the information contained therein. For additional information, may I recommend that you check out Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System.
Part IV: Background Info to the Historic Quakes in 1811-12
While the Native American tribes and nations of the region were aware of the activity in what later came to be known as the Reelfoot Rift, there were no records of this activity until the arrival of European settlers around 1800.
December 25, 1699 is the first quake on the New Madrid fault system known to have a written record. It was recorded in the journal of a French missionary, who was traveling with a group of explorers on the Mississippi River.
The quake occurred at approximately 1:00pm on Christmas Day. The party was at that time ashore near present-day Memphis, TN when they experienced a brief period of ground shaking. Little more is known of the event.
The 1811-12 Series
The best-known stories of quakes in the New Madrid Fault Zone occurred during the winter of 1811-12. This was also the widest-felt, and there are many eyewitness accounts as a result, despite the sparse population density at the time.
The Region As It Was In 1811
The United States of America was only 35 years old.
The Louisiana Purchase was made in 1803. Tennessee had been admitted to the Union about 15 years previous; Kentucky, just 19. Those were the ONLY actual STATES in the Union that were directly affected by the quakes. All the rest were territories, some of which were actively in dispute.
As a consequence, the area was VERY sparsely settled. St. Louis, MO, one of the largest cities in the northern region of the affected area, was relatively small, with an estimated population of some 1,200. Tiny New Madrid, MO had a population of only ~200. Natchez, MS and New Orleans, LA were both about a century old. The total population in New Orleans marked it as a large city of the day, estimated by some at approximately 25,000.
[New Orleans at the time of the Louisiana Purchase]
The Mississippi River was navigated entirely by wooden vessels; there were no iron/steel hulls. Canoes, dugouts, rafts, flatboats, and barges were the typical means of river transport. The New Orleans, the first paddlewheel steamboat on the Mississippi, left Pittsburgh PA on 20 Oct 1811 and navigated down the Ohio to the Mississippi and thence to New Orleans. The distance was 1100 miles. It had to wait in Louisville KY throughout November 1811 for the river to rise sufficiently to get over the rapids that were downstream. It did not depart Louisville until early December. The steamboat was still on the Ohio River at Owensboro, KY, ~150mi upstream of the river’s mouth on the Mississippi and ~200mi from New Madrid, MO when the quake series began, and it had to traverse the affected portions of the Mississippi River during the subsequent temblor swarm. It did not reach New Orleans until 10 January 1812.
[1911 replica of Steamboat New Orleans on the centennial of its maiden voyage – Lee Line Steamers, Riverboat History]
The “Great Comet of 1811” was conspicuously visible in the autumn of that year; it was viewed by many as a portent of things to come. So common were viewings of the comet, and so great the impact it produced on the viewers, that authors such as Tolstoy and artists like John Linnell and William Blake took note, incorporating it into their respective artistry. It was at least partly viewed as a forecast of Napoleon’s subsequent invasion of Russia, and thus was sometimes called “Napoleon’s Comet.”
A total annular solar eclipse tracked across the United States on 17 September of 1811 as well. Having started in the Bering Sea, it swept over Alaska (then a Russian territory; it would be over 50 years before the USA would acquire it), through the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, clipping the Yukon Territory and Ontario before tracking through northeastern North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and the District of Columbia. It also clipped the adjacent corners on Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. It, too, was viewed as a portent of things to come.
On a more political front, Louisiana was in the midst of a slave uprising. In the same region, the Creeks were growing restless; intra-tribal tensions were building to the Red Stick Rebellion, a kind of tribal civil war that would break out in 1813. The Seminoles were likewise uneasy, and in essence the Creek uprising would touch off the First Seminole War a few years later.
To the north, many of the area’s Native American population was already in turmoil, as Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa had formed a multi-tribal confederation, with Tenskwatawa and others leading a spiritual revival. It was in this timeframe that Tecumseh began what some have called “Tecumseh’s War,” which ultimately segued into the War of 1812, all beginning with the Battle of Tippecanoe just over a month prior to the first quake.
It was in this uncertain time that the earth chose to move.
It did not help matters of Indian unrest.
To obtain a copy of Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System by Stephanie Osborn, go to: