Landslide trench and ridge in the Chickasaw Bluffs east of Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee, that resulted from the New Madrid earthquakes (1811–12). Like the main shock, however, seismic waves from this event were also felt in cities along the Eastern Seaboard. Citation Hough, S. E. (2002). NEW MADRID EARTHQUAKE 1811-1812. Eyewitness accounts noted that the shaking rang church bells as far away as Boston, Massachusetts, and brought down chimneys in Cincinnati, Ohio, about 360 miles (580 km) away. The location of the earthquake’s epicentre is controversial, but it is thought to have been located in the vicinity of New Madrid, Missouri, along a fault that runs perpendicular to the Reelfoot Fault. Dear Sir: 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. Bradbury, who viewed these events from a scientific perspective, chose not to challenge the settler’s firmly held beliefs. By Barbara Lewellen Introduction. Initially, they suspected that hostile Indians had caused the mischief by unleashing their tethered vessel from its moorings, but a succession of shocks soon alerted them to the true source of the mayhem. Large waves formed on the water that capsized numerous boats and thrust others onto the land. Some pursued the combative intertribal militancy favored by Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa, while others opted for more accommodationist strategies true to their own unique cultural frames of reference. Map of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12. Fissures opened in the ground; some were filled with water from the nearby Mississippi River or wetlands, which was later expelled high into the air when the fissures closed. The backwoods claimant of spiritual knowledge feared that these ominous occurrences might portend the approach of the end times. 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 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. “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. https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php. More-precise figures have been presented by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Earthquake Hazards Program: magnitude 7.7 for the December earthquake and magnitudes 7.5 and 7.7 for the January and February earthquakes, respectively. The main shock that occurred at 2:15 am on December 16, 1811, was a result of slippage along the Cottonwood Grove Fault in northeastern Arkansas. In the most seriously impacted areas, raised or sunken lands, fissures, sand blows, and landslides were commonplace. Structural damage also occurred in St. Louis, Missouri, where several chimneys fell because of the ground vibration. Research indicates that the 1811–1812 New Madrid earthquake sequence was preceded by at least two similar earthquake sequences in about 1450 AD and 900 AD, and that over the past 5,000 years or so, other large earthquakes have also occurred in the region surrounding the main area of the currently active New Madrid seismic zone. The New Madrid fault system was responsible for the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes, and has the potential to produce large earthquakes in the future. New Madrid, Territory, Missouri, March 22, 1816. Since the area was sparsely populated there are few eye-witness accounts. Reports indicate that between December 1811 and March 1812, there were over 2000 earthquakes and aftershocks along the New Madrid fault. The first earthquake of this series on December 16, 1811, was located in northeast Arkansas. Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. According to his reckoning, the earth had become lodged between the comet’s two horns and was now attempting to dislodge itself. The New Madrid Earthquakes. The third principal earthquake, on February 7, however, matched or exceeded the strength and severity of the December 16 event. 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. These events include clusters of large earthquakes that have been dated to 2350 bce, 900 ce, and 1450 ce. St. Louis, farther removed from the epicenter, escaped with only toppled chimneys and a few cracked stone and brick walls. The three principal New Madrid mainshocks of 1811-1812 were followed by extensive aftershock sequences that included numerous felt events. William Leigh Pierce, a literate twenty-one-year-old traveler, was en route to New Orleans on a flatboat in December 1811 when a violent and convulsive agitation awakened him in the dead of night. Reelfoot Lake, near Tiptonville, Tennessee. All rights reserved. Residents throughout the Ohio valley and people in places as distant as New York City and Charleston, South Carolina, experienced the tremors in varying degrees. Although no instrumental data are availa Valencius, Conevery Bolton. Abstract Continental North America's greatest earthquake sequence struck on the western frontier of the United States. Although the relief measure had been designed to alleviate suffering in the devastated region, most Missourians believed that the law’s principal beneficiaries had been the speculators. A slightly different version of this essay, “Turbulence and Terror: The New Madrid Earthquakes, 1811–1812,” appeared in the November 2017 issue of We Proceeded On, published by the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. Magnitude estimates for each of the three events associated with the 1811–12 earthquake sequence vary widely, largely because they rely on historical accounts and analyses of the present-day landscape rather than data provided by modern seismic instrumentation. Possible causes of the New Madrid earthquakes, https://www.britannica.com/event/New-Madrid-earthquakes-of-1811-1812, USGS Earthquake Hazards - The New Madrid Seismic Zone. The most seriously affected areas were in southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, southwestern Kentucky, and northwestern Tennessee. There also was an aftershock of magnitude 7.4 on the same day. The New Madrid region continues to have the highest level of seismicity activity in the United States east of the Rockies. Flatboat operators reported that the flow of the Mississippi River was suddenly reversed; however, scientific studies performed since that time note that the tremors produced northward-moving water waves that gave the illusion that the river reversed its course. The waters of the Mississippi rose and fell like a great tide. 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. The fault line runs some 150 miles from Marked Tree, Arkansas, to Cairo, Illinois, passing through southeast Missouri. 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. New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12, series of three large earthquakes that occurred near New Madrid, Missouri, between December 1811 and February 1812. When John Bradbury entered a house near the Chickasaw Bluffs in which there was an open Bible on the table, one of the occupants attributed the cause of the recurring shocks to the Great Comet of 1811 that had appeared a few months earlier. 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. 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. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. of the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes Susan E. Hough U.S. Geological Survey, Pasadena, California John G. Armbruster and Leonardo Seeber Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York Jerry F. Hough Department of Political Science, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina Abstract. Amid the deafening din of crashing trees, collapsing riverbanks, and screaming wild birds, he sought to reassure the frightened crewmen eager to abandon the boat for the perceived safety of the shore. They were among the most intense earthquakes in US history and by far the largest to occur east of the Rocky Mountains. Some areas sank, while others were uplifted. 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. The Mississippi Valley Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812: Intensities, Ground Motion, and Magnitudes. Hancock, Jonathan Todd. There were thousands of aftershocks, of which 1,874 were large enough to be felt in Louisville, Kentucky, about 190 miles (300 km) away. 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. See Magnitude - replaces Richter scale. Many geologists now believe the largest New Madrid quakes of 1811-12 were high 7 magnitude instead of 8's. Image credit: USGS. When the nearly one hundred refugees reached New Madrid on Christmas Eve, they were dismayed to find its inhabitants camping in tents in open fields. Shortly after the earthquake began, ground shaking was felt as far away as Canada in the north and the Gulf Coast in the south. Nuttli, O. W. (1973). Boatman on the river reported the riverbed rose up to 15 feet causing the Mississippi to flow backwards and create two temporary waterfalls. 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. Every where Nature itself seemed tottering on the verge of dissolution.”. This shock followed the first earthquake by six hours and was similar in intensity; 23 January 1812 (7.3-7.6), epicenter in the Missouri bootheel; 7 February 1812 (7.5-8.0), epicenter near New Madrid Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). The main shock occurred at 9:15 am, and its magnitude was estimated at 7.5. 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 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquake sequence has been described in numerous ways: by Mitchell (1815) in terms of a series of disconnected historical vignettes, by Fuller (1912) in terms of far-field intensities and near-field geomorphic effects, by Nuttli (1973) anf magnitude, and by Johnston (1996c) in terms of seismic moment. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. 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. We reexamine original felt reports from the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes … At nearby Little Prairie the devastation was so severe that the entire population abandoned the town and headed northward, where the damage was rumored to have been less serious. A second earthquake of the same size hit six hours later, again shaking the ground more than 1,000 miles away. “Summary of 1811–1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Sequence.” https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php. 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. In addition, Lake St. Francis in Arkansas, a water body formed by subsidence that followed earlier earthquakes associated with the NMSZ, expanded. 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. Explains differences, and Mercalli intensity scale. The first of these happened December 16, 1811. The temblors were felt far beyond New Madrid and its environs. James Madison is said to have felt the seismic waves arriving in Washington, D.C. It probably had a magnitude of 7.5-7.9 on the Richter scale. They remain the most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history. On the Mississippi River itself, the shaking calved the soil along riverbanks and caused trees lining the river to fall into the water. The January 23 event was the smallest of the three principal earthquakes. “Earthquake Christians” who flocked to frontier revivals and swelled church membership rolls sometimes exhibited a curious amalgam of belief systems. Lorenzo Dow in 1816, describing the earthquake as eye-witness. It was followed by at least three large aftershocks with magnitudes that ranged from 6.0 to 7.0 over the course of the next 48 hours. 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. In American settlements and on Native ground alike, people debated the earthquakes’ causes and struggled to discover the cataclysms’ larger meanings and purposes. By late spring the aftershocks had gradually diminished, but in the forlorn New Madrid district, only the hardiest souls remained. The … The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes. Some scientists estimate the February quake at 8.8 magnitude. Damage to the landscape included the warping of the ground through subsidence (sinking) and uplift, sand blows, ground cracking, landslides, and stream bank calving. Since 1812, frequent smaller earthquakes have been recorded in the area. Rev. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. The law limited such claimants to 640 acres of new land, and it prohibited them from relocating on mineral lands. 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. 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. Soil liquefaction caused large sand blows that fouled farmland in Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas. He rushed on deck, where he and his anxious fellow passengers sought to determine the source of their peril. 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. 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. Magnitude Estimates of Two Large Aftershocks of the 16 December 1811 New Madrid Earthquake. The US government did not provide victims of the destructive earthquakes with relief until the War of 1812 had ended. The strongest aftershock, a magnitude-7.0 tremor that became known as the “dawn aftershock,” occurred later that day at 7:15 am. 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 … This one involved the New Madrid fault and may have placed stress on a neighboring fault known as he Reelfoot Fault. 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. Contemporary estimates that placed the death toll at a mere handful attributed the scant loss of life to a sparse population, but more recent scholars believe that those numbers grossly underestimated the full death toll by failing to take into account numerous unreported casualties and deaths on the river and in the region’s populous Indian communities. 1812, January 23, 15:00 UTC, New Madrid, Missouri Magnitude ~7.0 - 7.8 This is the third principal shock of the 1811-1812 sequence. 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. American evangelicals employed earthquakes as signs of God’s wrath for sinful behavior and a catalyst for Christian conversion and repentance. This would make a total of seven earthquakes of magnitude M6.0-7.5 occurring in the period December 16, 1811 through February 7, 1812. The first earthquake was followed by 6 aftershocks in the range M5.5-6.3 in the first 2 days. 69, passed by the 13th Session of Congress on February 25, 1814, … 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. Eyewitnesses reported that shaking from this temblor was severe, especially in New Bourbon, Missouri, but not as strong as the main shock. Scholars do agree, however, that the New Madrid earthquakes were the strongest such events recorded in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. John P. Rafferty writes about Earth processes and the environment. As the largest settlement in the sparsely populated region, the Mississippi River town of New Madrid in southeast Missouri gave its name to the quakes and the seismic zone that generated them. John Bradbury, the English naturalist and explorer of North America’s interior regions, had no such hesitation about the cause of his boat’s sudden and powerful convulsions on that fateful night. Following is a short summary of the New Madrid Earthquakes that occurred between December 16, 1811 to February 7, 1812. 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. 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. Penick, James Lal, Jr. Copyright © 2020 State Historical Society of Missouri. Since the rocks in the eastern United States have few active faults to interrupt the propagation of seismic waves, ground vibrations from earthquakes generated in the region may travel thousands of miles. 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 … On December 16, 1811, the 400 residents of New Madrid, Missouri, were shaken out of their beds at two in the morning by a violent earthquake. ed. River water disturbed by uplift and subsidence also washed out forested areas upstream. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 63(1), 227–248. Updates? During the early hours of December 16, 1811, a series of violent shakes roused inhabitants of the mid-Mississippi valley from their nighttime slumbers. Ground motions from the three principal events were felt in places as far away as Canada, New England, and the coast of South Carolina. The geologic record of pre-1811 earthquakes reveals that the New Madrid seismic zone has repeatedly produced sequences of major earthquakes, including several of magnitude 7 to 8, over the past 4,500 years. Despite the strength of the tremors, only minor damage to human-made structures was reported: from collapsing chimneys, falling trees, and cracking timbers in houses. Corrections? In Louisville, Kentucky, a man who had homemade recording instruments reported a total of 1,874 shocks between December 11, 1811, and March 16, 1812. Omissions? 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. Giant waves rose up and swept north, giving the impression that the river was actually flowing backwards. 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. Hundreds of aftershocks were felt in 1813. Of greater importance is the resulting legislation, Bill No. The potential for earthquakes in the New Madrid region continues to the present day. The magnitude of the December 16, 1811, event ranged from 6.7 to 8.1, whereas the ranges for the earthquakes of January 23 and February 7, 1812, were 6.8–7.8 and 7.0–8.8, respectively. Please read this article describing the 1811–1812 New Madrid earthquake sequence, then proceed with the rest of the lesson. The number of lives lost from the earthquakes remains unknown; however, scholars note that the number was probably not great, because the region had only a sparse rural population. The earthquake sequence that struck the New Madrid region of the Mississippi Valley in 1811-1812 had remarkably far-reaching effects. There were two other large earthquakes- one on January 23, 1812 and February 7, 1812. January 23, 1812, a magnitude 7.3 to 7.6 quake with an epicenter in the Missouri Bootheel struck at around 9:00 a.m. The December 1811 earthquakes were merely a prelude to what lay ahead. US Geological Survey. 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. A second series of tremors started on January 23, 1812, and the final and most severe set of shocks followed on February 7. The maximum documented intensity for both earthquakes on December 16, 1811, is MM intensity VIII at Richmond, Kentucky. 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 location of this event is not well constrained, but the available accounts suggest an epicenter beyond the southern end of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. 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. The magnitude of the December 16, 1811, event ranged from 6.7 to 8.1, whereas the ranges for the earthquakes of January 23 and February 7, 1812, were 6.8–7.8 and 7.0–8.8, respectively. Reading assignment. It appears here by permission of the author and the original publisher. 16 December 1811 (magnitude 7.5-7.9), epicenter in northeast Arkansas; 16 December 1811, aftershock (7.4), epicenter in northeast Arkansas. 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. U.S. Pres. And finally, I have a letter Eliza Bryan wrote to Rev. A number of earthquakes that happened near the town of New Madrid, in late 1811, and early 1812 are known as the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes today. The recent minor tremors of the Mississippi valley recall the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. 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. Curious amalgam of belief systems 63 ( 1 ), 3259-3268 causes of the.! 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