Damage to the landscape included the warping of the ground through subsidence (sinking) and uplift, sand blows, ground cracking, landslides, and stream bank calving. The three principal New Madrid mainshocks of 1811-1812 were followed by extensive aftershock sequences that included numerous felt events. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1981. Copyright © 2020 State Historical Society of Missouri. A second earthquake of the same size hit six hours later, again shaking the ground more than 1,000 miles away. Map of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12. 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. The … These events include clusters of large earthquakes that have been dated to 2350 bce, 900 ce, and 1450 ce. New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12 - New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12 - Possible causes of the New Madrid earthquakes: Over the past 4,500 years, a number of major earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 to 8.0 occurred in the NMSZ. And finally, I have a letter Eliza Bryan wrote to Rev. They were among the most intense earthquakes in US history and by far the largest to occur east of the Rocky Mountains. 16 December 1811 (magnitude 7.5-7.9), epicenter in northeast Arkansas; 16 December 1811, aftershock (7.4), epicenter in northeast Arkansas. John P. Rafferty writes about Earth processes and the environment. 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. 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 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. 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. By late spring the aftershocks had gradually diminished, but in the forlorn New Madrid district, only the hardiest souls remained. 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. 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. The waters of the Mississippi rose and fell like a great tide. This one involved the New Madrid fault and may have placed stress on a neighboring fault known as he Reelfoot Fault. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12, series of three large earthquakes that occurred near New Madrid, Missouri, between December 1811 and February 1812. Corrections? Since the area was sparsely populated there are few eye-witness accounts. He rushed on deck, where he and his anxious fellow passengers sought to determine the source of their peril. On land the impact of the earthquakes was no less horrific. The recent minor tremors of the Mississippi valley recall the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. By Barbara Lewellen Introduction. There were two other large earthquakes- one on January 23, 1812 and February 7, 1812. 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. The main shock occurred at 9:15 am, and its magnitude was estimated at 7.5. Reports indicate that between December 1811 and March 1812, there were over 2000 earthquakes and aftershocks along the New Madrid fault. Some areas sank, while others were uplifted. 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. Scholars do agree, however, that the New Madrid earthquakes were the strongest such events recorded in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Magnitude Estimates of Two Large Aftershocks of the 16 December 1811 New Madrid Earthquake. 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. In American settlements and on Native ground alike, people debated the earthquakes’ causes and struggled to discover the cataclysms’ larger meanings and purposes. 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. Explains differences, and Mercalli intensity scale. Huge cracks split the ground. Valencius, Conevery Bolton. It probably had a magnitude of 7.5-7.9 on the Richter scale. No appreciable damage to residences was reported; however, landscape changes, similar to those that occurred during the December 16 event, are thought to have taken place. The January 23 event was the smallest of the three principal earthquakes. 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. 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. Please read this article describing the 1811–1812 New Madrid earthquake sequence, then proceed with the rest of the lesson. 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. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. The December 1811 earthquakes were merely a prelude to what lay ahead. Since 1812, frequent smaller earthquakes have been recorded in the area. We reexamine original felt reports from the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes … Updates? New Madrid, Territory, Missouri, March 22, 1816. They were among the most intense earthquakes in US history and by far the largest to occur east of the Rocky Mountains. 69, passed by the 13th Session of Congress on February 25, 1814, … 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. Every where Nature itself seemed tottering on the verge of dissolution.”. 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. 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. River water disturbed by uplift and subsidence also washed out forested areas upstream. Shortly after the earthquake began, ground shaking was felt as far away as Canada in the north and the Gulf Coast in the south. According to his reckoning, the earth had become lodged between the comet’s two horns and was now attempting to dislodge itself. The potential for earthquakes in the New Madrid region continues to the present day. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 63(1), 227–248. 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. 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. The New Madrid region continues to have the highest level of seismicity activity in the United States east of the Rockies. 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. The first earthquake was followed by 6 aftershocks in the range M5.5-6.3 in the first 2 days. “Summary of 1811–1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Sequence.” https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php. Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. 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. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 92(8), 3259-3268. Although no instrumental data are availa The maximum documented intensity for both earthquakes on December 16, 1811, is MM intensity VIII at Richmond, Kentucky. 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. 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. Hancock, Jonathan Todd. 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. 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. It appears here by permission of the author and the original publisher. In the spring of 1815, speculators poured into the New Madrid area seeking to purchase titles to damaged lands from unsuspecting residents before they learned about the new federal compensation law. 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. 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. The exodus of the area’s inhabitants alarmed territorial secretary Frederick Bates, who worried that with all of the adverse publicity about earthquakes, Indians, and epidemics, Missouri would in a few years “be nothing but a place of exile for Robbers & Outlaws.” Bates exhibited no such concern for Native Americans previously displaced from their eastern homelands and now forced to move for a second time to escape their suddenly uninhabitable lands along the St. Francis River. Some scientists estimate the February quake at 8.8 magnitude. Hundreds of aftershocks were felt in 1813. 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. Giant waves rose up and swept north, giving the impression that the river was actually flowing backwards. Penick, James Lal, Jr. 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 1811–12 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. 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 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. Boatman on the river reported the riverbed rose up to 15 feet causing the Mississippi to flow backwards and create two temporary waterfalls. 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. 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. There were thousands of aftershocks, of which 1,874 were large enough to be felt in Louisville, Kentucky, about 190 miles (300 km) away. 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. Lorenzo Dow in 1816, describing the earthquake as eye-witness. They argue that the three, possibly four, M7–8 New Madrid earthquake sequences prior to 1811–1812 that occurred in about A.D. 1450, A.D. 900, and A.D. 300 (Tuttle et al., 2002) were transient in nature, andthusconflictwiththemodelusedinstandardhazardcal- culations. 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. Rev. The strongest aftershock, a magnitude-7.0 tremor that became known as the “dawn aftershock,” occurred later that day at 7:15 am. Those initial tremors and the sporadic ones that followed for nearly two months reshaped the landscape, altered regional settlement patterns, and prompted unnerved residents to contemplate the mysterious forces of nature capable of wreaking so much havoc. 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