By late spring the aftershocks had gradually diminished, but in the forlorn New Madrid district, only the hardiest souls remained. James Madison is said to have felt the seismic waves arriving in Washington, D.C. 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. The waters of the Mississippi rose and fell like a great tide. The December 1811 earthquakes were merely a prelude to what lay ahead. Updates? 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 earthquake sequence that struck the New Madrid region of the Mississippi Valley in 1811-1812 had remarkably far-reaching effects. The third principal earthquake, on February 7, however, matched or exceeded the strength and severity of the December 16 event. 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. Ground motions from the three principal events were felt in places as far away as Canada, New England, and the coast of South Carolina. New Madrid, Territory, Missouri, March 22, 1816. “Summary of 1811–1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Sequence.” https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php. In addition, Lake St. Francis in Arkansas, a water body formed by subsidence that followed earlier earthquakes associated with the NMSZ, expanded. It appears here by permission of the author and the original publisher. Dear Sir: The temblors were felt far beyond New Madrid and its environs. Rev. 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. 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. 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. Following is a short summary of the New Madrid Earthquakes that occurred between December 16, 1811 to February 7, 1812. Image credit: USGS. 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. 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. They remain the most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history. American evangelicals employed earthquakes as signs of God’s wrath for sinful behavior and a catalyst for Christian conversion and repentance. 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. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Boatman on the river reported the riverbed rose up to 15 feet causing the Mississippi to flow backwards and create two temporary waterfalls. Some scientists estimate the February quake at 8.8 magnitude. Reelfoot Lake, near Tiptonville, Tennessee. Many geologists now believe the largest New Madrid quakes of 1811-12 were high 7 magnitude instead of 8's. 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. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 92(8), 3259-3268. Valencius, Conevery Bolton. The … 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 first of these happened December 16, 1811. 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 … Hancock, Jonathan Todd. 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 … The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes. There were two other large earthquakes- one on January 23, 1812 and February 7, 1812. Magnitude Estimates of Two Large Aftershocks of the 16 December 1811 New Madrid Earthquake. See Magnitude - replaces Richter scale. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. In American settlements and on Native ground alike, people debated the earthquakes’ causes and struggled to discover the cataclysms’ larger meanings and purposes. According to his reckoning, the earth had become lodged between the comet’s two horns and was now attempting to dislodge itself. By Barbara Lewellen Introduction. 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. Soil liquefaction caused large sand blows that fouled farmland in Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The backwoods claimant of spiritual knowledge feared that these ominous occurrences might portend the approach of the end times. In the most seriously impacted areas, raised or sunken lands, fissures, sand blows, and landslides were commonplace. https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php. During the early hours of December 16, 1811, a series of violent shakes roused inhabitants of the mid-Mississippi valley from their nighttime slumbers. Eyewitnesses reported that shaking from this temblor was severe, especially in New Bourbon, Missouri, but not as strong as the main shock. These events include clusters of large earthquakes that have been dated to 2350 bce, 900 ce, and 1450 ce. He rushed on deck, where he and his anxious fellow passengers sought to determine the source of their peril. These are estimated at between 7 and 8 on the richter scale. Scholars do agree, however, that the New Madrid earthquakes were the strongest such events recorded in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. 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. 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