The Earthquake


An interesting letter from a gentleman of respectability, dated at Chickasaw Bluff’s [now Memphis, Tenn.], December 21, states that the first shock of the Earthquake occurred at 30 minutes past 2 o’clock in the morning of the 16th, the same time that it seems to have been felt in the Atlantic states, and in this country.  That shock was followed during the 16th and the following night by nineteen others; on the 17th there were three, and the following night several others; on the 18th there were seven shocks; on the 19th there were 5 shocks, and several thro’ the succeeding night; on the 20th there were five, and on the 21st, when the letter was written, the earth was till trembling.  The first and second vibrations, and that between 11 & 12 o’clock on the 17th, were the most violent.

The effect of these shocks appear to have been of a most alarming kind.  The barge commanded by the author of the letter was anchored in 2 ½ fathoms of water, about 17 miles below New Madrid, or 87 miles below the mouth of the Ohio.  The vessel was acted [on by] the water in a manner that excited a supposition of her being grounded, but upon sounding, they [could] find no bottom.  The current increased to three [times] the velocity it had the preceding evening; the [bow] of a boat at the shore testified that the river rose [several?] feet in a short time; and that no spot on the land [was] to be found that was not (as they expressed it) [“moving.”]  Two flat-bottomed boats that were laying [?] shore were destroyed. 

One was broken [entirely] to pieces, and the other overturned—the crew [saved] themselves. [At] the second shock, millions of trees that were [embedded] in the mud in the bottom of the river, suddenly had one end elevated to the surface, rendering [the] river almost impassable.  At the same time the [banks] were shook into the river in large masses.  [Upon] passing the Little Prairia the inhabitants were [said] to have all fled to the high lands.  It was stated [by] some hunters near the Bayou River, that the ground [was] cracked into innumerable fissures, and large [quantities] of water were issuing out of them.  An [island?] just above the mouth of the Bayou River was [extremely] agitated, and seemed to require but little  [to sink?] it.  The lakes, which lie in the valley of the Mississippi, were discharging large quantities of water [into] that river; and the water fowl of that region [were] observed throughout the whole of the 16th to [be] constantly on the wing.

[The] writer of the letter had not heard from any [one] farther down the river than the Chickasaw [River,] about 175 miles below the mouth of the Ohio, [his] letter closes with an expression of the deepest [pity?] respecting the country nearer the gulph.

[We] are, however, credibly informed that a letter [has been] received from New Orleans, dated, the 20th [of] December, which is entirely silent as to the [earthquake.]

Made possible by the Rivers Institute and the
History Department of Hanover College.


How to cite this article: "The Earthquake: Communicated," Liberty Hall (Cincinnati, Ohio), 15 Jan. 1812, p. 3, available at