NASHVILLE (Ten.) January 21


From Mr. James Fletcher, in whose statement we place the utmost reliance, we have received the following narrative:--"At the Little Prairie, (a beautiful spot on the west side of the Mississippi River, about 30 miles from New Madrid) on the 16th of December last, about 2 o'clock, a.m. we felt a severe concussion of the earth, which we supposed to be occasioned by a distant earthquake, and did not apprehend much danger.  Between that time and day we felt several other slighter shocks; about sunrise another very severe one came on, attended with a perpendicular bouncing that caused the earth to open in many places - - some eight and ten feet wide, numbers of less width, and of considerable length - - some parts have sunk much lower than others; where one of those large openings are, one side remains as high as before the shock and the other is sunk; some more, some less; but the deepest I saw was about twelve feet.  The earth was, in the course of fifteen minutes after the shock in the morning, entirely inundated with water.  The pressing of the earth, if the expression be allowable, caused the water to spout out of the pores of the earth, to the height of eight or ten feet!  We supposed the whole country sinking! and knew not what to do for the best.  The agitation of the earth was so great that it was with difficulty any could stand on their feet, some could not. - - The air was very strongly impregnated with sulphurous smell.  As if by instinct, we flew as soon as we could from the river, dreading most danger there - - but after rambling about two or three hours, about two hundred gathered at Capt. Francis Lescuer's, where we encamped , until we heard that the upper country was not damaged, when I left the camp (after staying there twelve days) to look for some other place, and was three days getting about thirty miles, from being obliged to travel round those chasms.

Previous to my leaving the country I heard that many parts of the Mississippi River had caved in; in some places several acres at the same instant.  But the most extraordinary effect that I saw was a small lake below the river St. Francis.  The bottom of which is blown up higher than any of the adjoining country, and instead of water it is filled with beautiful white sand.  The same effect is produced on many other lakes, as I am informed by those who saw them; and it is supposed they are generally filled up.  A little river called Pemisece, that empties into the St. Francis, and runs parallel with the Mississippi, at the distance of about twelve miles from it, is filled also with sand.  I only saw it near its head, and found it to be so, and was informed by respectable gentlemen who had seen it lower down, that it positively was filled with sand.  On the sand that was thrown out of the lakes and river lie numerous quantities of fish of all kinds common to the country.

The damage to stock, etc. was unknown.  I heard of only two dwelling houses, a granary, and smoke house, being sunk.  One of the dwelling houses was sunk twelve feet below the surface of the earth; the other the top was even with the surface.  The granary and smokehouse were entirely out of sight; we supposed sunk and the earth closed over them.  The buildings through the country are much damaged.  We heard of no lives being lost, except seven Indians, who were shaken into the Mississippi. - - This we learned from one who escaped.

Previous to the shocks coming on, we heard a rumbling noise like that of thunder.  They continued until I left the country - - some very severe. - - I cannot tell how many there were.

The above account is confirmed by letters from that country.  A gentleman in attempting to pass from Cape Girardeau to the pass of St. Francis, found the earth so much cracked and broke, that it was impossible to get along.  The course must be about 50 miles back of the Little Prairie.  Others have experienced the same difficulty in getting along, and at times had to go miles out of their way to shun those chasms.

We have no idea that the principal cause of the shocks originated on the Mississippi - - we have not yet heard the worst.

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


How to cite this article:   “Earthquake” [from James Fletcher],  Pittsburgh Gazette, 14 Feb. 1812, p. 2, available at