A late New York Evening Post contains a letter from William L. Pierce, a gentleman of respectability, who was on a tour from east ward to New Orleans, which gives a more particular and satisfactory account of the Earthquake and its effects on the Mississippi than any yet published.  The letter, being very long, we can only insert such parts as are most interesting.  At the time of the first shocks (Dec.16) the boat in which he was a passenger had landed on the left bank of the Mississippi, about 116 miles from the mouth of the Ohio.  After stating the alarm, occasioned by the violence of the shocks which occurred in the night, he says --  Edit Lib. Hall.

At the dawn of day I went on shore to examine the effects of the shocks; the earth about 20 feet from the water’s edge was deeply cracked, but no visible injury of moment had been sustained; fearing, however, to remain longer where we were, it was thought most advisable to leave our landing as expeditiously as possible; this was immediately done—at a few rods distance from the shore, we experienced a fifth shock more severe than either of the preceding. 

I had expected this from the lowering appearances of the weather; it was indeed most providential that we started, for such was the strength of the last shock that the bank to which we were (but a few moments since) attached, was rent and fell into the river, whilst the trees rushed from the forests, precipitating themselves into the water with force sufficient to have dashed us into a thousand atoms.

It was now light and we had an opportunity of beholding in full extent all the horrors of our situation.  During the four first shocks, tremendous and uninterrupted explosions, resembling a discharge of artillery, was heard from the opposite shore, at that time I imputed them to the falling of the river banks.—this fifth shock explained the real cause. Wherever the earthquake ran, there was a volcanic discharge of combustible matter to great heights, an incessant rumbling was heard below and the bed of the river was excessively [agitated,] whilst the water assumed a turbid [and] boiling appearance—near our boat a spout [of] confined air breaking its way through the [waters] burst forth, and with a loud report discharged mud, sticks, etc. from the river’s [bed] at least 30 feet above the surface.  Then it appeared to rise to the very heavens.  Large [trees] which had lain for ages at the bottom of the river were shot up in thousands of instances, some with their roots uppermost and their [tops] planted; others were hurled into the air; [many] again were only loosened and floated [upon] the surface.  Never was a scene more [replete] with terrific threatenings of death; with [the] most lively sense of this awful crisis, we contemplated in mute astonishment a scene which completely beggars description, and of which the most glowing imagination is inadequate to form a picture.  Here the earth, [riven and] torn with furious convulsions, opened in [large] 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.]  Every where nature itself seemed [teetering] on the verge of dissolution.  [Encompassed] with the most alarming dangers the [manly?] presence of mind and heroic fortitude [of] the men were all that saved them.  It was [a] struggle for existence itself, and the [meed to be?] purchased was our lives.

During the day there was very little intermission, a continued series of shocks, attended with innumerable explosions, like the [rolling?] of thunder: the bed of the river was [incessantly] disturbed, and the water boiled severely in every part:  I consider ourselves as [having] been in the greatest danger from the [numerous] instances of boiling directly under [the] boat; fortunately for us, however, they [were] not attended with eruptions. - - One of the [gouts?] which we had seen rising under the boat [would?] inevitably have sunk it, and probably have blown it into a thousand fragments; our [sides?] were constantly assailed with the crushing [?] timber, the banks were instantaneously [pushed?] down, and fell with all their growth [into?] the water.  It was no less astonishing than  [alarming?] to behold the oldest trees of the [forest] whose firm roots had withstood a thousand [storms] and weathered the sternest tempests, [quivering?] and shaking with the violence of the [shocks,] whilst their heads were whipped [together?] with a quick and rapid motion:  many [were] torn from their native soil, and hurled [with] tremendous force into the river; one of [these] whose huge trunk (at least three feet in [diameter]) had been much shattered, was thrown [more?] than a hundred yards from the bank, [where] it is planted in the bed of river, there [to stand?] a terror to future navigators.

[Anxious] to obtain landing, and dreading the [?] banks, we made for an island which [evinced?] sensible marks of the earthquake; [there?] we fastened to some willows, at the [extremity] of the sunken piece of land, and [continued?] two days, hoping that this scene of [horrors] wasnow over - - still, however, the shocks [continued] though not with the like frequency [as before.]

[On] Wednesday in the afternoon I visited [every] part of the island where we lay, it was [extensive?] and partially covered with willow.  [The] earthquake had rent the ground in large [?] numerous gaps; vast quantities of burnt [wood?] in every stage of alteration, from its [primitive?] nature to stove coal had been spread [over] the ground to very considerable distances; [frightful?] and hideous caverns yawned on every [?], and the earth's bowels appeared to have the tremendous force of the shocks which [?] thus riven the surface.  I was gratified [?] seeing several places where those spouts [which] had so much attracted our wonder and admiration had arisen, they were generally on the beach, and have left large circular holes in the sand formed much like a funnel.  For a great distance around the orfice vast quantities of coal have been scattered, many pieces weighing from 15 to 20 lbs, were discharged 160 measured paces.   These holes were of various dimensions, oen of them I observed most particularly, it was 16 feet in perpendicular depth and 63 feet in circumference at the mouth.

On Thursday morning the 19th, we loosed our cables, with hearts filled with fervent gratitude to Providence, whose protection had supported us through the perils to which we had been exposed.

As we descended the river every thing was a  scene of ruin and devastation, where, a short time since, the Mississippi rolled its waters in a calm and placid current, now, subterranean forests have been ushered into existence and raise their heads hard and black as ebony, above the surface of the water, whose power has been so wonderfully increased that our strength and skill are equally baffled.  Our boat was borne down by an irresistable impulse, and fortunately escaped uninjured.  We passed thousands of acres of land which had been cleft from the main shore and tumbled intot he water, leaving their growth waving above the surface.  In many places, single trees & whole brakes of cane had slipped into the river.   A single instance of this kind peculiarly attracted my observation; a large sycamore had slipped from its station on the bank and had  so admirably preserved its equilibrium that it has een left standing erect in thew ater, immersed about ten feet, and has every appearance of having originally grown there.

The obstructions in the river, which have always been quite numerous, are now so considerably encreased as to demand the utmost prudence and caution from subsequent navigators, indeed I am very apprehensive that it will be almost impassablei n flood water, for until such time, it will be impossible to say where the currents will hereafter run, what portion (if any) of the present embarrassments will be destroyed, and what new sand bars, &c. may yet be caused by this portentous phenomenon.  Many poor fellows are undoubtedly wrecked or buried under the ruin of the banks.  Of the loss of four boats I am certain.

It is almost impossible to trace at present the exact course of this earthquake or where the greatest injuries have happened.  From numerous inquiries however, which I have made of persons above and below us at the time of the first shock, I am induced to believe, that we were very nearly in the height of it; the ruin immediately in the vicinity of the river, is most extensive on the right side in descending.  For the first two days the veins appeared to run a due course from W. to E. afterwards they became more variable, and generally took a N.W. direction.

A little below Bayou River, 130 miles from mouth of Ohio, and 13 miles from the spot where we lay, the ruin begins intensive and general.

At Long Beach, 146 miles, there is one continued forest of roots and trees which have been ejected from the bed of the river.

At and near Fleur Island, 174 miles, the destruction has been very great, and the impediments in the river much increased.

At the Devils Race Ground, 193 miles, an immense number of very large trees have been thrown up, and the river is nearly impassable.  The Devil’s Elbow, 214 miles, is in the same predicament, below this, the ruin is much less, and, indeed, no material traces of the earthquake are discoverable.

It is a circumstance well worthy of remark, that during the late convulsions the current of the river was almost instantaneously and rapidly increased. In times of the highest floods it rates at from 4 to 5 knots per hour.  The water is now low, and when we stopped on the 16th inst. at half after 4 P.M. we had then run from that morning 52 miles rating at 6 knots generally.  This current was increased for two days, and then fell to its usual force.  It is also singular that the water has fallen with astonishing rapidity.  The most probable and easy solution of this fact, which presented itself to my mind, was, that the strength of the Mississippi current was greater than the tributary streams could support.

It is a singular, but well authenticated fact, that in several places on the Mississippi, where the shocks were most severe, the earth was rent (as it were) by two distinct processes.  By one it burst asunder, and instantaneously closed, leaving no traces whatever of the shock; by the other it was rent, and an electric flash ran along the surface, tearing the earth to pieces in its progress.  These last were generally attended with an explosion and streams of matter, in a liquid state, gushed from the gaps which were left open when the shocks subsided, and were, in many instances of an immense depth.

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


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