Ashville, Buncome Co., N.C. Dec. 17

To the Editors of the Raleigh Star.

Gentlemen. I take the liberty to transmit the following account of an Earthquake which happened on the night between the 15th and 16th inst.

For several nights previous, the Aurora Borealis brilliantly illuminated the sky with its trembling coruscations; the late appearance of a splendid comet, and the blood like colour of the sun for several days, had alarmed a great many superstitious people. They talked of war; and when the news of Governor Harrison's dear bought victory arrived, it brought to their recollection all those appearances which are still believed (as these are now) to have been the awful precursors of that bloody war by which we gained our independence.

On Monday morning about 1 o clock, the inhabitants of this place were roused from their peaceful slumbers by a dreadful sound:  some waggoners who were up at the time it began, said it resembled, but was louder, than if 100 wagons were driven at full speed down the mountain. This gave us a considerable alarm:  the timid took to prayer, expecting every moment (as they say) to hear the sound of the last trumpet.  The more courageous ventured to open their doors to discover what occasioned the noise.  A sudden trembling of the earth caused fresh terror and alarm from which we had not time to recover when we felt a violent shock which lasted about three minutes, and was attended with a hollow rumbling noise, and ended with a dreadful crash, leaving behind a strong sulphurous stench.

For the remainder of the night all was still and calm, but was spent by us in trembling anxiety.  When the wished for morning came, we were happy to find no lives were lost; but while some of us were in the street congratulating each other on our happy escape, we were again alarmed by a much louder noise quickly followed by a more violent shock than any we had heard before.  It gave the earth an undulating motion resembling the waves of the sea.  Two of those who were standing with me were thrown off their feet; the rest of us with difficulty kept from falling, while two or three cows that were near us were unable to stand, and testified their fear by loud bellowing, which, with the cries of the women and children, and the terror that was depicted on the countenances of the men, presented a scene of horror I am unable to describe.
It is somewhat strange that its effects were more violent in the vallies than on the mountains; a tanyard in a valley near this place, had several vats displacedCthe edges of some were raised three feet above their former level, others were moved partly round and left in a zigzag manner.  It would far exceed the bounds of this letter to describe all the phenomenon produced by this awful convulsion of nature: rocks moved, hills shook, houses shattered, etc.

A wonderful change has taken place in the manners of the people.  I believe so many fervent prayers never were put up in this place as were on that fearful night and morning.   I think what has been done may be termed a revival in religion.

I have just seen a gentleman from Knoxville, who passed Sunday night with Mr. Nelson at the Warm Springs; from his account his situation was more terrifying than ours.  For several hours previous to the shock the most tremendous noise was heard from the neighbouring mountains.  At intervals it was quiet; but would begin with so much violence that each repetition was believed to be the last groan of expiring nature.  The shock at that place did but little damage except to a few huts that were built near the springs for the accommodation of invalids.  The fulminating of the mountains was accompanied with flashes of fire seen issuing from their sides.  Each flash ended with a snap, or crack, like that which is heard on discharging an electrick battery, but 1000 times as loud.  This induced him to believe that the Earthquake was caused by the electric fluid.

In the morning it was observed that a large stream of water (temperature by Fah. 147 degrees) issued from a fissure in a rock on the side of the mountain, which had been opened the preceding night. While they were examining it, another shock was felt which lasted two minutes.  Although a perfect calm, the tops of the trees appeared to be greatly agitated, the earth shook violently, and the water of the warm springs at that time overflowed by French Broad River, was thrown up several times to the height of thirty or forty feet.

Several masses of stone were loosed from their ancient beds and precipitated from the summits and sides of the mountains.  One in particular, well known to the western travelers by the name of the Painted Rock, was torn from its base and fell across the road that leads from hence to Knoxville; it has completely blocked up the passage for wagons.  A great many people who were moving westerly are in a pitiable situation at this inclement season, being unable to proceed until a new road is made round the rock (no easy task).  In this they are cheerfully assisted by their neighbours.
I have been for three months in these dreary regions examining a mine of Cobalt.  The ore is rich.  It abounds with arsenic.  In May we intend to calcine the ore and prepare it for exportation or perhaps manufacture it into smalt.  The mine is within a few miles of Mackeyville??.


[Note:  Another (fictional) account was also published under John C. Edwards' name.  Susan E. Hough, of the U.S. Geological Survey, has analyzed the veracity of the two accounts.]

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


How to cite this article:  John C. Edwards, "Earthquake," Pittsburgh Gazette (Pittsburgh, Penn.), 14 Feb. 1812, pg. 1, available at