The New Madrid Earthquake centered in New Madrid, Missouri in Missouri boot heel (the little “hook shaped” part of Missouri in the extreme south east), struck at 2:00 a.m. on December 16, 1811. The area was not densely populated so the cost in lives and property were less than more famous earthquakes, such as those in San Francisco or Los Angeles. However, scientists are confident that in terms of seismic impact, the New Madrid Earthquake ranks among history’s most significant events.
So What Happened?
The immediate impact zone (dark shaded area on the map) suffered land warping, ejection, fissuring, and severe landslides. The adjacent impact zones (light shaded areas) suffered local fissuring and caving of streams (that’s when the stream reverses course). Nearby cities (black, solid dots on the map) reported vibrations and sounds from the earthquake. Cities as far away as New Orleans and Chicago reported vibrations.
Rafferty in his Historical Atlas of Missouri, describes the impact this way.
In the early morning there was a second severe shock, which caused the ground to rise and fall, tilted trees and opened the soil in deep cracks as the surface bent. Landslides swept down the deeper bluffs, areas were uplifted, and even larger areas sank and became covered with water emerging from below through fissures or accumulating from the interruption of surface flow. Great waves swept up the Mississippi, overwhelming boats and washing others high up on shore. High banks caved in, sandbars and points of islands gave way, and whole islands disappeared.
And for the Genealogists…
What genealogists need to know about this epic event is that there was life in southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas and western Tennessee before 1811 and after 1811. The world changed on December 16th – dramatically. Families were displaced, moved, and migrated. Land and property literally disappeared. Communities became ghost towns, or were washed away. There were attempts at relief on a large-scale. There was fraud and graft.
In future blog posts we’ll dig into the records, repositories, and personal stories that document this most fascinating event in American History.
Stay tuned and…