Atlantic Earthquakes

I experienced my very first earthquake last night, and even though it was a small one by global standards (4.5 on the Richter Scale) it was scary. I happened to be in the Salem Athenaeum (a brick building) when it occured, next to several tall windows, which shook vigorously along with the rest of the building for about a minute. There was no mistaking it for anything else. For me, it was a sensation without precedent, and my first thought (sadly) was for my tall brick chimneys back home. As stunning as it was, this earthquake was not enough to end the meeting I was attending, so after an hour or so I returned home to still-standing chimneys and a husband and stepson who didn’t even notice the earthquake!  I wanted to make sure that I and my fellow library trustees had not fallen into a parallel universe, so I turned on the television and googled and found that indeed, there had been an earthquake in New England and that its epicenter was in southern Maine–where my parents live!  A quick phone call reassured me that not only were they just fine, but they too had failed to notice the earth shaking under their feet (in a Chinese restaurant).

When you search for “New England Earthquake” on Google, you are going to be directed first and foremost to sites related to the Cape Ann Earthquake of 1755, not yesterday’s little quake.  The mid-eighteenth century earthquake, estimated to have been between 6.0 and 6.3 in strength and centered in the Atlantic Ocean just off Cape Ann in northeastern Massachusetts, must have been an extremely unnerving event not only because of its impact (as many as 1800 chimneys fell down in Boston) but also because it happened only 17 days after the great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, which (combined with a subsequent fire and tsunami) leveled that city. As news and impressions of both quakes set in, they were linked together by commentators up and down the Eastern seaboard.  This was the middle of the eighteenth century, the century of Enlightenment, but the majority opinion was still more focused on God’s wrath, as illustrated by Boston preacher Jeremiah Newland’s Verses Occasioned by the Earthquakes in the Month of November, 1755.  Addressing the “God of Mercy”, Newland writes:

Thy terrible Hand is on the Land,
by bloody War and Death ; It is becaufe we broke thy Laws,
that thou didst shake the Earth.

1755 Broadside, Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society; Contemporary woodcut of the Lisbon Earthquake and “Ruins of Lisbon immediately after the Earthquake and Fire of 1 November, 1755”, print by Robert Sayer after Le Bas, British Museum.

Like many of his fellow contemporary sermon writers, Newland displays no faith in science or reason in his Verses but he does have an “Atlantic” perspective, which is interesting.  And far from ceasing, the “bloody war and death” he references would only intensify in the very next year when the Seven Years’ War began, an epic conflict fought on both sides of the Atlantic.

13 responses to “Atlantic Earthquakes

  • Matt

    Not sure I understand why the Lisbon earthquake would have played on the local pysche. In the mid 18th century, I believe it would have taken at least a couple of months for a ship to travel from Europe to America, so it seems unlikely they would have been made aware of the Lisbon tragedy until well after the Cape Ann quake. Am I off on this?

    • daseger

      I am wondering about the timing too, Matt, but Newland is definitely talking about Earthquakes–plural. I think a couple of months is too long, but there definitely would have been a considerable time lag between event and “news”: not sure of the precise date of Newland’s sermon, but it does have a 1755 publication date.

    • Jake Jacoby

      Appears that the Atlantic crossing could be done in 10-14 days from the Azores to around Florida, and another 10 to 14 days up to Boston from Florida, a century before the Great Lisbon Earthquake. See:

  • cecilia

    I come from New Zealand where there are earthquakes often. My Dad lives in Christchurch. So the little ones don’t worry me particularly. They say the first shake is always the worst. Interesting that you worried about your chimney though, and there were so many chimneys dropped in Boston so long ago, more interesting is that the others did not feel it at all, maybe you really were in a parallel universe or at the very least a shaky building! I love the sounds you get from an earthquake. Earthquakes do come in clusters though. c

    • daseger

      Oh Celie, I’m sure this one would hardly be noticed by hardy New Zealanders and Californians, but it was my first. New England is apparently vulnerable to earthquakes, which is worrisome as Boston is built on so much landfill.

  • Matthew Carnicelli

    I’m glad Dad and Pam are safe!

  • Charles

    Earthquakes in this case were probably the big tremor and aftershocks. The Lisbon connection is highly unlikely.

  • thesalemgarden

    We were eating dinner and my daughter and I felt it very clearly. My husband who was sitting right between didn’t feel a thing. I’m still trying to understand that 🙂

  • James Conder

    Donna, how certain is the 1755 publication date? I googled around and I see “published 1755” noted in a few places, but I can’t help wondering if it wasn’t published in 1756-77 time frame and the listed publication date was lifted from the title (I could see myself making that mistake).

    It isn’t impossible for him to be referring to Lisbon in 1755, but it would need to be late December, as the faster Atlantic crossings would still have taken at least six weeks or so.

    If you haven’t seen it already, you might like:

  • sekt mit vanilleeis

    Auch bei jener Milchwirtschaft kommt ein weiteres spezifisches Problem hinzu:
    In dem Lauf jener Hugo Cocktail Hugo Sekt kette wird nämlich Milch unterschiedlicher Herkunft stets jetzt wieder vermischt.

    Ein verlagseigenes Tier-Forum funktioniert Anlaufstelle, Austausch und auch Anregung fuer schreibende stellen in dem »richtigen Leben« aktive oder interessierte Tierschützer.
    Angefangen besitzt für Costers del Sió alles im Jahre 1992, als Hugo Cocktail jener umtriebige Juan
    de Porcioles und auch seine Frau María Buixó jenes Gut in jener Nähe jener Stadt Lleida

  • Jake Jacoby

    Appears that the Atlantic crossing could be done in 10-14 days from the Azores to around Florida, and another 10 to 14 days up to Boston from Florida, a century before the Great Lisbon Earthquake. See:

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