In descending the Mississippi on the night of the 6th February, we tied our boat to a willow bar on the west bank of the river, opposite the head of the 9th Island, (counting from the mouth of the Ohio) we were lashed to another boat--About 3 o'clock on the morning of the 7th, we were waked by the violent agitation of the boat, attended with a noise more tremendous and terrific than I can describe or any one conceive, who was not present or near to such a scene--The constant discharge of a heavy cannon might give some idea of the noise for loudness, but this was infinitely more terrible, on account of its appearing to be subterraneous.
As soon as we waked we discovered that the bar to which we were tied was sinking, we cut loose and rowed our boats for the middle of the river--After getting out so far as to be out of danger from the trees, which were falling in from the banks--the swells in the river were so great as to threaten the sinking of the boat every moment. We stopped the oarholes with blankets to keep out the water. After remaining in this situation for some time, we perceived light on the shore which we had left--(we having a lighted candle in a lantern on our boat,) were hailed and advised to land, which we attempted to do but could not effect it, finding the banks and trees still falling in.
At day light we perceived the head of the tenth Island. During all this time we had made only about four miles down the river--from which circumstance, and from that of an immense quantity of water rushing into the river from the woods--it is evident that the earth at this place or below, had been raised so high as to stop the progress of the river, and cause it to overflow its banks--We took the right hand channel of the river at this Island, and having reached within about half a mile of the lower end of the town, we were affrightened by the appearance of a dreadful rapid or falls in the river just below us; we were so far in the suck that it was impossible now to land--all hope of surviving was now lost and certain destruction appeared to await us! We having passed the rapids without injury, keeping our bow foremost, both boats being still lashed together.
As we passed the point on the left hand below the Island, the bank and trees were rapidly falling in. From the state of alarm I was in at this time, I cannot pretend to be correct as to the length or height of the falls--but my impression is that they were about equal to the rapids of the Ohio. As we passed the lower point of the Island looking up at the left channel, we thought the falls extended higher up the river on that side than on the right.
The water of the river after it was fairly light, appeared to be almost black, with something like the dust of stone-coal--We landed at New Madrid about breakfast time, without having experienced any injury--The appearance of the town and the situation of the inhabitants, were such as to afford but little relief to our minds. The former elevation of the bank on which the town stood, was estimated by the inhabitants at about 25 feet above common water--when we reached it the elevation was only about 12 or 13 feet--There was scarcely a house left entire--some wholly prostrated, others unroofed and not a chimney standing--The people all having deserted their inhabitations, were in camps and tents back of the town, and their little water crafts, such as skiffs, boats and canoes hauled out of the water to their camps, that they might be ready in case the country should sink.
Account of Matthias Speed from New Madrid Far Field Database Number 56 from
the Frankfort(KY) American, March 20, 1812.