Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Labor Day Weekend Earthquake

It seems the New Madrid seismic zone does not respect holiday weekends. While the region was enjoying a well deserved three day holiday a light earthquake occurred to stir things up.  The location of the quake was 5 miles west north west(5km) of Tiptonville, Tennessee and the magnitude was 2.9. The depth of the quake was 4 miles(7km) For more information please go to Tiptonville Earthquake.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Memphis Eyewitness to the New Madrid Earthquakes

Sometimes in doing unrelated research you will find things for which you were originally looking.  My wife and I have been doing genealogical research on poorly documented Memphians of the 19th Century, buried in the many cemeteries of the city.  Each of these individuals had a fascinating story that gave a depth to the region’s history. Buried and forgotten, some with surviving monuments, and at other times their memorials were swept away by the tide of progress. Mary Moran uncovered this gem of New Madrid history with a Memphis connection. (Thanks, Mary!)


The Winchester Cemetery, one of the earliest burial grounds in the city in existence from the 1830’s until its conversion to a city park in the 1930’s,was one of these old city cemeteries. Numerous pioneer Memphians, both famous and anonymous, were buried there. Catherine Whittier’s passing, (age 74 in 1870), was noted by the Old Folks at Home, an organization of history-minded Memphians consisting of elderly Memphians and others interested in the city’s history.  Their preservation of old records and other efforts ensured the early history of the city was not forgotten. Their article in the September 1870 Memphis Daily Appeal, took note of Ms. Whittier’s death.
Here is a portion of that article:
“Of the members of the Old Folks at Home who have died during that brief period, the record is unusually crowded, and I regret that time will not permit an enlargement upon their useful lives, for I must be brief.
Mrs. Catherine Whittier, who died at her residence in the city on the 21st of April last, was born in Kentucky in 1796. She was therefore seventy-four years old. She came to Shelby County in 1811, she and her husband settling six miles above the city, on the place known in the annals of the late war as Fort Harris.
She was fifteen years old when her father, with his family, launched out on the then uncertain waters of the Mississippi on a flat boat. There were no burning steamers or exploding boilers at that time to make the passengers on those rude crafts uneasy. Yet Mrs. Whittier witnessed one of the most terrible and dangerous scenes known to river navigation, one that she often related and never forgot.
The earthquakes at New Madrid bend were hourly occurring, and when opposite that
locality, from the deck of the primitive boat, she saw the rapid current of the Mississippi suddenly change its course and run with lightning speed up streams, accompanied by a sound like the most terrific thunder, and diversified by occasional maelstroms, as though the bottom of the river had sunk in places to an unknown depth. The scene was terribly grand, and yet the frail craft weathered out the peril and landed the girl of fifteen on our shores, to live a useful, long and honorable life, leaving a son in the county and some grandchildren.”

“Old Folks Anniversary”, Memphis Daily Appeal, September 30, 1870, Page 4.  Column 2


This account, though years after the fact, is quite accurate. The year of the earthquake is noted as 1811 even though there were 3 separate earthquakes spanning the 1811-1812 period.  Her memory of the event correlates with the February 7, 1812 earthquake as it was experienced at New Madrid when the fault ruptured. It is quite a riveting tale from quite an unexpected source.