Today is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday and a good way to introduce him in New Madrid history. Jefferson was one of the early scientific pioneers in the United States and did much to develop research in the natural sciences in the new nation. He appointed government officials who had a scientific background and asked them to report on the natural resources the country. After the Louisiana Purchase he pursued a program of exploration with the goals of finding out more about the vast territory that the nation had acquired. Several of the eyewitnesses to the New Madrid earthquakes such as Dr. John Robinson and Henry Marie Brackenridge had been acquainted with him in their work for the United States government in that exploration effort. Robinson had served on the Lewis and Clark expedition as a medical officer. Brackenridge had written a detailed description of the Louisiana Territory and had traveled extensively in the area.(As a note the blog editor shares the same birthday.)
The people of the New Madrid time period were aware that earthquakes occurredin other areas of North and South America.While the New Madrid earthquakes were happening newspapers published accounts of other earthquakes to give people a sense of what was going on.Although news was sparse there was some information from SouthAmerica.From Peru came sporadic accounts of historic earthquakes.Here is an example:
“1797. On the 4th of February, Peru, in South America, lost five towns by the shock of a neighboring mountain which was thrown to pieces, several other towns and villages were thrown down and upwards of 16,000 of the inhabitants destroyed.”
New Madrid Compendium Item 290,”Destruction by Earthquake”Louisiana Gazette, 2/13/1812, Page 3, Column 2.