Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The New Madrid Earthquakes at Memphis


In honor of the Seismological Society of America meeting being held in Memphis from April 13 through April 15.  Here is a bit of history on the New Madrid earthquakes as they were experienced at Memphis.

At the time of the quakes Memphis was not even Memphis, It was a fort named Pickering perched on the top of the 4th Chickasaw Bluff to act as a trading post with the local Chickasaw Indians and as a defensive position when the Louisiana territory was still owned by Spain.  It had a small garrison and trading post with very little population.  There is only a brief mention of the effects there and only of the December 16, 1811 earthquake; it is unknown what the effect was for the later earthquake events.  Here is William L. Pierce’s description of the event:

At Fort Pickering, on the extremity, the fourth Chickasaw bluff, and 242 miles from the mouth of the Ohio, the land is strong and high there, however, the earth was extremely agitated, and the block house which is almost a solid mass of hewn timber, trembled like the aspin leaf”

Pierce left no information on who his source was and little is known about Fort Pickering at the time of the quakes.   Many military records were destroyed during the War of 1812 and thus Fort Pickering in many ways is a fort without a history.

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