Thursday, July 14, 2011

The wintery summer of 1816: The year with no summer or "Eighteenhundred and Froze to Death"

Without television or the internet, the clouding of the sky and the extreme cold in 1816 must have been unpleasantly baffling to residents of the Eastern States. The climactic conditions resulted from an eruption of the Volcano Tambora in 1815 in Indonesia. This was no ordinary eruption. It was huge, causing local devastation and deaths, and spreading ash in the atmosphere around the world. Newspapers published in Vermont and New York (as accessed digitally on America's Historical Newpapers. Archive of Americana at Newsbank), provide good records of the eruptions and the immediate casualties in the area, but I don't know if there was any understanding of the cause and effect relationship to the overcast skies and unusual climate conditions in the Northeastern States in 1816. There was snow in June, and chilly weather that affected farming.  President Thomas Jefferson noted the extreme cold in his weather diary. Another diarist, Adino Brackett of New Hampshire wrote:
"This past summer and fall have been so cold and miserable that I have from despair kept no account of the weather. It could have been nothing but a repeatation [sic] of frost and drought."
[Citation from].

Many settlers chose to move westward at that time. One famous sojourner was Joseph Smith, of Mormon fame, who moved from Vermont to New York. How did your ancestors fare in 1816? It wasn't a census year in the United States, but we can look to migration records to see if that might have been a trigger for travel. And if not, we can know they weathered a difficult time.
Image of volcano is from

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