« PreviousContinue »
before," we may infer that no great suffering had occurred from droughts up to that time.
Several of the preceding summers, on the contrary, had been exceedingly wet and cold, like that of 1632, causing “ great store of mosquitoes and rattlesnakes," while the worms made extensive ravages on the corn.
The next drought of any severity was that in 1639, when little or no rain fell from the 26th of April till the 10th of June. There was a very general alarm. “ The corn began to wither, and great fear there was it would all be lost.” A fast being appointed on account of the drought," the very day after there fell a good shower.” The other years in which droughts: occurred, previous to 1650, were 1644, 1647, and 1648; that of 1647 causing great scarcity of provisions. But during this time, more than one winter was remarkable for its severity. In 1641–2, “Boston Bay was a bridge of ice as far as the eye could see, and the Indians asserted that such a winter had not been known in forty years.” Men, oxen, horses and carts passed over the ice with perfect safety for five weeks together; and in the spring of 1642, the price of cows, which had been as high as £22, suddenly fell to £6, £7, and £8. The winters of 1630, 1632, and 1639, also, are mentioned as very sharp and “ terrible cold;” but it is probable that they were so only as contrasted with those of England, or on account of want of sufficient protection against their rigor. In 1645, the winter was said to be “the earliest and sharpest since we arrived in the country," while 1646 and 1649 were caterpillar years.
In the next ten years no considerable drought occurred. But the severe winter of 1654 is worthy of notice, as it has some relation to what follows. As early as the 16th of December, the cold was of sufficient intensity to freeze over Boston Bay, so “that in a very few days it was firm to pass betwixt the town and Long Island, and so continued above a month.” The harbor was again frozen over in 1659. The canker worms, in 1658, 1659, 1660, and 1661, made great havoc with the apples in Boston and vicinity, and the trees looked in June as if it were November. In 1658, the caterpillars, also, did great harm to fruit trees.
Then came in 1662, early in the season, a very great drought,
• insomuch that the grass and corn were so scorched there was little likelihood of any harvest.” This continued till the 12th of June.
Most farmers have the impression that there was little difficulty in raising good crops of wheat in the early periods of New England; but from the testimony of many old diaries, it is evident that it was always an uncertain crop. In 1663, early in July, “the best wheat (as also some other grain) was blasted in many places, so that whole acres were not worth reaping. We have had much drought the last summer, (1662,) and excess of wet several other springs, but this of blasting is the first so general and remarkable that I yet heard of in New England.” But this blasting is not unfrequently mentioned afterwards; for the very next year (1664) the wheat was very generally blasted, “and in sundry towns scarce any left," while the latter part of the summer was very droughty, much of the grass being scorched up. The blast returned again in 1665 and 1666 with great severity.
The next dry summer was in 1666, when most of the grain was scorched up, and the Indian corn eaten by the worms. The spring of 1669 was so dry that “the ground in some places began to chop.” This was followed in 1670 by another dry summer.
June 14, 1672, was kept as a day of humiliation in all the churches because of a great drought; "and the Lord heard prayer, and in hay time much hay was lost by an overmuch rain." In the following year, (1673,) the months of March and April being very cold, many cattle died in all parts of the country for want of hay.
In 1675, there was some complaint of want of rain; and in 1681, “in June, July and August, was a great drought throughout the country, to the great loss in corn and grasses, valued at many thousand pounds."
The summer of 1685 was also dry, though not enough to do any great injury to the crops. In August, 1686, Increase Mather writes, “ A great drought; swamps on fire in many parts of the country; could not be quenched. The fire burnt under ground in some places six feet.” It began early in summer, and continued through June, and till the 18th of July, after which it appeared again. The drought was called “great and terrible.” There were also severe droughts in July, 1692, and in July and part of August, 1693. The cold winter of 1697, resembling that of 1641, preceded a summer marked by ó a sore and long-continued drought” in July and August.
Thus we have passed over a period of cighty years of the seventeenth century. The years remarkable for droughts were 1623, 1639, 1644, 1647, 1662, 1664, 1666, 1669, 1670, 1672, 1681, 1686, 1692, 1693, and 1697, in all fifteen, though a few other seasons, like 1648, were marked by dry weather. This is a smaller proportion than will be found in subsequent years, and the difference may be explained by the fact that the settlers at first had no means of observing accurately, and it is possible that there were more droughts than we have any record of, and that, on account of the small portion of the country under cultiration, comparatively little harm arose from an ordinary drought, especially as the settlers relied very much upon the salt marshes and the wet meadows for hay.
In 1704, there was a slight drought. In June, 1705, it was so dry that “corn and grass perished pretty much;” and in 1707, “water was not to be had for man or beast without great difficulty.” In the year 1714, there was a drought of unusual severity. The distinct recollection of it survived many years after. In 1748, we find it referred to as the Great Drought, with which the one of that year is to be compared; and it is known that the following spring, 1715, was one of very great suffering, on account of the scarcity of provisions.
From 1720 to the present time we have somewhat more rcliable statistics in the diary of the Rev. Thomas Smith, of Portland, the journals of Dr. Holyoke and Dr. Prince, of Salem, Professor Farrar, of Cambridge, and many other sources. From Smith we learn that, in 1722, there was in July “an exceeding dry time as ever was.” In 1724, he says, July 23, * Great drought; every thing burnt up.” This drought coltinued a long time, and was very general in the vicinity of Boston.
The spring of 1726 was wet and backward, so much so that the peach and apple trees did not begin to blossom at Portland till the 20th of May. Then followed a drought in June, causing a short crop of hay and great distress. In 1727 came another severe drought. The hay crop was again cut short, and many cattle died from starvation during the following winter. The spring and summer of 1728 were also very dry, especially in the month of June, when there began to be great suffering for want of rain. Here we have three years in succession in which droughts occurred. In 1730, July 7, “The drought came on very severely, and prevailed in such a manner as was never known." November 5.—" There is, I think, more grass now than in the summer.”
The year 1737 was marked by its excessive dryness. Smith says, April 21, “ All the talk is, no corn, no hay, and there is not a peck of potatoes to eat in all the eastern country.” April 25.-—"No grass at all.” May 17.-—"The grass don't grow, for want of rain ; hay very scarce.” October 23.—“It was never known to be so dry; no sawing nor grinding." November 24."No grinding; we have had a bag of corn go from mill to mill for about two months, and not ground yet.” During the summer of this year there was great scarcity of corn, and many went about begging their neighbors to sell them a quart at any price, to keep them from starvation. In 1738, too, there was a drought in some sections of the country, “in such a manner as the like was never known.”
The following spring (1739) was also very dry; there was scarcely any rain for a month. Here we find another series of three years of drought.
In 1743 there were “millions of devouring worms in armies, threatening to cut off every green thing. Hay very scarce, £7 and £8 a load.” In the fall there was no rain for many weeks, so that, in November, the mills were stopped.
June 26, 1746.—“ It comes on a very dry time.” July 9.—“A melancholy drought advances.” 31.-" The ground is exceed. ing dry." August 15.—“ It is thought the present is the greatest drought that ever was in New England.” August 24," Plentiful showers.”
This drought cut off, to a great extent, both the corn and the grass, and greatly increased the price of both. Corn rose from ten to twenty-six shillings a bushel; and in November of this year, hay sold in Boston at £20 a load. During the autumn of the next year (1747) there was no water in the streams for grinding, on account of the dry weather; and in 1748, (to show another series of droughts,) all accounts concur in saying that the drought was unparalleled in the history of the country, except when George I. was crowned, in 1714. On May 15, Smith says, “Unusually hot, dry weather.” 31." Melancholy time; all the talk is about the heat and drought; never the like.” June 20.—“No rain except showers in the country this year.” July 10.-“Dying hot. It is a most melancholy dry time; the grass in the pastures is all burnt up." 19.—“Steady rain.” The English grass and the grain were cut short, though the Indian corn stood it very well. Fires raged in many places, and swept over many hundred acres. The farmers long remembered the drought of 1748; and, from all accounts, it seems never to have been equalled previous to that time. Men were obliged, in many instances, to kill their cattle for want of food. One farmer, who owned twenty cows, was compelled to kill eleven, and many were wintered entirely on rag-weed. The suffering during the winter was intense; and scarcely had the spring opened when (April, 1749) an awful drought commenced, and drove the farmers almost to despair. Cattle were every where suffering for want of food, and were driven to browse in the woods, while many farmers went from forty to sixty miles into the woods to cut meadows. This continued through May and June. The Indian corn was seriously injured, but a rain on the 6th of July revived it. And while the drought threatened to destroy every thing, the grasshoppers appeared in myriads, eating up whole acres of potatoes. Smith says, July 3, "I reckon my poultry (about a hundred) eat ten thousand grasshoppers every day.” The inhabitants of Nahant formed a line, and drove them with bushes into the sea by millions. Jeantime the heat was intense. It was said to be the most remarkable time that ever we or our fathers saw ;” and at Boston it was recorded, July 4, “ Never more distressing time for pasture; only one-tenth of a crop of hay.” 18.—" Extreme hot, dry weather, such as kas not been known in the memory of man-so scorching that the creatures can but just live for the want of grass.” 24." Thanksgiving for seasonable and refreshing rains.” This