Page images
PDF
EPUB

summer was followed by so hard a winter in 1750 that it was difficult to keep cattle alive, and many were left to take care of themselves by browsing in the woods. Hay was imported from England.

Dry weather began again in July, 1752, and seems to have been severe and long continued; for Smith says, September 31, "Dry, dry, dry; melancholy drought." October 30.—“We wonderfully fail in our sauce, by reason of the drought." And Mr. Lane's diary, kept in New Hampshire, says, August 26, “A severe frost, which killed the corn and almost every green thing; there was scarcely any sound corn raised, and people were put to great difficulty for seed corn in the spring; and the spring following there was such a scarcity of provisions, both corn and meat, that it would make the hardest heart ache to hear the complaints of multitudes of people ready to perish for want of food, and begging for a handful of corn.” In the summer it was imported and sold at forty-five shillings a bushel.

In 1754, Smith says, July 1, “I have no grass growing on my mowing ground, and there is no feed on the Neck; the reasons are, the open winter, three weeks' early drought, and the grasshoppers.” 22.—“There is a melancholy drought.” October 24.—“A great storm; the earth is filled with water.” This was one century ago.

Three years after, in 1757, he says, June 1, “A very dry time; melancholy tidings of the drought from Boston and vicinity.” 19.—“The drought awfully increases; the grain and grass are much cut short."

The next three years were wet and cold, but fruitful. The spring of 1758 was so backward that people did not generally begin to plant till the end of May, and the corn was spoiled by the dampness. “The corn being green, stunk in our chambers. Corn sold at £4 per bushel.” And in 1760 it was said, on June 26, “ There have been but twenty-four hours of hot weather this year.” And yet all these years are spoken of as remarkably fruitful.

It is a fact familiar to every farmer, that a low temperature, evenly distributed over the spring and summer months, greatly favors the production of grasses, because most plants neither flower nor leaf out very abundantly without a large quantity

of moisture. The grass grows with such rapidity, when well supplied with moisture, that in Lombardy, where irrigation is very general, they often cut four and five crops during the summer, and this, though there are four or five months when vegetation is at a stand. In our wet seasons it is not uncommon to get two or three crops, while in very dry years we may think ourselves fortunate if we can get one good one.

Smith says, in 1761, June 25, “ It is as melancholy dry a time as I ever saw." July 5.—“As great a drought as in 1749.” 7.-"Fast, on account of the distressing drought.” 11.—“Gentle showers.” August 1.-" The drought awfully continues.” 12.—" No feed on the Neck a great while." 16.— “ The drought increases.” 19.—“Storm of rain.”

The crop of hay was very much below the average, having suffered excessively from the drought, and the grain was still more injured. Corn could not be had the following winter, and many who were accustomed to use it were obliged to resort to biscuit and four. And while the drought was burning up the grass and the crops, fires raged in the woods, destroying mills and bridges, and doing much other damage. The rain came on the 19th of August, and "remarkably renewed the face of the parched earth.”

This year would doubtless have been long remembered and referred to, as one of the most distressing epochs in the history of farming, but for the terrible drought of the next year, (1762,) which exceeded every thing of the kind before known in the country. This drought deserves a passing notice.

The winter of 1761-2 had been long and dreary, and the snow, which began to fall as early as the third of December, constantly accumulated till it was more than five feet in depth on a level. In many places it had drifted until it was piled up in mountains. It was a time of deep distress for the poor every where. The drought of the previous summer had greatly diminished the supplies of hay, and farmers had depended on getting through the winter by browsing their cattle in the woods. This hope was now cut off by the deep snow. The poor, suffering, starving animals, cows, horses, sheep and swine, died one after another, as if the cup of distress were not full enough already. Hay sold at one hundred pounds a ton, and

in many towns corn could not be bought, and it had to be dealt out little by little, with fear that it would not hold out through the winter. Passing from town to town was out of the question; indeed, there was no communication between different parts of the same town; and this difficulty continued far into the month of March. Some huge mountains of snow lingered even till the 28th of April. The spring, therefore, was very backward; and this added much to the sufferings of the people, already, it would seem, at their height.

At length a few vessels appeared in March, and people came down from the country towns and lugged the corn up through the snow drifts, leading their horses.” Corn sold at three pounds fifteen shillings a bushel, and rapidly rose to six pounds a bushel, even after the spring had opened.

All, rich and poor, were compelled to buy provisions. Nor did the distresses of this memorable year end here. The ploughing could not be done in season in the spring, partly on account of the loss of oxen and horses in the winter, partly from the want of hiay, which made the few which were left almost unfit to work, and partly on account of the lateness of the spring, which crowded all the labors of the farm into a very short time.

When at last the corn was planted, millions of worms appeared to eat it up, and the ground must be planted again and again. Thus many fields were utterly ruined.

It was time now, in the month of May, for the drought to take its turn in the work of destruction, and it set in with terrible severity, even before there had been rain enough to settle the ground after the frost. The grass dried up almost as soon as it came out of the earth. In many instances people were obliged to mow what little they had in June; and they had so little that it sold for one hundred and twenty pounds a ton. The stalks of the Indian corn dried up, and it was thought it would die. Now fires raged with quenchless fury, spreading fear and dismay in their course, and destroying property to a vast amount. Fields were laid waste, barns and mills were swept away, and families were driven from their houses. In one town, no less than six houses and two sawmills, as well as several barns and many animals, were consumed, and in

another six families were burned out. As early as the 5th of July there began to be fear of an absolute famine, on account of the “ melancholy dry time." Smith says, July 7, “A fast, on occasion of the grievous drought. Fires continue." 22.“ Fires continue.” 28.—“ Famine feared.” 30.—“ A steady rain for several hours.” But there was no very considerable rain till the 18th of August, when a plentiful rain remarkably renewed the face of nature.

The succeeding winter also was very trying. Our journalist describes it as being as “ severe as any we have had ;" he says that “people were reduced to the last and extremest distress;" that there was “scarce a bushel of corn in the whole eastern country;” that there were “deep snows and difficult travelling; " that " hay was scarce, and sold at one hundred and twenty pounds a ton.” But although the following summer (1763) was very wet, so much so, indeed, that on the 1st of July we find the record, “No summer yet," and on the 14th, “ Not a hot night this summer; indeed, no hot weather at all, but constantly wet,” and on the 21st, “ There have not been for two months past forty-eight hours of fair weather at one time;" and on the 9th of August, “ Weather continues foggy and wet,” yet we are told that every thing was “very plenty except money."

A very dry time occurred again in 1764, beginning early in August, and continuing through the month, and again in 1765, in April and August. The month of July, 1767, was exceed. ingly dry, and much alarm was felt. After this there was no “ very melancholy dry time” till 1770; in July and August of that year came a drought of such severity that there was little prospect of corn. The worms had done much injury in the spring, and a “very uncommon sort of worm, called the canker worm, ate the corn and grass all as they went, above ground, which cut short the crops in many places.” But rain fell on the 18th of August.

In 1772 we find complaints of the drought in the vicinity of Boston. In July the pastures were all dried up; there was but very little corn, and all kinds of grain suffered very much. July, 1773, was also very dry, and in 1774 there was little or no rain from the 7th of July to the 17th of August. The pastures looked like winter, and very little corn was harvested on account of the drought. This was in the neighborhood of Boston, but the suffering extended as far as Maine. Smith says, August 11, “A melancholy dry time.” September 1.“Very hot and dry.” 16.—“An exceeding dry time.” October 10.—“Every day is unusually warm, and constantly dry.”

The next three years were years of plenty and prosperity; and it is a curious fact, that the springs of all of them were late and backward, and the winters of 1776 and 1777 were of marked severity, being among the coldest ever known. Smith says, May 15, 1777, “The coldest weather and the most backward spring that ever was.” June 30.4" Cold, very cold; nothing like it through the whole spring; and yet every thing is flourishing except Indian corn." August 18.—“Never were there such gardens, never such fields, never such pastures, never such a year for every thing." September 2.4" The earth is burdened with its fruits."

A cold and backward spring is often followed by a fruitful summer. This is a fact familiar to every observer. In consequence of the hard frosts we frequently have in May, it often happens that fruit trees which have blossomed early are injured beyond recovery; while, on the other hand, if they have been retarded by a cold and wet spring, they come on very rapidly, and are as far advanced, on the whole, by the 10th of June, as they would have been if they had started earlier in spring. Thus, in 1824, the cherry trees blossomed on the 1st of May, and the peaches on the 4th ; but a few days afterwards a cold snap came, which killed the shoots of all tender trees, so that the early warm weather was in the end really injurious to the growth of the year.

In 1778 the winter was unusually severe, but the spring was forward, and the weather fine, till July, when complaints began to be heard. July 2.4" It is a very dry time.” 18.-" The drought awfully continues.” 27.—“It is as grievous a drought as ever was known." 31.—“People fear a famine. The Indian corn curls, and is like to come to nothing; and there is no prospect of any potatoes, nor turnips, nor any sauce at all." August 6.—“ Plentiful rains.”

Droughts of a limited extent are noticed in the summer of 1781, 1782, and 1786, but in neither of these years was there

« PreviousContinue »