Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category

“that phenomenon of Nature; a blaizing ocean”

ABIGAIL ADAMS continues her description of details of her voyage to England for her sister MARY CRANCH.

If I did not write every day, I should lose the days of the month, and of the week, confined all day . . . on account of the weather; which is foggy, misty, and wet. You can hardly judge how urksome this confinement is; when the whole ship is at our Service; it is little better than a prison; we Suppose ourselves near the western Islands [the Azores]. . . .

July 8thAn other wet drisly day, but we must not complain, for we have a fair wind; our sails all square and go at 7 knots an hour. I have made a great acquisition, I have learnt the Names and places of all the masts and sails; and the Captain compliments me by telling me that he is sure I know well enough how to steer to take a trick at Helm; I may do pretty well in fair weather, but tis your masculine Spirits that are made for Storms. . . .

I went last evening upon deck, at the invitation of Mr. Foster to view that phenomenon of Nature; a blaizing ocean. A light flame Spreads over the ocean in appearence; with thousands of thousands Sparkling Gems, resembling our fire flies in a dark Night. It has a most Beautifull appearence. I never view the ocean without being filled with Ideas of the Sublime, and am ready to break forth with the psalmist, “Great and Marvellous are thy Works, Lord God Almighty; in Wisdom hast thou made them all.”

* Abigail is describing phosphorescence, or more properly bioluminescence, caused by the slow oxidation of material found in certain marine organisms.

“Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 6 – 30 July 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-05-02-0204. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 5, October 1782 – November 1784, ed. Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 358–386.]

posted June 18th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Cranch, Mary (Smith),Ocean Voyages,Weather

“The Sea running mountain high . . . “

On a voyage across the Atlantic in 1784 to join her husband John in London, ABIGAIL ADAMS kept a journal intended for her sister MARY CRANCH. Once her seasickness had abated Abigail took charge and supervised the cleaning of the passenger rooms on the ship Active.

Latitude 44 Long 24 on Board the Ship Active twesday July 6 1784
from the ocean
No sooner was I able to move; than I found it necessary to make a Bustle amongst the waiters, and demand a Cleaner abode; by this time Brisler was upon his feet; and as I found I might reign mistress on Board without any offence I soon exerted my Authority with scrapers mops Brushes, infusions of viniger; &c. and in a few hours you would have thought yourself in a different Ship. Since which our abode is much more tolerable and the Gentlemen all thank me for my care; our Captain is an admirable Seaman—always attentive to his Sails, and his rigging, keeps the deck all night, carefull of every body on Board; watchfull that they run no risks, kind and humane to his Men; who are all as still and quiet as any private family, nothing cross or Dictatorial in his Manners, a much more agreable Man than I expected to find him; he cannot be called a polished gentleman; but he is so far as I have Seen; a very clever Man.

The cleaning having been accomplished Abigail turned her attention to her fellow passengers.

We have for passengers a Col. Norten, who is a grave sedate Man, of a Good Natural understanding, improved by Buisness, and converse with Mankind; his litterary accomplishments not very great. A Mr. Green, a scotch Man I am persuaded, high perogative Man plumes himself upon his country; haughty and imperious, but endeavours to hide this with the appearence of politeness; which however he is too apt to transgress upon any occasion; whenever any subject arises, which does not intirely agree with his sentiments. He calls himself an english Man, has been in the British Service during the war as a secretary on Board some of the British Admirals; he is a Man of sense and of reading, the most so of any we have on Board. Next to him is Dr. Clark to whom we are under obligations for every kindness, and every attention that it is in the power of a Gentleman and a physician to shew. Humane Benevolent tender and attentive, not only to the Ladies, but to every one on Board, to the servant, as well as the master, he has renderd our voyage much more agreeable and pleasent than it possibly could have been without him, his advice we have stood in need of, and his care we have felt the Benifit of, a Brother could not have been kinder, nor a parent tenderer, and it was all in the pleasent easy cheerfull way, without any thing studied Labourd, or fullsome, the natural result of a good Heart, possesst with a power of making others happy.
Tis not a little attention that we Ladies stand in need of at sea, for it is not once in the 24 hours that we can even Cross the cabbin; without being held, or assisted. Nor can we go upon deck without the assistance of 2 Gentlemen; and when there, we are allways bound into our Chairs: whilst you I imagine are scorching under the mid summer heat; we can comfortably bear our double calico Gowns; our Baize ones upon them; and a cloth cloak in addition to all these.
Mr. Foster is an other passenger on Board [a part owner of the ship Active], a Merchant; a Gentleman soft in his manners; very polite and kind, Loves domestick Life, and thinks justly of it. I respect him on this account. Mr. Spear brings up the Rear, a single Gentleman; with a great deal of good humour, some wit; and much drollery, easy and happy blow high or blow low, can sleep and laugh at all seasons. These are our Male companions. I hardly thought a Leiut. Mellicot worth mentioning . . . tho he keeps not with us, except at meal times, when he does not behave amiss. My Name sake [Love Lawrence Adams] you know, she is a modest pretty woman; and behaves very well.

Abigail described the ocean and the weather and their effects on the ship for her sister Mary.

I have accustomed myself to writing a little every Day when I was able; so that a small motion of the Ship does not render it more unintelligible than u[sua?]l.
But there is no time since I have been at sea; when the Ship is what we call still; that its motion is not equal to the moderate rocking of a cradle. As to wind and weather since we came out; they have been very fortunate for us in general, we have had 3 Calm days, and 2 days contrary wind with a storm, I call’d it, but the Sailors say it was only a Breeze. This was upon the Banks of Newfoundland, the Wind at East. Through the day we could not set in our Chairs, only as some Gentleman set by us, with his Arm fastned into ours; and his feet braced against a table or chair that was lashed down with Ropes, Bottles, Mugs, plates crasshing to peices, first on one side; and then on the other. The Sea running mountain high, and knocking against the sides of the vessel as tho it would burst the sides. When I became so fatigued with the incessant motion; as not to be able to set any longer; I was assisted into my Cabbin, where I was obliged to hold myself in; with all my might the remainder of the Night: no person who is a Stranger to the sea; can form an adequate Idea, of the debility occassiond by sea Sickness. The hard rocking of a Ship in a storm, the want of sleep for many Nights, alltogether reduce one to such a lassitude, that you care little for your fate. The old Sea men thought nothing of all this, nor once entertaind an Idea of danger, compared to what they have sufferd; I do suppose it was trifling, but to me it was allarming and I most heartily prayed: if this was only a Breeze; to be deliverd from a storm.

More from Abigail’s journal of her voyage written for her sister in the next post.

“Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 6 – 30 July 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-05-02-0204. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 5, October 1782 – November 1784, ed. Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 358–386.] In the Words of Women by Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011), 259.

posted June 3rd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Cranch, Mary (Smith),Ocean Voyages,Weather

” the grand Artillery of Heaven”

HANNAH WINTHROP and her husband were able to move back into their house in Cambridge after having fled to Andover following the battles of Lexington and Concord. MERCY OTIS WARREN paid a visit to her friends for which Hannah sent a letter expressing her thanks in June 1775. Hannah included a description of lightning bells in this paragraph which is of special interest.

With a painfull anxiety I parted with my dear Friend Mrs. Warren last thursday evening, & very soon found the rising Sable Cloud predicting a Rougher Scene than those happy moments afforded us in the warm Effusions of reciprocal Friendship with which the day had blest us. We had a convincing display of the Utility of pointed Conductors by the ringing of our Lightning Bells which I wish you had seen, though to some persons it appears in a Presumptous light for mortals to meddle with the grand Artillery of Heaven.

Hannah is describing an approaching storm with flashes of lightning. She makes reference to lightning rods, the “pointed Conductors” advocated by Benjamin Franklin to ground lightning and render it harmless. These tall pointed metal rods were usually attached to a house’s chimney. (There was disagreement over whether the rods should be pointed or blunt. Franklin preferred pointed.) In the Winthrop house the rods were connected to a set of bells activated by the discharge of electricity from the lightning which caused clappers to move back and forth between two oppositely charged bells. In this way Franklin converted electrical energy into mechanical energy. Hannah’s husband was a scientist and astronomer so it stands to reason that he would be interested in these “Lightning Bells.” For more complete explanations of how these worked see this article and this article.

Note Hannah’s comment that many people frowned on this sort of experimentation with lightning believing it was not for mortals “to meddle with the grand Artillery of Heaven.”

Read the entire letter by Hannah HERE. The illustration is from this ARTICLE.

posted April 19th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Warren, Mercy Otis,Weather,Winthrop, Hannah Fayerweather

“great severities from the Frigidness”

John Jay, having been named minister plenipotentiary to Spain, sailed for Europe on October 20, 1779, accompanied by his wife Sarah. Their ship Confederacy met with severe weather and barely made it to Martinique where there was a considerable layover until another vessel could be secured. Catharine (Kitty) Livingston wrote, on 13 February 1780, to her sister from Philadelphia, expressing her concern.

How my dear sweet Sister was you supported in the hours of trial and danger; the appearance of death in so terrible a manner must have awaken[ed] every fear. You have indeed seen the wonders of the deep, and experienced in a remarkable manner the goodness and mercy of an indulgent providence. Your Friends have all reason to bless and thank God for his interposition in your favor, and it ought to console and encourage us to trust in the Author of your Salvation—For he spoke and it was done. he commanded and it stood fast.

Kitty continued, recounting details of the severe winter the country was enduring, envying (when she had thought Sarah was safely in Spain) “the temperance of your climate, whilst we were exposed to great severities from the Frigidness of ours.”

Our Winter set in earlier and with more Severity than is remembered by the Oldest liver among us. The year thirty five, and forty is agreed from circumstances not [to] be compared to this; in neither of those severe Seasons was the Chesapeake at & twenty Miles below Anopolis a firm bridge as is and has been a long time the case. In Virginia it has impeded all Trade, several of there Vessels have been cut to peices and sunk by the ice. The Merchants here think many of there Vessels that they expected in have perished on our coast, the last that got in was the Jay*; and that was in November, and she was much injured by the Ice and it was expected for several days that she and her cargo would be lost.

To the Eastward the Snow impeded all traveling to the State of New York—it cut of[f] Communication from Neighbour to Neighbour. The last accounts from Fish Kill it was four feet deep on a level. Numbers of Families in this City have suffered from its severity altho many among them made great exertions for their releif. In New York the want of fuel was never known like it, they cut down every stick of timber on Mr. Byard’s place** and would not permit [him] to keep any tho he offered to buy it. Several gentlemen went upon long Island and felled the trees, and after bringing it to town with their own horses it was seized for the Kings Troops [New York was occupied by the British], its reported of two families that the want of wood obliged them to lay a bed a week . . . .

You shall hear from me by every opportunity; at least I will write by every one. This letter is going to New London. I shall write to morrow by a Vessel that is to sail from Boston—till then I bid you adieu

* The ship, the Jay, was a Pennsylvania vessel of eighteen guns. There were three other vessels in the Continental service named Jay. One was Lady Jay. They saw action in the Revolution.
** William Bayard was a New York merchant who, initially sympathetic to the Patriot cause, ultimately became a firm Loyalist.

And we complain of the frigid weather and snow we have had recently (and, no doubt, more to come) when most of us are comfortable in our heated houses and can stay warm under our electric blankets!!

Kitty Livingston was not exaggerating in her description of the winter of 1779-80. George Washington, from his winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey, wrote to Lafayette in March 1780, “The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before.” There were twenty-six snow storms in New Jersey, six of which were blizzards. The illustration shows the type of hut soldiers encamped at Jockey Hill near Morristown occupied.

According to historian Ray Raphael, writing in the American History Magazine 2/4/2010:

In January 1780 . . . Mother Nature transformed America into a frigid hell. For the only time in recorded history, all of the saltwater inlets, harbors and sounds of the Atlantic coastal plain, from North Carolina northeastward, froze over and remained closed to navigation for a period of a month or more. Sleighs, not boats, carried cords of firewood across New York Harbor from New Jersey to Manhattan. The upper Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the York and James rivers in Virginia turned to ice. In Philadelphia, the daily high temperature topped the freezing mark only once during the month of January, prompting Timothy Matlack, the patriot who had inscribed the official copy of the Declaration of Independence, to complain that “the ink now freezes in my pen within five feet of the fire in my parlour, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Kitty’s letter is in The John Jay Papers in the Columbia Digital Library Collections and can be seen HERE.

posted February 12th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Maryland,Morristown, New Jersey,New York,Philadelphia,Virginia,Washington, George,Weather,Winter of 1780

“we might have been Buried Alive “

I cannot help coming back to Jane Mecom, Benjamin Franklin’s sister who lived in Boston. The two corresponded throughout their lives. Jane’s letters are delightful to read, if only to puzzle out what she is trying to say—her spelling was atrocious. Her life was filled with difficulties, but blessed with an optimistic nature, she always seemed to make the best of things. Franklin regularly sent her both practical necessities and thoughtful gifts.

Resuming residence in Philadelphia in 1785 after years abroad, Franklin continued to help his sister. In a letter dated November 5, 1786, Jane thanked him for ten cord of wood “so that we shall have Plenty Should your Prognostications happen to be in the Right.” Benjamin’s prediction of a hard winter proved to have been spot on as the following letter confirms. This past winter in Boston seems to have been a replay of the one Jane describes.

Boston Decr 17 1786
My Dear Brother
Mr. Bradford has Just informed me of his going to Philadelphia to morrow morning. I would not let him go without a Line as I have not yet had opertunity to thank you for the charming Barrill of Flower you sent me. He is to take the Bill you Premited me to Draw, I some times seem to feel giulty at being so Expencive to you, but why should I; when I know it gives you Pleasure to make Every won happy: and I constantly feal the Blesing. Your Predictons concerning a hard winter are begining to be Verified in a formidable maner. The snow has been so Deep and we no man in the House that we might have been Buried Alive were it not for the care of some good Neibours who began to Dig us out before we were up in the morning, and cousen Williams came Puffing and Sweating, as soon as it was Posable to see how we were and if we wanted any thing, but thank God we had no want of any thing Nesesary if we had been shutt up a fortnight. Exept milk.

My Daughters Gout, or Rhumitism or what Ever it is, has not Left her yet; but she can Just hobble about the chamber, she desires her Duty to you.

I want much to know if you were so Luckey as to git your New Apartments covered in before the hard wether [Franklin was building a new house]. . . .

I had Intended to have wrote to my Niece but cannot at this time but Remember my Love to Mr. and Mrs. Bache [Benjamin’s daughter Sarah] and all the Dear Children. From your Ever obliged and Affectionat sister
Jane MecomAddressed: His Excellancey Benjamin Franklin Esqr. / Philadelphia / Favrd by Col: Bradford

The letter can be found online in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, The Digital Edition maintained by the The Packard Humanities Institute in the unpublished letters for the years 1786-87.

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