Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category

” 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.

“I still feel a partiality for my native country”

In 1774, Peggy Hutchinson (see post here) had accompanied her father, Thomas Hutchinson former governor of Massachusetts, to London where, in exile, he tried to effect a reconciliation with the rebellious colony. She wrote the following letter to her sister-in-law Polly in America on October 29 describing a dispute after a dinner as to “which was the best country—New England, or Old?”

Papa, your husband [Peggy’s brother Elisha], and myself, were for the former : Mr. C[larke], and Billy [Peggy’s brother William] for the latter. I own I still feel a partiality for my native country. Papa could not help expressing his in very strong terms. Mr. C. said he never should lose the idea of the last winter : that the injuries he then received were too strongly impressed upon his mind ever to be erased. I told him I was surprised to find his affections so alienated from his country : that I thought the friends he had there, if nothing else, must make the place dear to him : and, as to climate, surely, said I, we have the advantage. They would neither of them allow it, but said the extremes of cold and heat were enough to ruin people’s constitutions. I, in return, had no mercy upon this, but exclaimed against it as cold, damp, dirty, and altogether disagreeable, and declared that I could not take a breath of air, but it gave me a cold and cough, which immediately fixed upon my lungs : and that if I lived here fifty years, I never should be reconciled to the climate, or to living in London; but could not but allow that the country was exceedingly beautiful, and struck me beyond anything I could imagine : but that only served to tantalize, as the ground was always so wet, (even in the middle of summer) that it was impossible to enjoy it by walking. We carried it on till it was time for them to go to the Play : and I believe Mr. C. was glad to get off with a whole skin. How happy should I be to see that country restored to a state of peace and quiet! not so much for my own sake as papa’s, who I think will be happier there. . . .

In a later letter Peggy writes “What joy would it give me if [Papa] could be the means of restoring peace to his native country, but I see no prospect of it : you are bent upon destruction.” Thomas Hutchinson’s attempts proved futile.

The letter can be found in The Diary and Letters of Thomas Hutchinson, Vol. 1, HERE, pages 276-77, 278.

posted March 10th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Britain,Loyalists,New England,Weather

“I sallied forth to brave the tempestuous weather”

Eliza Southgate Bowne relates the end of her assembly adventure begun in the previous post.

The storm continued till Monday, and I was obliged to stay—but Monday I insisted, if there was any possibility of getting to sister’s, to set out. The horse and sleigh were soon at the door, and again I sallied forth to brave the tempestuous weather (for it still snowed) and surmount the many obstacles I had to meet with. We rode on a few rods—when coming directly upon a large drift we stuck fast. We could neither get forward nor turn round. After waiting till I was most frozen we got out, and with the help of a truckman, the sleigh was lifted up and turned towards a cross street that led to Federal Street—we again went on. At the corner we found it impossible to turn up in turn, but must go down and begin where we first started, and take a new course, but suddenly turning the corner we came full upon a pair of trucks heavily laden. The drift on one side was so large that it left a very narrow passage between that and the corner house—indeed we were obliged to go so near that the post grazed my bonnet. What was to be done? Our horses’ heads touched before we saw them—I jumped out—the sleigh was unfastened and lifted round, and we again measured back our old steps.

At length we arrived at sister Boyd’s door, and the drift before it was the greatest we had met with. The horse was so exhausted that he sunk down, and we really thought him dead. ’Twas some distance from the gate, and no path; the gentleman took me up in his arms and carried me till my weight pressed him so far into the snow that he had no power to move his feet. I rolled out of his arms, and wallowed till I reached the gate; then rising to shake off the snow, I turned and beheld my beau fixed and immovable; he could not get his feet out to take another step. At length, making a great exertion to spring his whole length forward, he made out to reach the poor horse, who lay in a worse condition than his master. By this time all the family had gathered to the window—indeed, they saw the whole frolic; but ’twas not yet ended, for unluckily, in pulling off Miss Weeks’ bonnet to send to the sleigh to be carried back, I pulled off my wig and left my head bare. I was perfectly convulsed with laughter; think what a ludicrous figure I must have been—still standing at the gate—my bonnet half-way to the sleigh and my wig in my hand! However, I hurried it on—for they were all laughing at the window—and made the best of my way into the house; the horse was unhitched and again set out, and left me to ponder on the incidents of the morning. I have since heard of several events that took place that assembly night, much more amusing than mine—nay, Don Quixote’s most ludicrous adventures compared with some of them will appear like the common events of the day.
Portland, Maine, 1 March, 1802.

See the next post for information about Eliza’s wig.

Stedman, E. C. & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. A Library of American Literature; An Anthology in Eleven Volumes, 1891. Volume IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 1788-1820, online HERE.

posted February 10th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bowne, Eliza Southgate,Weather

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