Massachusetts Historical Society

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Earthquakes in New England, 1600-1800: Extraordinary Natural Events and Timekeeping Practices in Early America

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Author: Katrin Kleemann, German Maritime Museum – Leibniz Institute for Maritime History
Comment: Lukas Rieppel, Brown University

New England is more seismically active than most would expect. Several notable earthquakes shook the northeast in the past, including those in 1638, 1663, 1727, 1755, and 1783. In early America, earthquakes were rare enough to be perceived as unusual events that contemporaries remarked upon them in their diaries, almanacks, sermons, and newspapers. Although clocks were rare in the 17th and 18th centuries, diarists often gave a precise time when an earthquake struck. However, these times often varied—sometimes drastically—from one observer to another. This allows for questions on how reliably time was kept.

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