In my last post, I described the extreme climatic conditions that formed the background of the Great Awakening as it developed between 1739 and 1742.
To give an idea of this period as it affected one area of New England, this is an extract from a well known source, namely Joshua Coffin, A Sketch Of The History Of Newbury, Newburyport, And West Newbury, From 1635 To 1845 (1845). Witness the repeated remarks that this was the worst winter ever remembered in the region. Also note how the extreme weather provides the ideal setting for the stirrings of religious revival:
The reverend George Whitefield preached on this day, for the first time in Newbury. At one of his subsequent addresses, in front of the meeting-house, which then stood on the east side of High street, a few rods south of Federal street, a stone was thrown at him, which nearly struck the bible from his hand. His answer to this unprovoked assault, was the following. ‘ I have a warrant from God to preach. His seal, (holding up the bible,) is in my hand and I stand in the King’s high way.’
The summer and fall of this year, were as remarkable for the rain, which fell and flooded the country, as the subsequent winter was, for the severity of the cold. It was probably the most severe winter ever known, since the settlement of the country. Reverend Mr. Plant, Stephen Jaques, honorable Nathaniel Coffin, and many others, recorded some of the most remarkable events that occurred, from which I shall make a few extracts.
“The summer of 1740 was a wet summer. In October gathered our corn, one third very green. We could not let it stand by reason of rain. On November fourth, the winter set in very cold. On the fifteenth a foot of snow fell, about the twenty-second of the month it began to rain and it rained three weeks together. The stars in the evening seemed as bright as ever, but the next morning rain again, which occasioned a freshet in Merrimack river, the like was not known by no man for seventy years. It rose fifteen feet at Haverhill and floated off many houses. It was said that a sloop might pass between Emery’s mill and his house, and that the water was twelve feet deep on Rawson’s meadow at Turkey hill.’
‘ It washed away all the wood and timber for building of ships so that .for fourteen days every inhabitant was fishing for wood in the river. It was commonly supposed that upwards of two thousand cords were taken up on Plum island.’ ‘ Our corn,’ says Stephen Jaques, ‘moulded as fast as six hogs could eat it.’
December 12th: ‘The river was shut up again by the severity of the weather. Before the first of January loaded teams passed from Haverhill, Newbury, Newtown, Amesbury, sometimes twenty, thirty, forty in a day having four, six, eight oxen in a team and landed below the upper long wharf nigh to the ferry. People ran upon the ice for several days to half tide rock. Shipping was all froze in and this severity extended to New York government. On December fourteenth about thirty-five minutes past six there was a loud noise of the earthquake.’
‘January tenth there was a thaw, which held three days. January eighteenth about four A. M. and on January twenty-fifth about ten minutes before four P. M. there was an earthquake.
‘February third about a foot more of snow fell, February ninth another great snow, and on February … another. In February the streets were full of snow to the top of the fences and in some places eight or ten feet deep. The river all the time was frozen over to colonel Pierce’s farm.
‘March twenty-eighth the sleighing was good on the river to colonel Peirce’s farm and Plum island.
‘April seventh there fell about a foot of snow so there now lay about four feet deep in the woods.
‘From December fifth 1740 till March twenty-seventh 1741 Plum island river was frozen over. On the nineteenth and twentieth of March the river was frozen to the lower end of Seal island. In Plum island river the ice broke about thirtieth of March. There were twenty-seven snows this winter, the hardest winter that ever was known.’
‘ The people of Newbury had the principal part of their corn ground at Salisbury mills. From February third till March thirty-first Pearson’s mill was stopped by the ice. February twenty-eighth the ice at Deer island the strongest place of the tide was thirty inches thick.’
Some time this year, commenced in this county and town, the remarkable revival of religion, which, commenced under the preaching of the reverend Jonathan Edwards, in 1735, and continued by Whitefield, Tennent, and many others, agitated not only New England, but the whole country.