Fall and Winter, 1716-12, Salem
from Sidney Perley's The History of Salem Massachusetts Vol. 3, 1928,
On Sunday, Oct. 21, 1716, about the middle of the morning service, darkness came upon this portion of New England. By eleven o'clock, the view of things became indistinct. Even across the small meetinghouses of that time the forms of the people were invisible. Some ministers sent to houses for candles, and others sat down and waited. The last day was in the thought of many people and that this might be a pall settling over creation just previous to its dissolution, and they became awed and excited. The intensity of the darkness continued for about half an hour, and then light slowly returned. Mather sent an account of it to the Royal Philosophical Society in England, which published it. Smoke was probably the occasion of the darkness.
The general temperature of the following winter was moderate, but the quantity of snow that fell made it one of the most remarkable seasons that New England ever experienced. In December, snow fell to a depth of five feet, rendering travel in all ways very difficult, and almost impossible. In January, there were several storms, snow falling in each to considerable depth, and by February 6th there were drifts twenty-five feet deep, and in the woods it was a yard deep on the level. The greatest storm, however, began February 18th, and continued until the twenty-second; being repeated on the twenty-fourth so violently that communication between farms ceased. The earth was buried from ten to fifteen feet on the level, and in some places for long distances the snow was twenty feet deep. This latter storm occurred on Sunday, and no religious meetings were held throughout New England.
The oldest Indians said that they had never heard of any storm that equaled this.
Thousands of cattle and sheep were lost by being smothered or starved to death. Cattle were found weeks after the snow had melted standing dead, with all the appearance of life. Sheep, swine, turkeys and hens were buried and lived in their entombment without any food whatever, being in the very center of drifts.
Wild animals suffered more generally than the domestic, as succulent shrubs, upon which many of them depended for sustenance, were buried beyond their reach. Browsing for deer became nearly extinct; and in their cravings of hunger, many of them, in the forests near the shore, started thereto, where there was less snow and more food. Another and more urgent reason was that their natural enemies of the woods, wolves, were also starving. In the darkness, they pounced upon the light-footed deer, which in the daylight could escape. Vast numbers of these valuable animals thus fell a prey, and were killed, torn in pieces and devoured. It was said that only one in twenty survived that winter.
Wolves and foxes gathered nightly around sheep pens. Cotton Mather relates that many ewes, which were about to give birth to lambs, were so frightened that their offspring were of the color of foxes.
Great flocks of sparrows came into the settlements and remained until they could live in their ordinary haunts.
With the aid of snowshoes, the post boys were enabled to pass over the drifts, which filled the roads and made them useless. March 25th, the carrier between Salem and Portsmouth (N. H.) started from Salem on his trip, which took nine days in going and eight in returning. In the woods, he found the snow five feet deep, and in places it was from six to twenty feet.
Much damage to orchards was done, as the snow froze among the boughs, forming a crust, which clung to the trees and broke down the limbs, and, where they could do so, the wild animals browsed the tender twigs.
Many one-story houses were entirely buried with the snow, and tunnels connected
nearby dwellings. Unless the families under those circumstances had a stock
of fuel and food on hand they suffered from hunger and cold. Many used their
chamber windows as means of passage instead of the first-story doors.
Historic Storms of New England, by Sidney Perley, page 31.)