Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Travels in New England and New York

                                    Timothy Dwight 


As to the opinion, that the Climate has already become milder, and is gradually advancing towards the mildness of the European Climates in the same latitudes, I can only say, that I doubt the fact. Indeed, the observation of this subject has been so loose, and the records are so few and imperfect, as to leave our real knowledge of it very limited. Within my own remembrance no such change has taken place. It is unquestionably true, that very severe seasons existed in the early periods of New-England; and it is equally certain that they exist now. The winters of 1780, 1784, 1788, and 1805, were probably as severe, as those of 1641 and 1696; and the snow, which fell in 1717, was, I am persuaded, not so great, as that which began to fall on the 20th of February, 1802. In 1641, and 1696, sleighs and sleds crossed the Harbour of Boston; and some of them went down on the ice to Nantasket, nine miles. In 1780 the British Dragoons passed from New-York to Staten Island: a distance of ten miles. In 1784 the sound was frozen entirely across at Fair-field; where it is eighteen miles wide. The effects of the cold on the apple trees, and peach trees, were in 1788 greater in the County of Fairfield, than are recorded of any other period. The Western sides of the Apple trees were, in many instances, killed to a considerable extent: a fact, unprecedented within the knowledge of any living inhabitant: and the peach trees were destroyed in very great multitudes: a fact, which rarely, if ever, from the same cause, takes place in a single instance. The Sound was, indeed, not frozen: but the reason was obvious. The wind blew violently, with hardly any intermission, either by night or by day. The water was, of course, too much agitated to admit of its being frozen. In streams, and ponds, thicker ice was, I believe, never known in this country. In 1792 the Sound was frozen at Fairfield about five weeks. The snow in 1717 fell six feet deep. It fell to an equal depth, in Northampton, in 1740. From February 21, 1802, it fell during the principal part of a week. It ought rather to be called hail; for it was a mixture of hail with snow, in which the former predominated, and was so dense, that it contained more than double the quantity of water usually found in the same depth of snow. Had it been snow only; it would, at least, have been eight feet deep.So far as I have been able to make myself acquainted with the subject, about which, however, accurate information cannot he obtained, there have been here, and not improbably throughout the world, certain periods, in which the seasons have for a considerable time assumed a milder temperature, succeeded by others, in which they have been more severe. Such I suppose to have been the fact on the other Continent, as well as on this. In examining, some years since, a long-continued Register of mortality, collected by Mr. Webster, I observed, that the whole time, which it occupied, was divided into sickly and healthy periods. These consisted, each, of between ten and fifteen years. The winters from 1779 to 1790, inclusive, were universally severe; and all the summers, except that of 1779, were cool. From 1791 to 1803, inclusive, all the winters, except those of 1792, 1798, and 1799, were mild; and all the summers hot. Accordingly, the maize, which is a good thermometer for measuring the aggregate of heat during a season, was, throughout the former period, with the above exception, indifferent; and, in the latter, yielded great crops. From the year 1804 to the present time, (April 1810,) the winters, except the last, have been universally cold; and the summers cool. The summer of 1804, and that of 1809 were the two coldest, which I remember. In the month of July, 1804, although it contained almost all the hot weather of the season, snow fell in Salem and its neighbourhood; and there was a considerable frost in several parts of the country; facts, which have never occurred, during the same month, at any other time within my knowledge. You will observe, that I always speak of the winter, as belonging to the year, which commences during its progress.