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(1811) The first shocks of three major earthquakes begin in New Madrid. (Courtesy of Missouri Bicentennial Timeline)

“First shocks of the New Madrid earthquakes began December 16, 1811 and continued through March 1812. Between 6,000-10,000 earthquakes in the Bootheel of Missouri occurred during this time with the largest measuring 8.8 magnitude. Later, a witness to the earthquake described the terror in a graphic description that was published years later by the Charleston Courier. Eliza Bryan, who was 15 years old and living in New Madrid in 1811 remembered “the violent shock of an earthquake accompanies by a very awful noise, resembling loud but distant thunder, but hoarser and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere with sulphureous vapor, causing total darkness…”

Another eyewitness was the famed ornithologist, John James Audubon, who was working in Missouri and riding his horse when the earthquake struck. He described it to be the sound of a tornado and that his horse reacted immediately as if his footing was on smooth ice. Audubon observed the shrubs and trees moving from their roots and “the ground rose and fell like the ruffled water of a lake.” Audubon wrote that he felt like a child in a cradle as his horse rocked back-and-forth with imminent danger around him and followed by a disagreeable odor when the earthquake subsided. Trained to observe nature, Audubon’s descriptions offered more detail of the day the Earth shook Missouri’s boot heel region and caused the Mississippi to run backward and church bells in Boston to ring”.

This documentary tells the story of the historic earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 that struck near the town

of New Madrid, Missouri and proceeded to rattle a major part of the country for the next six months.



Websites New Madrid Earthquakes Southeast Missouri

New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812

Missouri Life: New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812

U.S. Geological Survey: Summary of 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Sequence



So much land was destroyed, and landmarks lost, as a result of the massive earthquakes, that the government issued “New Madrid certificates” in the Boonslick area to those who suffered major losses in the New Madrid area. It was easier (and less expensive) exchanging for land in the Boonslick area rather than trying to resurvey and determine the boundaries of everyone’s original property down there. So a lot of people moved and took up residence in the Boonslick area. Sixty land grants were issued for what was to become Cooper County.

History, Art & Archives:  New Madrid Earthquakes Relief

Far Outliers:  Effects of the New Madrid Relief Act of 1815

Etienne Hayseed: New Madrid Claims in Missouri

Apr 08, 2015 · - American State Papers, Public Lands, Volume 4, page 155, No. 453, Grants of Land to People of New Madrid County, Missouri, Who Suffered by Earthquakes - American State Papers, Public Lands, Volume 4, page 749, No. 504, New Madrid Claim in Missouri


Jul 12, 2007 · On February 17, 1815 [three years after the strongest earthquakes in U.S. history], Congress passed the New Madrid Relief Act, the first federal disaster relief act in U.S. history.

Melton's History of Cooper County - Chapter 06
Are you one of these land speculators, stranger?" The New Madrid earthquake occurred December 16, 1811, with recurring shocks ... an act to relieve sufferers of the New Madrid earthquake. Landowners in the flooded districts could relinquish ... speculators, mostly from St. Louis, invaded the New Madrid district, buying claims from $40 to $60 ... 640 acres. Demand for certificates encouraged dishonest New Madrid settlers to sell their claims over and ... It led to endless law suits. Many New Madrid certificates were located in the Boon's ... St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau and New Madrid. In 1813 Washington County was formed from ... County was carved from the west of New Madrid. When formed, Howard not only included the


 “Corn” Taylor moved to Cooper County in about 1817 as the result of the New Madrid earthquake. He brought with him, from his native state of Kentucky, much livestock and a good supply of seed corn. Much of his land had been given to him by the government, in retribution for his land which was lost to the Mississippi River during the New Madrid earthquake. At one time, he had extensive land holdings in Cooper County. 

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