New England's Dark Day


New England's Dark Day occurred on May 19, 1780, when an unusual darkening of the daytime sky was observed over the New England states and parts of Canada. The primary cause of the event is believed to have been a combination of smoke from Wildfire, forest fires, a thick fog, and cloud cover. The darkness was so complete that candles were required from noon on. It did not disperse until the middle of the next night.

Range of the darkness

According to Professor Samuel Williams of Harvard College, the darkness was seen at least as far north as Portland, Maine, and extended southwards to New Jersey. The darkness was not witnessed in Pennsylvania. American Revolutionary War, Revolutionary War soldier Joseph Plumb Martin noted:
We were here [New Jersey] at the time the "dark day" happened, (19th of May;) it has been said that the darkness was not so great in New-Jersey as in New-England. How great it was there I do not know, but I know that it was very dark where I then was in New-Jersey; so much so that the fowls went to their roosts, the cocks crew and the whip-poor-wills sung their usual serenade; the people had to light candles in their houses to enable them to see to carry on their usual business; the night was as uncommonly dark as the day was.


The earliest report of the darkness came from Rupert, Vermont, Rupert, Vermont, where the sun was already obscured at sunrise. Professor Samuel Williams observed from Cambridge, Massachusetts, "This extraordinary darkness came on between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m. and continued till the middle of the next night." Reverend Ebenezer Parkham of Westborough, Massachusetts, reported peak obscurity to occur "by 12", but did not record the time when it first arrived. At Harvard College, the obscuration was reported to arrive at 10:30 a.m., peaking at 12:45 p.m. and abating by 1:10 p.m., but a heavy overcast remained for the rest of the day. The obscuration was reported to have reached Barnstable, Massachusetts, by 2:00 p.m., with peak obscurity reported to have occurred at 5:30 p.m. Roosters crowed, woodcocks whistled, and frogs peeped as if night had fallen at 2:00 p.m. in Ipswich, Massachusetts. A witness reported that a strong sooty smell prevailed in the atmosphere, and that rain water had a light film over it that was made up of particles of burnt leaves and ash. Contemporaneous reports also indicated that ash and cinders fell on parts of New Hampshire to a depth of .

Other atmospheric phenomena

For several days before the Dark Day, the sun as viewed from New England appeared to be red, and the sky appeared yellow. While the darkness was present, soot was observed to have collected in rivers and in rain water, suggesting the presence of smoke. Also, when the night really came in, observers saw the moon colored red. For portions of New England, the morning of May 19, 1780, was characterized by rain, indicating that cloud cover was present.

Religious interpretations

Since communications technology of the day was primitive, most people found the darkness to be baffling and inexplicable. Many applied religious interpretations to the event. In Connecticut, a member of the Colonial government in the Thirteen Colonies#The Council, Governor's council (renamed the Connecticut Senate, Connecticut State Senate in 1818), Abraham Davenport, became most famous for his response to his colleagues' fears that it was the Last Judgment, Day of Judgment:
I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.
Davenport's courage was commemorated in the poem "s:Abraham Davenport, Abraham Davenport" by John Greenleaf Whittier. Edwin Markham also commemorated the event in his poem "A Judgement Hour", found in ''The Gates of Paradise and Other Poems''. Seventh-day Adventist Church, Seventh-day Adventist author and editor Arthur S. Maxwell mentions this event in his ''The Bible Story'' series (volume 10). The significance of the incident is still debated among Adventist scholars today. Progressive Adventists do not necessarily interpret this as a sign that Jesus would soon return, but traditional historic and conservative Adventists who hold Ellen G. White's writings in higher regard still consider this date as one of the fulfillments of biblical prophecy, specifically Matthew 24:29, in which Jesus declares to his disciples, "Immediately after the distress of those days [of anti-Christian persecution,] the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light..." (New International Version, NIV). Similarly, the Public Universal Friend treated the event as fulfillment of some prophecies of the Book of Revelation. The Dark Day also provided motivation for Ann Lee, leader of the Shakers (then living in Niskayuna, New York), to present her religious testimony to the public.


The likely cause of the Dark Day was smoke from extensive forest fires, for which there is evidence from the time of the Dark Day. When a fire does not kill a tree and the tree later grows, scar marks are left in the Dendrochronology#Growth rings, growth rings. This makes it possible to approximate the date of a past fire. Researchers examining tree rings and fire scars in trees in the area that is today occupied by Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, see evidence of a fire in 1780 and attribute the Dark Day to that.

See also

*Chinchaga Fire (1950, Canada)


Further reading


External links

May 2004 Weather Almanac entry
*[ What Caused New England's Dark Day?]
''WIRED'': Darkness at Noon Enshrouds New England
* * {{Cite news , first= Tom , last= de Castella , title= What Caused the Mystery of the Dark Day? , url= , work= BBC News Online#Features, BBC News Magazine , date= May 18, 2012 , access-date= May 18, 2012 1780 natural disasters 1780 in Canada 1780 in New York (state) 18th-century meteorology Anomalous weather Weather events in the United States 1780 in Massachusetts 1780 in Connecticut 1780 in New Jersey 1780s in Vermont 1780 in New Hampshire 1780s in Rhode Island 1780 in Maine Apocalypticism