Seminole War
“The shock of an Earthquake was distinctly felt” (Seminole War 200th)

A U.S. Geological Survey map showing the location of the New Madrid Fault and the epicenters of the scores of earthquakes it has produced.

The outbreak of war on the Florida-Georgia border had shocked the nation in late November and early December 1817. It was the shock of a real earthquake, however, that people in the region felt 200 years ago tonight.

This article is part of a continuing series marking the 200th anniversary of the Seminole Wars. To read the full series, please visit Seminole War 200th.

The New Madrid Earthquakes traditionally played a role in the coming of the Creek War of 1813-1814. It is a little known fact that an earthquake also shook the borderlands of Southwest Georgia, Southeast Alabama and North Florida during the early stages of the Seminole Wars. It happened on the night of December 10, 1817:

Earthquake! – The shock of an Earthquake was distinctly felt in Milledgeville (Geo.) on Wednesday night, the 10th inst. about 11 o’clock. A gentleman recently from Columbia, in this State, informs that a slight shock was also experience there, at exactly the same time. – Charleston City Gazette, December 25, 1817.

Experts believe that the quake was a strong aftershock of the massive New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812. It was felt from its center point in the Mississippi River valley somewhere between Memphis, Tennessee, and the forks of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. A strange noise also accompanied the tremor:

A 19th century woodcut shows cabins toppling during a New Madrid earthquake.

Between 11 and 12 o’clock on the night of Wednesday, an earthquake was felt in this town [i.e. Knoxville, TN] – the shock continued about half a minute, and violently shook the houses and furniture, arousing many that were asleep. It was accompanied by a rumbling noise, which many think was of longer duration than the noise accompanying the quakes at this season five years ago, though the shock was not so violent. The undulation was from west to east. – American Beacon, January 2, 1818 (republishing a letter from Knoxville dated December 1817).

The shock was undoubtedly felt at Fort Scott on the Flint River in Southwest Georgia and along the Apalachicola River in Florida where the Prophet Josiah Francis was assembling an army of more than 1,000 warriors for an attack two U.S. supply ships making their way upstream to the fort. The effect it had on the spread of the war, if any, is unknown.

The earthquake also signaled the entry of a new state to the Union. Mississippi because one of the United States on this date 200 years ago.

There was also an important conference at Fort Scott on December 10, 1817. Several of the Lower Creek chiefs in alliance with the U.S. Army appeared at the fort bearing an offer of peace from one of the most important Red Stick leaders. I will post an article about that tomorrow.

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