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Earthquake of 1663

What is likely the worst earthquake in modern history struck the Northeast on February 5, 1663. In Boston, chimneys were knocked down, walls collapsed, and terrified residents sought refuge in the streets. In rural areas, the earth opened up and cut deep crevices. In French Canada, mountains were toppled and an island in the St. Lawrence was uplifted. A significant pre-shock had occurred two weeks earlier, as well as many damaging after-shocks.

The following article from the August 24, 1786, Cumberland Gazette (Portland, ME) describes the great quake: "On January 26, 1663 [Old Style], 'at the shutting in of the evening,' another measurable earthquake shook New-England. From the general expressions the writers who speak of it use, it seems to have been one of the greatest this country ever felt. It is represented as being preceded with great noise and roar. Mention is made of the houses rocking, the pewter falling from the shelves, the tops of several chimneys falling in, the inhabitants running out into the streets, passengers being unable to keep on their feet, &c. As to its course, duration, or extent, nothing is to be found of the New England writers. But they are well described in the accounts that were given of this earthquake in Canada.

At the same time, February 5, 1663 [New Style], 'about half an hour after five in the evening,' a most terrible earthquake began there. The heavens being very serene, there was suddenly heard a roar, like that of a great fire. Immediately the buildings were shaken with amazing violence. The doors opened and shut of themselves, with a fearful clattering. The bells rang without being touched. The walls split asunder. The floors separated, and fell down. The fields put on the appearance of precipices, and the mountains seemed to be moving out of their places: and amidst the universal crash which took place, most kinds of animals sent forth fearful cries and howlings.

The duration of this earthquake was very uncommon. The first shock continued half an hour before it was over; but it began to abate in about a quarter of an hour after it first began. The same day, about eight o'clock in the evening, there was a second shock, equally violent as the first; and in the space of half an hour, there were two others. The next day about three hours from the morning there was a violent shock, which lasted a long time: and the next night, some counted thirty-two shocks; of which, many more were violent—Nor did these earthquakes cease until the July following.

New-England and New-York were shaken with no less violence than the French country. And, throughout an extent of three hundred leagues from east to west, and more than one hundred and fifty from north to south, the earth, the rivers, the banks of sea, were shaken with the same violence. The shocks sometimes came on suddenly; at other times by degrees. Some seemed to be directed upwards; others were attended with an undulatory motion.—And throughout the vast extent of country to which they reached, they seemed to resemble the motions of an intermitting pulse, with irregular returns; and which commenced through the whole at the same hour.

This earthquake was attended with some remarkable effects. Many fountains and small rivers were dried up. In others, the waters became sulphureous: and in some, the channel in which they ran before, was so altered that it could not be distinguished. Many trees were  torn up, and thrown considerable distance. And some mountains appeared to be much broken and moved. Half way between Tadoussac and Quebec, two mountains were shaken down: and the earth thus thrown down, formed a point of land, which extended half a quarter of a league into the river St. Lawrence. The island Aux Coudres, became larger than it was before: and the channel in the river became much altered.

From these accounts it is evident, that Canada was the chief seat of these concussions: and of consequence, as it proceeded from those parts, its course must have been from some point between the west and north; probably much the same with [the earthquake] of 1638."

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