News of the US: Week Three of December 1811

December 15:  Letter from Williamsburg   “A few days ago, the college of William and Mary was very near being levelled to the earth.  A fire broke out in the room occupied by the professor of the grammar school, which was fortunately discovered in time to preserve this distinguished seminary from total destruction.  The flames raged for about fifteen minutes, but owing to the great exertions of the students and others, they were happily suppressed, after considerable damages had been done to the room in which the fire originated, and several adjacent rooms.  It is attributed to accident.”–New-York Columbian, December 28, 1811

December 16:  From St. Louis — On Monday morning last, about a quarter past two, St. Louis, and the surrounding country, was visited by one of the most violent shocks of earthquake that has been recorded since the discovery of out country.  . . . No lives have been lost, nor has the houses sustained much injury, a few chimneys have been thrown down, and a few lone houses split.–Louisiana Gazette, December 21, 1811

December 16:  120 miles south of New Madrid, on the Mississippi, as recorded by John Bradbury — “The first shock which we experienced was about 2 o’clock on the morning of the 16th December at which time our position was in itself perilous, we being but a few hundred years above a bad place in the river, called the Devils Race Ground; in our situation particularly, the scene was terrible beyond description:  our boat appeared as if alternately lifted out of the water, and again suffered to fall.  The banks above, below and around us were falling every moment into the river, all nature seemed running into chaos.  The noise unconnected with particular objects was the noise of the most violent tempest of wind mixed with a sound equal to the loudest thunder, but more hollow and vibrating.  The crashing of falling trees and the loud screeching of wild fowl made up the horrid concert.”–Louisiana Gazette, March 7, 1812

December 16:  from Knoxville, (Ten.) Dec. 16–“About 2 o’clock, this morning, this town experienced the shock of an earthquake, which lasted from 3 to 5 minutes, the rattling of the window glass and furniture in the rooms, was so great as to rouse every family in the town.”  . . . A similar occurrence took place at Savannah, on the 16th Dec.  . . .  A fourth shock has been experienced in Charleston.  During one of them the houses were considerably shaken, and the church bells set a ringing, by the vibration of the earth.–Weekly Boston Messenger, January 10, 1812

December 16:  Columbia, (S. C.)– The inhabitants of this town were much alarmed, yesterday morning, by repeated shocks of earthquakes.  The first took place about half after two; which shook the houses as if rocked by the waves of the sea; it was followed after the cessation of a minute by three slighter ones; and a 8 o’clock two others took place, and at 10 some slight ones.  The South Carolina College appeared to rock from its foundation, and a part of the plaistring fell; which so alarmed the students that they left the college without their clothes.   It appeared as if all the buildings would be levelled.  The dogs barked, fowls made a racket, and numbers of the inhabitants were running about with lights, not knowing where to go, so great was their alarm.  During the shock, the air felt as if it were impregnated with steam, which lasted for some time after the first shock.–National Intelligencer, December 31, 1811

December 17:  House of Representatives –On the resolutions of the committee of foreign relations, which were carried in the House of Representatives on Monday, the House divided as follows:  On the 2d resolution, “That an additional force of ten thousand regular troops ought to be immediately raised to serve for three years, and that a bounty in lands ought to be given to encourage enlistment,” Ayes 109, Noes 22.  . . .  The question was then taken on the 4th resolution, in the following words:  “That the President be authorized to order out, from time to time, such detachments of the militia, as in his opinion the public service may require,” and carried, 120 to 8.  . . .  The question was then taken on the 5th resolution, in the words following:  “That all the vessels not now in service, belonging to the navy, and worthy of repair, be immediately fitted up and put in commission,” and carried, 111 to 5.–Providence Gazette, December 28, 1811

December 18:  The Senate have been for two days past principally engaged in the discussion of the bill for raising an additional military force, but have not get gone through the details of the bill.  When that body yesterday adjourned, a motion was under consideration to strike out the word “ten,” the number of regiments of infantry proposed to be raised, with a view to insert a smaller number.  On this proposition debate arose, which continued till the period of adjournment.–National Intelligencer, December 19, 1811

December 19:  House of Representatives.  December 19.  Mr. Baker presented two petitions of sundry inhabitants of the city and county of Washington, praying that the act of the state of Maryland laying a tax on marriage licences of four dollars may be revived in Washington county in the District of Columbia, and that the money thus collected may be applied to the use of schools.–Referred to the  District committee.  The Speaker laid before the House, a resolution of the Legislature of the state of Vermont, ratifying and confirming an amendment proposed by Congress to the Constitution of the United States, concerning the acceptance of titles of nobility from foreign powers by citizens of the United States.–National Intelligencer, December 21, 1811

December 20:  Friday —The bill to raise for a limited time an additional military force, was this day read the third time, and on the question “shall this bill pass” being taken, it was determined in the affirmative, the bill being first amended by striking out the words “for a limited time.”–Yeas 26 Nays 4.–  National Intelligencer, December 24, 1811

December 20:  From Raleigh — “Gamblers, Vagabonds and Nuisances.–A few days ago a man from Virginia of the name of Watson, was taken up in this city for gambling & bound to keep the peace.  . . .  The noted Tadeton Johnston was sought for but he made his escape.  A day or two after, Bob Dob, of this city a noted drunkard was apprehended and convicted of being an idle disorderly person, addicted to drunkenness and profanity, and was bound over to the next Wake Superior Court as being a public nuisance.”–Louisiana Gazette, February 22, 1812


These excerpts are taken verbatim from various American newspapers in the University of Texas’ Bound Newspapers Archive, now in the process of being digitized and returned to safe storage in the Library Storage Facility on the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University of Texas in Austin.  To see the current inventory of digitized files of this important historical resource, visit UT’s online Digital Repository (Library Owned Content).

For insights into the collection and the preservation process, visit researcher Mary Bowden’s blog in Viewpoint.

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden