Whereas the Catalogue of miseries and afflictions, with which it has pleased the Supreme Being of the Universe to visit the inhabitants of the earth there are none more truly awful and destructive than Earthquakes … The inhabitants of the late District now County of New Madrid, in this Territory, have lately been visited with several calamities of this kind, which have deluged large portions of their country and involved in the greatest distress many families, whilst others have been entirely ruined … In the opinion of the said General Assembly provisions ought to be made by law for or cashiered to the said inhabitants relief, either out of the public fund or in some other way as may can meet to the cost demand availability of the General Government.


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That plea by William Clark – later of Lewis and Clark – is thought by many to be the first disaster relief appeal in United States history. On the one hand nothing of this sort had been experience since the first colonists arrived but on the other there was absolutely no precedent for such relief to be provided by the central government and in those last days of liberty the Linnean Society and the Shaker community took care of their own, the government did not encourage too close a look at the event for fear of scaring off settlers and the nation received an extra impetus to push farther west. There have been subsequent earthquakes in the area – none of the magnitude of the 1812 event – and the area has gone from prairie to densely populated. It is on a fault line – there are shifting plates in the area – the question is not if but when and if it happens in the lifetime of this nation you will be sure that dollars from the central government will flow even if they burn out the presses printing them.

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The big one: the  earthquake that rocked early America and  helped create a science Boston: Houghton  Mifflin, c 2004 Jake Page and Charles Officer Earthquakes New Madrid  Seismic Zone Hardcover. 1st. ed. and  printing. xii, 239 p.: ill.; 22 cm. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In the early 1800s a series of gargantuan earth tremors seized the American frontier. Tremendous roars and flashes of eerie light accompanied huge spouts of water and gas. Six-foot-high waterfalls appeared in the Mississippi River, thousands of trees exploded, and some 1,500 people – in what was then a sparsely populated wilderness – were killed. A region the size of Texas, centered in Missouri and Arkansas, was rent apart, and the tremors reached as far as Montreal. Forget the 1906 earthquake – this set of quakes constituted the Big One.

The United States would face certain catastrophe if such quakes occurred again. Could they? The answer lies in seismology, a science that is still coming to grips with the Big One.

Jake Page and Charles Officer rely on compelling historical accounts and the latest scientific findings to tell a fascinating, long-forgotten story in which the naturalist John James Audubon, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, scientists, and charlatans all play roles. Whether describing devastating earthquakes or a dire year in a young nation, The Big One offers astounding breadth and drama.

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