The rare earthquake that shook much of the midwest last week reminds us of what J.H. Moore (Some Brethren Pathfinders) refers to as The Great Earthquake. The year was 1811 when Kaskaskia on the river of the same name, and near where it empties into the Mississippi, was the seat of government for the Territory of Illinois. The first Brethren were just beginning to move into the Territory of Illinois which at this time had a total population a little in excess of 12,000 and more than half of the people lived within twenty miles of the capital.
The rivers were beginning to be used to transport products and crops. Early in December 1811, a steamboat, the New Orleans, was launched at Pittsburgh, PA. It was the first steamboat to plow the western waters. Down the Ohio River it came, puffing, whistling, and lashing the water. The news of the river monster traveled faster than the "fire boat" as many called it, and here and there the banks were lined by people, some of them coming quite a distance to see the floating craft go by.
On December 18, just as the boat was entering the waters of the Mississippi River, occurred the greatest and most remarkable earthquake ever known in the history of the country east of the Rocky Mountains. Those on the boat could see the trees waving and nodding in the absence of wind. ... The earth rose and fell like laboring in great pain. Islands disappeared and others came upon the scene. In places the earth opened and streams of water and mud rose to a great height. At one great upheaval the waters of the Mississippi River were seen to run upstream only to come rushing back a bit later.
At New Madrid, on the Missouri side of the river, and a short distance south of where Cairo now is, a large tract of land, timber and all, sank to a considerable depth, forming a lake sixty miles long and from three to twenty miles wide.
And that's the way it was, according to Brethren author J.H. Moore, on December 18, 1811, when the first steamboat entered the waters of the Mississippi River.
More on The Great Earthquake tomorrow.