We are by no means so free from the earthquake. Slight movements of the earth’s surface are much more common than many of us imagine, and in the history of our land there have been a number of earth shocks of considerable violence. Prior to that of San Francisco, the most destructive to life and property was that of Charleston in 1886, though the 1812 convulsion in the Mississippi Valley might have proved a much greater calamity but for the fact that civilized man had not then largely invaded its centre of action.
As regards the number of earth movements in this country, we are told that in New England alone 231 were recorded in two hundred and fifty years, while doubtless many slighter ones were left unrecorded. Taking the whole United States, there were 364 recorded in the twelve years from 1872 to 1883, and in 1885 fifty-nine were recorded, more than two-thirds of them being on the Pacific slope. Most of these, however, were very slight, some of them barely perceptible.
Confining ourselves to those of the past important in their effects, we shall first speak of the shocks which took place in New England in 1755, in the year and month of the great earthquake at Lisbon. On the 18th of November of that year, while the shocks at Lisbon still continued, New England was violently shaken, loud underground explosive noises accompanying the shocks. In the harbors along the Atlantic coast there was much agitation of the waters and many dead fish were thrown up on the shores. The shock, indeed, was felt far from the coast, by the crew of a ship more than two hundred miles out at sea from Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
This event, however, was of minor importance, being much inferior to that of 1812, in which year California and the Mississippi Valley alike were affected by violent movements of the earth’s crust. The California convulsions took place in the spring and summer of that year, extending from the beginning of May until September. Throughout May the southern portion of that region was violently agitated, the shocks being so frequent and severe that people abandoned their houses and slept on the open ground. The most destructive shocks came in September, when two Mission houses were destroyed and many of their inmates killed. At Santa Barbara a tidal wave invaded the coast and flowed some distance into the interior.
It may be said here that California has proved more subject to severe shocks than any other section of our country. In 1865 sharp tremors shook the whole region about the Bay of San Francisco, many buildings being thrown down. Hardly any of brick or stone escaped injury, though few lives were lost. In 1872 a disturbance was felt farther west, the whole range of the Sierra Nevada mountains being violently shaken and the earth tremblings extending into the State of Nevada. The centre of activity was along the crest of the range, and immense quantities of rock were thrown down from the mountain pinnacles.