IN WEST Kentucky, 1811 was a year of portents so strange and unnatural that it was thought the very earth and sky were trying to give forewarning of impending doom. Early in the spring there was a severe flood, and the Ohio bottom lands were covered over vast areas. Crop planting was delayed and unprecedented sickness followed.1 The great comet of 1811 first appeared in the northern sky in April, and began its long climb across the heavens toward the south. It was clearly visible throughout most of the rest of the year, reaching its brightest intensity in October. As has been the case throughout history with other comets, this one was thought by the uneducated to forewarn of some disaster.2
A Lexington paper reported in 1811 that “during the summer months the heat was, in many places, the most intense that was ever known,” and in many areas the crops were destroyed by drought.3 In the eastern section of the country, tornadoes and hurricanes ravaged the land from Maine to Georgia, and a reporter wrote, “The ocean has been the subject of Volcanic terror; and new islands have arisen therefrom.”4
In August the mighty Indian chief, Tecumseh, accompanied by twenty of his warriors, passed by Rocky Hill and Smithland in their canoes. They had come from a tempestuous conference with Governor William H. Harrison in Vincennes, and were on their way down the Ohio and Mississippi to attempt a confederation of southern tribes to fight the intruding white settlers. The Indians were reluctant to join him, and Tecumseh warned them that when he returned to Detroit he would stamp his foot, and the earth would tremble and their houses would fall to the ground.5
The bizarre nature of that year was evident even in the behavior of the wild animals:
A spirit of change and a restlessness seemed to pervade the very
inhabitants of the forest. A countless multitude of squirrels, obey-
ing some great and universal impulse, which none can know but
the Spirit that gives them being, left their reckless and gambolling
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Publication information: Book title: Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy. Contributors: Boynton Merrill Jr. - Author. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press. Place of publication: Lincoln, NE. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 248.
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