Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, on May 19, 1780, an area of New England as far south as New Jersey and as far north as Maine experienced an event that has come to be known as “New England’s Dark Day.” The sky had been a strange yellowish-red color for several days, but before noontime on that day it had become as dark as early evening. Farm animals reacted as if night were approaching… chickens went to roost and cattle came back from grazing to be milked. It was too dark for any outdoor activities, and many people gathered in panicked groups, fearing that perhaps the world was coming to an end.
Today scientists would look at satellite photographs, consult their computer models of wind patterns, and gather information from all over the area in minutes, but in 1780, no one knew what was happening or why, and people were terrified. Present-day researchers think that the intense darkness was caused by distant wildfires and the resulting high concentration of ash particles in the atmosphere. This theory is supported by accounts of that day in diaries and letters of the time, which describe rain from the day before as thick and black with a sooty odor.
I have always had a personal interest in New England’s Dark Day because one of my ancestors was living in northeastern Massachusetts at the time… one of the areas where the darkness was the most intense… and I have read his brief but poignant description of this day in his diary.
He called it the DARK DAY. The capitals are his.