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History of the New Madrid Seismic Zone

In the middle of the United States, a sequence of events began, startling a young nation and puzzling scientists up to the present. During the early morning hours of December 16, 1811, the first New Madrid earthquakes shook the country.

Not one, but a series of quakes from December 1811 until February 1812, were felt over vast distances. These earthquakes brought  an awareness to natural phenomena rarely experienced by Americans up to that time, influencing how people looked at nature, and, for people on the frontier, providing a source of terror and amazement.

map shows density of 1810 population


The New Madrid area was still part of the American Frontier, with the Louisiana Territory purchased in 1804. Population was sparse at the earthquake location.

The three great quakes were on December 16, 1811, January 23rd, 1812, and February of 1812, with numerous aftershocks felt between the major earthquakes.

Our New Madrid Compendium has MANY eyewitness accounts gleaned from journal entries, diaries, letters to the editors of major newspapers, etc.


Damage was widespread, settlement was delayed in the damaged area, the Mississippi River was damaged due to log jams and mudslides, and Reelfoot Lake was created.











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