The Ten Most Wanted

1. Eliza Bryan's Journal

It's not known that such a journal exists or ever existed. But Bryan is the #1 Primary Eyewitness for 1811-12. Her letter to Dow in 1816 contains a high level of detail, suggesting it was written from notes rather than from memory as she states. An archival search has not revealed any personal papers of Eliza. Her grave and those of her immediate relatives are at New Madrid and still in existence. Her headstone is preserved at the New Madrid museum.

2. Godfrey Le Sieur's Map

The map of the Bootheel/sunklands region prepared by Le Sieur for Sen. Lewis Linn for his report to the Committee on Commerce, 1 Feb 1836. This is probably the only map that could authoritatively show the St. Francis-Little River drainage basins prior to 1811. Linn died in 1843 and a search of what remaining personal papers he had did not reveal the map. If the map does exist is it probably unlabelled and only can be identified by matching the map with contemporary maps of the area.

3. Matthias Speed's Original Account

Speed's account is by far the most valuable for F1, but it is marred by a confusing, contradictory description of the location of the first waterfall/rapids he encountered after passing Island no. 10. The original report in the Bardstown Repository needs examining to see if "island" was used in place of "town", which would clear everything up. Problem: no existing copies of the Bardstown Repository are known. A search for the newspaper reveals that it was not widely circulated and probably ceased being printed by 1815 or shortly thereafter. Only one copy exists from 1815. The Speed account seems to be the only news item that received much notice from the newspaper.  The Speed family was prominent in the Louisville, Kentucky area and the original account may reside with their papers or with a descendant. A further search of Kentucky archives might reveal it and other relevant information. 

4. Le Sieur's Memoires


Probably not available in this country. Le Sieur ascended the Mississippi River in 1700. His memoir consists of "100 closely written pages" of observations from the journey. Delanglez (1943) calls it "the first scientific survey" of the river. It is probably in the French archives in Paris. It is unknown whether it's ever been transcribed, much less translated. This document was found after extensive research to uncover its history and its location. It was supposed to be copied by the Carnegie Institute prior to World War II in France. The war intervened and the effort lapsed. The Canadian National Archives copied it and this is where it was obtained with the help of Canadian researcher Alan Ruffman.

5. Fort Pickering Log Book

Another of the Ten Most Wanted for which its existence is in doubt. In 1811 the fort was still an active Indian trading post under factor Robert Bayly, but is unclear if it was still an active post of the U.S. Army. It's also unclear if a search of the U.S. Archives for the logbook has ever been made--or for that matter, if a fort log was ever kept at all. There is in existence a copy of the ledger book of the Indian Agent located at the fort. There is no mention of the earthquakes in it but further research needs to be done. A military logbook has still not been found. There were other military posts in the region that might also have information relating to the earthquakes. Each post was required to keep logbooks and correspondence books and these might hold accounts of the earthquakes as experienced at those locations. 

6. Carolina Indians

A detailed account of the earthquakes of 1811-12 from the Carolina Indians. The ~20-page account is possibly from the North Carolina State Archives. The "Carolina Indians" are probably the Appalachian Cherokees. Potentially the best source to document any land sliding that may have occurred in the Appalachians. Research continues to find Indian accounts of the New Madrid earthquakes . The Carolina Indian account was probably an account of another tribe whose records were preserved at the archives but further research is needed.

7. J.C. Harris' Eyewitness Accounts 

Harris was the man who in the late 1800's developed the plan--and came close to executing it--to drain Reelfoot Lake. Spears (1910) in Americana tells us Harris wrote "from memory accounts by residents of their experiences in the tumultuous earthquake day of 1811-12." Winfred Smith at UT Martin has tried to locate this manuscript--without success. One problem with this comes to mind: the Reelfoot Lake region was not settled in 1811-12. Although Harris had an extensive business history and left extensive legal records with counties of Lake and Obion courts, personal papers have not been located. If they exist they might contain background information on not only the earthquakes but also events in the Reelfoot area up to the 20th century.

8. New Madrid Church Records

 One of the mysteries of the New Madrid earthquakes is how many casualties there were from the earthquakes.  Accounts reference abandoned boats and infer that bodies might be found on the river.  There were both Protestant and Catholic Churches at New Madrid  and their records might be of help.  These records would record births, marriages and deaths of their members.  They might also reference the deaths of people passing through the town at the time of the earthquakes.  The original cemetery at New Madrid does not exists and these records might provide this information and background on eyewitnesses such as Eliza Bryan.

9. Roosevelt's Report to Fulton

Nicholas Roosevelt built the first steamboat on the Ohio-Mississippi and took it from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in late 1811. Prior to that he made a reconnaissance voyage in a flatboat in 1809 for his sponsor, Robert Fulton. His report to Fulton was a detailed account on the navigability of the rivers; one that Ambler (1932) calls "an exhaustive and impressive report." The Compendium should have it. Possibly it's with Fulton's papers? Roosevelt's papers have still not been found. A search of newspapers contemporary with his trip down the river did not uncover any trace of his journey but the search is ongoing.

10. A. B. Grey's Map of Reelfoot Lake

A. B. Grey was a United States Army engineer who had an accomplished pre Civil War career as the surveyor of the Gadsen Purchase boundary line between the United States and Mexico.  During the Civil war he sided with the Confederacy and was in charge of survey work for fortifications in the Reelfoot Lake area.  One of his maps is published in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. The manuscript version resides in the National Archives in Record Group 109 and probably is more detailed than the printed version. Other manuscript maps by him might show more of the area and the damage caused by the New Madrid earthquakes.

10. Fredrick Bates papers 

Fredrick Bates was  the second governor of Missouri and responsible for confirming land titles for land granted by the French, Spanish and Americans in Missouri when the state was founded.  He was in the New Madrid area at the time of the earthquakes and possible left an eyewitness account of them and the damage they caused.  His knowledge of the land would make his account valuable for assessing the damage the earthquakes caused.  His family rose to prominence in Missouri his papers survive in the State of Missouri.