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The Freezing Summer of 1816

Footnotes to Long Island History

THE FREEZING SUMMER OF 1816

MAY 25, 1950

by

Thomas R. Bayles


       The year 1816 went by the name of "eighteen hundred sixteen and starve to death," and the summer months are known in history as the "cold summer of 1816," so remarkable was the weather.

       The sun's rays seemed to be without heat, and men and women became frightened with the prospect of the fire in the sun going out, and thought the end of the world was soon to come.

       January came in very mild, so much so that people let their fires go out. This pleasant weather was broken by a cold snap in February which soon passed and mild weather set in again. The weather in March was about the same as usual and was cold and windy.

       April was the advance guard of the cold weather to come. The early days were warm and bright, but as the month drew to a close the cold increased until it ended in snow and ice and low temperatures.

       To those who loved the usual balmy days and budding flowers of May the month was a bitter disappointment. The frosts came and killed all vegetation. Corn was killed and the fields were made ready for replanting, but instead of warm weather, ice formed every night.

       June, "the month of roses" was in this year a month of ice and desolation. None of the old timers could remember ever having seen the thermometer so low and this condition continued all the month. Frost, ice and snow were common. Most of the fruits and vegetables were killed and snow fell to a depth of several inches in New England.

       July came in with frost and ice, and the corn crop, which had been replanted, was again killed in all but a few sheltered locations throughout the northeast states and Long Island.

        Surely August would put an end to such cold weather, but it was not to be, and if possible this month was worse than the previous ones. Ice again formed and nearly every green plant was killed. Papers received from England stated that the year 1816 would be remembered as a year in which there was no summer.

       September was ushered in bright and warm, and for two weeks the chilled people were allowed to thaw out. it was the mildest weather of the year but soon Jack Frost came along again and whitened every thing in his path. On the sixteenth, ice formed a quarter of an inch thick, and again winter clothing was brought out. By this time, the people had given up hope of seeing the flowers bloom or hearing the birds sing, and began to prepare for a hard winter.

        October kept up the reputation of the previous months, and there was scarcely a day that the thermometer registered higher than 30 degrees.

       November was extremely cold and sleighing was good the first week of the month, but with December, came the mildest weather of the year, leading many people to believe the seasons had changed around.

       What little corn ripened in protected places was worth its weight in silver and farmers were compelled to buy corn grown in 1815 for the seed they used in the spring of 1817. Seed corn never cost so much and was difficult to get, even a $5 a bushel.

       The cold season, with its crop failures, sent the price of breadstuffs to an unheard of price, and it was impossible to secure many of the common vegetables for table use. 

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