Shaken, rattled and rolled – Pilgrim Tercentenary Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Pilgrim Tercentenary Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the earth movements felt by the colonists strongly on February 5, 1663 and for several months afterward.

The Granite Monthly, A New Hampshire Magazine, November 1883, included a description of the earthquake felt in New England.


January 26, 1663, there was an earthquake at the shutting in of the evening, one of the greatest in New England, and on February 5th another. The first shock continued above half an hour.

On the same day, at evening, another, and did not cease till July following.

Mr. Brigham, in his Historical Notes, says: “January 26, 1662, three violent shocks were felt in New England; chimneys were thrown down.”

Morton, in his Memorial, as quoted by Mr. Brigham, says:

“February 5th, 1663 (N. S.), at the shutting in of the evening there was a very great earthquake in New England, and the same night another, although something less than the former, and on the seventh another, about nine of the clock in the morning.”

This earthquake, says Mr. Brigham, was more severe in Canada than in the plantations of Massachusetts Bay.

Clavigero declares, in his History of Mexico, that it overwhelmed a chain of mountains of freestone, more than two hundred miles long, and changed that large tract into a plain.

Mr. Brigham’s redaction of Charlevoix’s account of this earthquake is as follows:

“About half past five in the evening, the heavens being very serene, there was suddenly heard a roar like that of a great fire.

“Immediately the buildings were shaken violently, and doors opened and shut of themselves with a great slamming.

“Bells rang without being touched, the walls split asunder, while the floors separated and fell down.

“The fields were raised like precipices, and the mountains seemed to be moving out of their places.

“Animals were terrified and uttered strange cries.

“For nearly half an hour the trembling lasted, a most unusual time, but it began to abate in a quarter of an hour after.

“The same evening, about eight o’clock, there was another equally violent shock, and within half an hour two others equally violent.

“The next day, about three hours from the morning, there was a violent shock, which lasted a long time; and the next night some counted thirty-two shocks, of which many were violent.

“Nor did these earthquakes cease until the July following.

“New England and New York were shaken, as well as Canada, but in less degree, and the whole territory convulsed, so far as can be learned; extended three hundred miles from east to west, and half as many from north to south.

“Sometimes the shocks were sudden, at others they came on gradually; some seemed to be vertical, others horizontal.

“Springs and brooks were dried up or became sulphurous; and some had their channel so completely altered as hardly to be recognized.

“Between Tadoussac and Quebec, two mountains were shaken into the St. Lawrence.

“The course of all these waves, when felt in New England, was from the northwest, and the center of disturbance was not far from the ancient volcanoes of Montreal.

“On the shores of Massachusetts Bay houses were shaken so that pewter fell from the shelves, and the tops of many chimneys were broken; but as many of the latter were of rough stone, they were more easily overthrown.”

January 26, 1662, old style, corresponds with February 5th, 1663, new style.

This will explain the apparent confusion, and renders it extremely probable, if not certain, that the earthquakes mentioned at these two dates are one and the same.


Another description can be found in the Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France.

Captured in the Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, Volume 48, Hierosme Lalemant wrote of the earthquake from a perspective near Quebec.

An excerpt:


On the fifth of February, 1663, toward half past five in the evening, a loud roaring was heard at the same time throughout the length and breadth of Canadas. This noise, which gave one the impression that the house was on fire, made all rush outdoors to escape so unexpected a conflagration; but, instead of smoke and flames, people were much surprised to behold the Walls tottering, and all the stones in motion, as if they had been detached.

Roofs seemed to bend down in one direction, and then back again in the other; Bells rang of their own accord; beams, joists, and boards creaked; and the earth leaped up, and made the palisade stakes dance in a way that would have seemed incredible, had we not witnessed it in different places.

Then all left their houses, animals took flight, children cried in the streets, and men and women, seized with terror, knew not where to take refuge, — expecting every moment to be either overwhelmed under the ruins of the houses, or swallowed up in some abyss that was to open beneath their feet.

Some knelt in the snow and cried for mercy, while others passed the rest of the night in prayer; for the Earthquake continued without ceasing, maintaining a certain swaying motion much like that of Ships at sea, so that some experienced from this tossing the same heaving of the stomach that one suffers on the water.

The disturbance was much greater in the forests, where there seemed to be a battle between the trees, which crashed against one another, — not merely their branches, but even, one would have said, their trunks being torn from their places to leap one upon another, with a din and confusion that made our Savages say that all the woods were drunken.

War seemed to be waged even by the Mountains, some of them being uprooted, to be hurled against others, and leaving yawning chasms in the places whence they had sprung.

At times, too, they buried the trees, with which they were covered, deep in the ground up to their topmost branches; and at other times they would plant them, branches downward, which would then take the place of the roots, leaving only a forest of upturned trunks.

During this general wreck on Land, ice of five and six feet in thickness was broken, flying into fragments, and splitting open in various places, whence issued either great clouds of smoke or jets of mud and sand, which ascended to a lofty height in the air.

Our springs either ceased to flow or gave forth only sulphurous waters; Rivers either disappeared entirely or were thoroughly defiled, the waters of some becoming yellow and of others red; and our great river Saint Lawrence appeared all whitish as far as the neighborhood of Tadoussacq — a prodigy truly astonishing and fitted to surprise those who know the volume of water carried by this great stream below the Island of Orleans, and how much matter it must have taken to whiten it.

The atmosphere was not without its disturbances, during those on water and Land; for, beside the roaring which constantly preceded and accompanied the Earthquake, we saw specters and fiery phantoms bearing torches in their hands.

Pikes and lances of fire were seen, waving in the air, and burning brands darting down on our houses — without, however, doing further injury than to spread alarm wherever they were seen.

There was even heard what sounded like plaintive and feeble voices in lamentation during the silence of the night; while white Porpoises were heard crying aloud before the Town of three Rivers — a very unusual occurrence — and filling the air with a pitiful bellowing.

Whether they were real Porpoises, or sea-cows (as some have supposed), so extraordinary a circumstance could have arisen from no common cause.

Word comes from Montreal that, during the Earthquake, fence stakes were plainly seen to jump up and down as if in a dance; of two doors in the same room, one closed itself and the other opened, of its own accord; chimneys and housetops bent like tree branches shaken by the wind; on raising the foot in walking, one felt the ground coming up after him and rising in proportion to the height to which he lifted his foot, sometimes giving the sole a quite smart rap; and other similar occurrences, of a highly surprising nature, are reported from that place.

From Three Rivers they wrote the following account: “The first and severest of all the shocks began with a rumbling like that of Thunder, and the houses were shaken like tree tops during a storm, amid a noise that made people think there was a fire crackling in their garrets.

“This first shock continued fully half an hour, although its great violence really lasted only a scant quarter of an hour. There was not a person who did not think the Earth was about to split open.

We further observed that, while this earthquake was almost continuous, still it was not of the same intensity, sometimes resembling the rocking of a great vessel riding gently at Anchor, — a motion which caused giddiness in many.

Sometimes the disturbance was irregular, and precipitated by various sharp movements — sometimes of considerable severity, at other times more moderate; but most commonly consisting of a slight quivering motion, which was perceptible to one away from the noise and at rest.

According to the report of many of our Frenchmen and Savages, who were eye-witnesses, far up on our river, the Three Rivers, five or six leagues from here, the banks bordering the Stream on each side, and formerly of a prodigious height, were leveled — being removed from their foundations, and uprooted to the water’s level.

These two mountains, with all their forests, thus overturned into the River, formed there a mighty dike which forced that stream to change its bed, and to spread over great plains recently discovered.

At the same time, however, it undermined all those displaced lands and caused their gradual detrition by the waters of the River, which are still so thick and turbid as to change the color of the whole great St. Lawrence river.

Judge how much soil it must take to keep its waters flowing constantly full of mire every day for nearly three months.

New Lakes are seen where there were none before; certain Mountains are seen no more, having been swallowed up; a number of rapids have been leveled, a number of Rivers have disappeared; the Earth was rent in many places, and it has opened chasms whose depths cannot be sounded; in fine, such confusion has been wrought, of woods overturned and swallowed up, that now we see fields of more than a thousand arpents utterly bare, and as if very recently plowed, where a short time ago were only forests.”

We learn from Tadoussacq that the stress of the Earthquake was not less severe there than elsewhere; that a shower of ashes was seen crossing the stream like a great storm; and that, if one were inclined to follow the river bank all the way from Cap de Tourmente to that point, he would see some marvelous effects of the earthquake.

Near the Bay (called St. Paul’s) there was a little Mountain, situated on the riverbank and a quarter of a league, or nearly that, in circumference, which was swallowed up; and, as if it had only taken a plunge, it came up again from the depths, to be changed into a little Island, and to turn a spot all beset with breakers, as it used to be, into a haven of safety against all kinds of winds.

And farther down, near Pointe aux Allouettes, a whole forest became detached from the mainland and slid into the river, where it presents to view great trees, straight and verdant, which sprang into being in the water, over night.


The Pilgrim Tercentenary Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with a map of New France (Canada), circa 1613, with parts of what would become New England.

Pilgrim Tercentenary Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin