Today, the Maine State Quarter Coin tells the story of May 19, 1780 when the New England area from New Jersey to Maine became dark as night by noon.
In Facts for the Times published in 1893, several accounts describe that long ago “dark day.”
“The printers acknowledge their incapacity of describing the phenomenon which appeared in that town on Friday last. It grew darker and darker until nearly one o’clock, when it became so dark the inhabitants were obliged to quit their business, and they had to dine by the light of the candle … Such a phenomenon was never before seen here by the oldest person living.”—Boston Gazette of May 22, 1780
“Dark Day, The, May 19, 1780, so called on account of a remarkable darkness on that day, extending over all New England. In some places persons could not see to read common print in the open air for several hours together… The true cause of this remarkable phenomenon is not known.” —Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary
“I refer to the dark day of A. SD. 1780, May 19. That was a day of supernatural darkness. It was not an eclipse of the sun; for the moon was nearly at the full: it was not owing to a thickness of the atmosphere; for the stars were seen. The darkness began about 9 a.m., and continued through the day. Such was the darkness that work was suspended in the field and shop; beasts and fowls retired to their rest; and the houses were illuminated at dinner time…The sun was supernaturally darkened.” —Josiah Litch, in Prophetic Expositor.
“The greatest darkness was, at least, equal to what is commonly called candle-lighting in the evening. The appearance was indeed uncommon, and the cause unknown.”—Connecticut Journal of May 25, 1780.
“But especially I mention that wonderful darkness on the 19th of May inst. . Then, as in our text, the sun was darkened; such a darkness as probably was never known before since the crucifixion of our Lord. People left their work in the house and in the field. Travelers stopped; schools broke up at eleven o’clock; people lighted candles at noonday; and the fire shone as at night. Some people, I have been told, were in dismay, and thought whether the day of Judgment was not drawing on. A great part of the following night also, was singularly dark. The moon, though in the full, gave no light, as in our text.” —From a manuscript sermon by Rev. Elam Potter, delivered May 28, 1780.
“The 19th of May, in the year 1780, I well remember; I was then in my sixteenth year. The morning was clear and pleasant, but somewhere about eight o’clock my father came into the house and said there was an uncommon appearance in the sun. There were not any clouds, but the air was thick, having a smoky appearance, and the sun shone with a pale and yellowish hue, but kept growing darker and darker, until it was hid from sight. At noon we lit a candle, but it did not give light as in the night, and my father could not see to read with two candles.”—Milo Bostwich of Camden, New Jersey, written March 3, 1848
“In the month of May, 1780, there was a very terrific dark day in New England, when all faces seemed to gather blackness, and the people were filled with fear. There was great distress in the village where Edward Lee lived; ‘men’s hearts failing them for fear’ that the Judgment day was at hand, and the neighbors all flocked around the holy man; for his lamp was trimmed and shining brighter than ever amidst the unnatural darkness. Happy and joyful in God, he pointed them to their only refuge from the wrath to come, and spent the gloomy hours in earnest prayer for the distressed multitude.” —American Tract Society, Tract No. 379; Life of Edward Lee
“The 19th of May, 1780, was a remarkably dark day. Candles were lighted in many house. The birds were silent, and disappeared. The fowls retired to roost. It was the general opinion that the day of Judgment was at hand. The Legislature of Connecticut was in session at Hartford, but being unable to transact business, adjourned.” —Timothy Dwight, D.D., in Connecticut Historical Collections
“Although the uncommon darkness which attracted the attention of all ranks of people in this part of the country on the 19th of May, 1780, was a phenomenon which several gentlemen of considerable literary abilities have endeavored to solve, yet, I believe, you will agree with me that no satisfactory solution has yet appeared.” —Dr. Tenney in writing to the Historical Society in 1785
“On the 19th of May, 1780, an uncommon darkness took place all over New England, and extended to Canada. It continued about fourteen hours, or from ten o’clock in the morning till midnight. The darkness was so great that people were unable to read common print, or to tell the time of day by their watches, or to dine, or to transact their ordinary business, without the light of candles. They became dull and gloomy, and some were excessively frightened. The fowls went to roost. Objects could not be distinguished but at a very little distance, and everything bore the appearance of gloom and night. Similar days have occasionally been known, though inferior in the degree or extent of their darkness. The causes of these phenomena are unknown. They certainly were not the result of eclipses.”—Robert Sears’s Guide to Knowledge, edition 1844
“Almost, if not altogether alone, as the most mysterious and as yet unexplained phenomenon of its kind in nature’s diversified range of events during the last century, stands the dark day of May 19, 1780, a most unaccountable darkening of the whole visible heavens and atmosphere in New England, which brought intense alarm and distress to multitudes of minds, as well as dismay to the brute creation, the fowls fleeing, bewildered, to their roosts, and the birds to their nests, and the cattle returning to their stalls. Indeed, thousands of the good people of that day became fully convinced that the end of all things terrestrial had come; many gave up, for the time, their secular pursuits, and betook themselves to religious devotions.” —Our First Century, p. 88
“The dark day in Northern American was one of those wonderful phenomena of nature which will always be read with interest, but which philosophy is at a loss to explain.” —Herschel, astronomer
Modern scientists speculate that a combination of smoke from forest fires, a thick fog and cloud cover caused the darkness 235 years ago.
The Maine State Quarter Coin shows against a fog shrouded field with a lone tree.