Today, the New Hampshire State Quarter Coin remembers the consternation of the church congregations of 299 years ago.
In his Historic Storms of New England, published in 1891, Sidney Perley described the “dark day” of 1716:
The list of dark days in New England must begin with that of Sunday, Octcber 21, 1716.
The people were gathered in their respective houses of worship, when about eleven o’clock in the forenoon, the outlines of things about them lost their distinctness.
It soon became so dark that the members of the congregations could not recognize each other across the small meeting houses of those days, and shortly after the forms of the people could not be seen except by looking at them toward a window.
A writer says that “one could not recognize another four seats away, nor read a word in a psalm book.”
Some ministers sent to the neighboring houses for candles, unwilling that anything of this kind, preternatural though it might be, should interrupt the services.
Others, believing it would soon pass away, sat down and waited. Some were ready to believe that the darkness of the last day was settling like a pall over nature before its dissolution.
In fact, all people were in a state of more or less excitement.
The darkness continued about half an hour, and when it grew light enough the waiting clergymen rose and finished the services.
The people gathered at the close of the meeting, and discussed the probable cause and meaning of what seemed to be a supernatural occurrence.
The air had been more or less murky for several days, being, as a writer of that time said, “very full of smoke.”
It descended near the earth constantly, when the wind was from the southwest.
On this Sunday dark clouds of smoke had passed over; and it was thought that the wind, which had changed to the eastward, had brought the smoke back again in a dense body, thus darkening the land.
That was the explanation accepted at the time by many of the people, while others believed to the end of their lives that it could not be explained.
Mather deemed the occurrence of sufficient importance to send an account of it to the Royal Philosophical Society in England, which soon after published it in its Transactions.
This dark day was probably surpassed only by the famous May day of 1780, of which we have very full accounts.
When we consider how much more superstitious the people were seventy years before, we can in some degree imagine their thoughts and feelings.
Darkness always produces a peculiar feeling, probably from its dampness , and the mystery which seems to be involved in it.
Unnatural darkness, or what seems to be such, certainly produces a weird and gloomy feeling, which would turn a superstitious mind into channels of fear and alarm.
In their Bulletin of October 1912, the United States Forest Service listed the “dark days” of the United States and Canada and provided an explanation.
The record for dark days in the United States and Canada is as follows :
1706 May 12, 10 am, New England.
1716 October 21, 11 am to 11.30 am, New England.
1732 August 9, New England.
1762 October 19, Detroit.
1780 May 19, New England. (Black Friday. The Dark Day.)
1785 October 16, Canada.
1814 July 3, New England to Newfoundland.
1819 November 6-10, New England and Canada.
1836 July 8, New England.
1863 October 16, Canada. (“Brief duration.”)
1868 September 15-October 20, western Oregon and Washington
1881 September 6, New England. (The Yellow Day.)
1887 November 19, Ohio River Valley. (“Smoky Day.”)
1894 September 2, New England.
1902 September 12, western Washington.
1903 June 5, Saratoga, N. Y.
1904 December 2, 10 am, for 15 minutes, Memphis, Tenn.
1910 August 20-25, northern United States, from Idaho and northern Utah eastward to St. Lawrence River.
Most dark days might more properly be called “yellow days.”
Even “Black Friday,” May 19, 1780, which was the most memorable of all the dark days of modern times, was preceded by a gradually increasing yellowness and an odor.
The same was true of the dark days of 1819, 1881, 1894, and 1903.
September 6, 1881, was so distinctly yellow that it is known as “The Yellow Day.”
The evidence that dark days result from fires may be briefed as follows:
In 1716 the air was very full of smoke. During the dark day of 1780 ashes of burnt leaves, soot, and cinders fell in some sections from forest fires in New York and Canada.
In 1785 black rain fell during a thunder shower in the darkened area. In 1814 ashes of burnt wood fell and there was a strong smell of smoke.
In 1819 a shower in the darkened area was discolored as if the water were impregnated with soot.
The fires near Wissitaquik, ME, probably caused the darkness in 1836. In 1868 the smoke from the Coos and St. Helens fires was encountered on the Pacific Ocean.
In 1881 dense smoke was noticed over a large area, chiefly from the Michigan forest fires.
In 1887 the smoke from forest fires to the westward interfered with navigation, became painful to the eyes, and rendered breathing disagreeable.
In 1894 the smoke came chiefly from the Hinckley fire in Minnesota. In 1902 the smoke came from numerous fires, one of the largest being in the South Fork of Lewis River water shed.
In 1903 the smoke was from fires in the Adirondacks. In 1910 the smoke was from the great Idaho fires.
The New Hampshire State Quarter Coin shows beside the Forest Service’s diagram of 1912 illustrating the patterns of the “dark days” in the northeast since the 1780s.