Rattled pewter from the shelves Pilgrim Tercentenary Silver Commemorative Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Pilgrim Tercentenary Silver Commemorative Half Dollar Coin tells the stories of the shaking 377 years ago.

The Granite Monthly of October and November 1883 printed an article telling of the New England earthquakes from 1638 to 1883.

In particular, the article included written accounts of that first earthquake in 1638:



The first earthquake that occurred in New England, after the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620, or on the eastern coast of North America, of which we have any account, was that of June 1, 1638. The following account is copied from the town records of Newbury, Mass, (now Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury), changed, however, to the modern orthography.

“June 1st, 1638. Being this day assembled to consult about the well ordering of the affairs of the town, about one of the clock in the afternoon, the sun shining fair, it pleased God suddenly to raise a vehement earthquake coming with a shrill clap of thunder, coming, as is supposed, out of the east, which shook the earth and the foundations of the house in a very violent manner, to our great amazement and wonder.

“Wherefore, taking notice of so great and strange a hand of God’s providence, we were desirous of leaving it on record to the view of after ages to the intent that all might take notice of Almighty God and fear his name.”

Gov. Winthrop, in his History, says : “It came with a noise like continuous thunder, or the rattling of coaches in London. The noise and shakings continued about four minutes.”

Thomas Hutchinson, in his History of Massachusetts, says : “The course of this earthquake was from west to east. It shook the ships, threw down the tops of chimneys, and rattled the pewter from the shelves. This was a very great earthquake, and shook the whole country.”

The following account is from Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantations, pages 366, 367: “This year (1638), about the 1st or 2d of June, was a great and fearful earthquake. It was in this place heard before it was felt. It came with a rumbling noise, or low murmur, like unto remote thunder. It came from the northward and passed southward.

“As the noise approached nearer, the earth began to shake, and came at length with that violence as caused platters, dishes,, and such like things as stood upon shelves, to clatter and fall down. Yea, persons were afraid of the houses themselves.

“It so fell out that at the same time divers of the chiefs of this town were met together at one house, conferring with some of their friends that were upon their removal from this place (as if the Lord would hereby show the signs of his displeasure in their shaking apieces and removal one from another).

“However, it was very terrible for the time, and as the men were set talking in the house, some women and others were without the doors, and the earth shook with that violence as they could not stand without catching hold of the posts and pales that stood next them.

“But the violence lasted not long. And about half an hour or less came another noise and shaking, but neither so loud nor strong as the former, but quickly passed over, and so ceased.

“It was not only on the seacoast, but the Indians felt it within land; and some ships that were upon the coast were shaken by it.

“So powerful is the mighty hand of the Lord as to make both the land and sea to shake, and the mountains to tremble before him when he pleases; and who can stay his hand?

“It was observed that the summers, for divers years together, after this earthquake, were not so hot and seasonable for the ripening of corn and other fruits as formerly, but more cold and moist, and subject to untimely frosts, by which, many times, much Indian corn came not to maturity.

“But whether this was any cause, I leave it to naturalists to judge.”

Johnson, in his ” Wonder-working Providence of Zion’s Saviour in New England,” as quoted by Mr. Brigham, says: “This year, 1638, the first day of the fourth month (June), about two o’clock in the afternoon, the Lord caused a great and terrible earthquake, which was general throughout the English Plantations.

“The motion of the earth was such that it caused divers men (who had never heard of an earthquake before), being at work in the fields, to cast down their working tools, and run with ghastly, terrified looks to the next company they could meet withal.

“It came from the western and uninhabited parts of the wilderness and went the direct course.”

The year at that time began in March, which will explain why June is called the fourth month.

Dr. Dwight, in the first volume of his letters written in the beginning of the present century, speaks of the earthquakes of New England, and has knowledge of only nine having occurred.

Of this one (1638) he quotes Dr. Trumbull, the historian, who says: “This was a great and memorable earthquake. It came with a report like continued thunder, or the rattling of numerous coaches on a paved street.

“The shock was so great that in many places the tops of chimneys were thrown down, and the pewter fell from the shelves. It shook the waters and ships in the harbors, and adjacent islands.

“The duration of the sound and tremor was about four minutes. The earth at turns was unquiet for nearly twenty days. The weather was clear, the wind westerly, and the course of the earthquake from west to east.”


The Pilgrim Tercentenary Silver Commemorative Half Dollar Coin shows against a document written after the great earthquake of November 18, 1755.

Pilgrim Tercentenary Silver Commemorative Half Dollar Coin