The End of the World: New Madrid Earthquakes 1811 - 1812

Updated on March 10, 2020
Gerry Glenn Jones profile image

I wrote the book, "Legend of the Bottoms" in 2005, but didn't attempt to have it published. I am presenting it here as a series.

Reelfoot Lake, created by the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812
Reelfoot Lake, created by the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812 | Source

The End of the World

"There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another food shortages and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs." This is a passage from Luke 21:11 in the Bible. It describes part of what is to happen at the end of this world.

On December 16, 1811, many people within hundreds of miles around New Madrid, Missouri, thought this prophecy had come to pass when earthquakes began occurring along what we now call the New Madrid Fault. The fault is approximately 150 miles long and stretches from Near Cairo, Illinois into Hati, Caruthersville and New Madrid in Missouri, Blytheville and Marked Tree in Arkansas. It continues from there into parts of Tennessee.

From December 1811 to February of 1812, three to five major earthquakes occurred in Missouri and Arkansas. Some scientists believe 2,000 to 10,000 smaller aftershocks occurred along the fault, and some believe that the minor earthquakes that occur in that area today, are possibly aftershocks from those major ones in 1811 and 1812.

Experts from the United States Geological Survey, state the following about the earthquakes. "They were by far the largest east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. The area of strong shaking associated with these shocks is two to three times as large as that of the 1964 Alaska earthquake and 10 times as large as that of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Because there were no seismographs in North America at that time, and very few people in the New Madrid region, the estimated magnitudes of this series of earthquakes vary considerably and depend on modern researchers' interpretations of journals, newspaper reports, and other accounts of the ground shaking and damage."

Trench east of Reelfoot Lake on the Chickasaw Buffs in Tennessee caused by the Earthquakes
Trench east of Reelfoot Lake on the Chickasaw Buffs in Tennessee caused by the Earthquakes | Source

It Came as a Thief in the Night

II Peter 3:10 "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which, the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."

Many people in areas affected by the earthquakes were aware of these words from Jesus Christ, in which he talked about events to come at the end of the world. These people thought the end had arrived, and it had to be one of the most frightening events in their lives.

The first principal earthquake occurred at about 2:15 a.m. in northeastern Arkansas, and was believed to be an 8.0 magnitude earthquake: it was felt as far away as Canada in the north to Mexico in the south.

New Madrid and Wabash seismic zones
New Madrid and Wabash seismic zones | Source

More Bible Prophecies Fulfilled

Matthew 24:29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:"

Revelations 6:12 "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood."

Revelation 9:2 "And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit."

According to eyewitnesses, the skies in the affected areas turned so dark during the earthquakes, a lighted lamp did not help and the air was full of sulfur fumes (also called brimstone), making it hard to breathe. Sounds of distant thunder and loud explosions were heard during the earthquakes.

A woman named Eliza Bryan was an eyewitness to the earthquakes and later wrote about them. "On the 16th of December, 1811, about two o'clock, a.m., we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious [sic] vapor, causing total darkness. The screams of the affrighted [sic] inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do — the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species — the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi — the current of which was retrogade [sic] for a few minutes, owing as is supposed, to an irruption in its bed — formed a scene truly horrible."

New Madrid Fault sign
New Madrid Fault sign | Source

The Mississippi River Flows Backwards

The earthquakes dramatically affected the landscape. They caused the Mississippi River banks and other river banks to collapse into the rivers, with some areas being lifted, while others sank. The uplift of the Mississippi River bed, south of New Madrid caused waves to be generated that made the Mississippi appear to flow backward for a while. These waves caused much damage to vessels on the river and even destroyed some Islands, while it, in turn, created new ones.

Subsurface sediment in some places caused sand blows, also known as sand volcanoes or sand boils, which blew sand and water into the air with a powerful force. One of the largest areas affected by these sand blows was Pemiscot Bayou, where water and sand were blown up for about 50 miles.

It changed some areas so much after the earthquakes; they were unrecognizable. Sand covered almost everything around the sand blows; many trees were left standing at angles, with others being pushed up, exposing the roots. A large number were knocked down or split open.

Locations of Largest New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812

Although many scientists believe that only three major earthquakes occurred, others say that four or more major ones happened.

The sequence of four of these major tremors began at 2:15 a.m. on December 16, 1811, in Northeast Arkansas. It was believed to be a 7.0 to 8.0 magnitude earthquake. The second began at 7:15 a.m. on the same date, and was believed to be a 7.0 magnitude event. The third earthquake occurred at New Madrid on January 23, 1812, at 9:15 a.m., with its strength being about 7.3, and the fourth one happened again at New Madrid on February 7, 1812, at 3:45 a.m. It was believed to be a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

New Madrid historical marker
New Madrid historical marker | Source

Strange Events Happened Before and During the Earthquakes

  • Animal Behavior Before the first earthquake occurred, domesticated animals became very nervous, and appeared to be acting like wild animals, while many wild animals seemed to become tame, possibly seeking help for what was about to happen. Animals that were in hibernation, left their dens and approached people.
  • Earthquake lights People began seeing lights in the form of orbs floating in the air, and blue flames coming out of the ground. These are believed to be caused by rocks under extreme stress.
  • Loud Thunder and Explosions Thunder and loud explosions were heard just before and during earthquakes.

When the earthquakes began, people saw these other phenomena occur:

  • Sand Blows, also known as sand boils and sand volcanoes: These are created when water under pressure, pushes up through the sand and causes an eruption into the air.
  • Darkness: caused by dust particles being thrown into the air.
  • Sulfur Smell: gases containing vaporous sulfur were emitted from the ground.
  • Fissures: The ground cracked open in numerous location, with one fissure being over five miles long.
  • Structures Collapsed

If an earthquake happens along this fault today, in addition to the occurrences listed above, many man-made structures and infrastructures will collapse. These will include buildings, bridges, and dams. Power plants will be greatly affected, as well as water systems, gas systems, and landline communications.

Video Explaining the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811 - 1812

Not if, but When will Another Major Earthquake Occur Along the New Madrid Fault

People living in the area affected by previous earthquakes on the New Madrid Fault have been anticipating another series of strong earthquakes to happen at any time; however, the last major series of earthquakes before 1811 and 1812, occurred around 1450; 42 years before Columbus discovered America. This was determined by artifacts found in sand blow debris and carbon-14 tests. They also believe that another major earthquake occurred around the year 900 AD, and another around 300 AD, but these weren't the first.

Studies have shown that other earthquakes in this area have predated the birth of Jesus Christ. They occurred around 2350 BC, 3500 BC, and 4800 BC, so it appears there will be more, but when, is hard to determine.

Some scientists even speculate additional earthquakes along the fault, may split our country into separate landmasses. Whatever happens, when they come, we will see some huge differences in the areas affected, as the people in 1811 and 1812 did, and the death toll of that time will be greatly increased because of the density of the population today.


Illinois College of Engineering

City of New Madrid, Mo.


​The Atlantic

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Gerry Glenn Jones


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      • Gerry Glenn Jones profile imageAUTHOR

        Gerry Glenn Jones 

        11 months ago from Somerville, Tennessee

        Samuel, God has the power to do all; he has created all, and if we fail to obey his commandments, which it seems we continue to do, he will show his true power again!

      • profile image

        Samuel Maximus Hamm 

        11 months ago

        Make no mistake. These earthquakes were the result of a judgement made against this region by John Mickel Ham. He was a righteeous servant of God. Then, everyone knew and recognized this for what it was. People turned back towards Jehovah because God had shown Himself to be God. A new judgement looms over our country. Abortion, cloning, genetic manipulation of species, pedophilia, idol worship and a world that cannot discern right from wrong are just a few of the issues God will not tolerate much longer. I Am Samuel Max Hamm, legacy of John Mickel, and I serve Jehovah just as He did. God is here incarnate again and again He has been poorly treated. You ignore that God is here so God will do a work that cannot be ignored for it will effect all. All will experience it and all will know greater than even an act of nature, this was an act of God. Unless it begins to change rapidly God will act. God is here to guide this nation or to divide it, literally, in two. It is this peoples choice as to what He will do. Acknowledge and honor His Son who He has sent for all of you or continue to oppose Him. Your fate is your own to decide. Just know that God's will surely will be done in the end.

      • Gerry Glenn Jones profile imageAUTHOR

        Gerry Glenn Jones 

        21 months ago from Somerville, Tennessee

        I think it will be the start of the end of the world.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        21 months ago from Sunny Florida

        This aritcle about earthquakes that happend so long ago was so interesting. I always think of CA when I think of dangerour fault lines. Arkansas and Mississippi earthqueakes in the early 1800's must have been terrifying. I wonder if the end of the world will happen with major earthquekes???

        Very good article.


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