On May 19, 1780, an eerie event unfolded across New England and parts of eastern Canada. This phenomenon, known as New England’s Dark Day, left residents bewildered as the daytime sky turned as dark as night. Imagine needing a candle to see anything outside at noon!

What Happened?

The primary cause of this mysterious darkening was a combination of three factors:

  1. Smoke from Forest Fires: Wildfires had been raging, filling the air with thick smoke.
  2. Thick Fog: A dense fog settled over the region.
  3. Cloud Cover: Heavy cloud cover further obscured the sun.

The darkness was so complete that candles were required from noon onwards. It persisted until the middle of the next night. The sun, which should have illuminated the day, remained hidden behind an impenetrable veil.

Extent of Darkness

According to reports:

  • Professor Samuel Williams of Harvard College observed the darkness as far north as Portland, Maine, and it extended southwards to New Jersey.
  • Revolutionary War soldier Joseph Plumb Martin described how the fowls went to their roosts, the cocks crowed, and the whip-poor-wills sang their usual serenade during this extraordinary darkness in New Jersey.
  • Rainwater even had a light film over it, composed of particles from burnt leaves and ash.

Timeline of the Dark Day

  • Rupert, Vermont: The sun was already obscured at sunrise.
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts: The darkness arrived between 10 and 11 a.m., continuing until the middle of the next night.
  • Westborough, Massachusetts: Peak obscurity occurred around noon.
  • Harvard College: Obscuration arrived at 10:30 a.m., peaked at 12:45 p.m., and abated by 1:10 p.m., but heavy overcast remained.
  • Barnstable, Massachusetts: Obscurity reached by 2:00 p.m., with peak darkness at 5:30 p.m. Roosters crowed, woodcocks whistled, and frogs peeped as if night had fallen.
Day of Darkness

Unusual Phenomena

  • The sun appeared red for several days before the Dark Day.
  • Ash and cinders fell on parts of New Hampshire to a depth of six inches (15 cm).

Legacy

New England’s Dark Day remains a fascinating historical mystery. It captured the imagination of those who witnessed it and continues to intrigue researchers and storytellers alike.

As we reflect on this enigmatic event, we’re reminded that nature’s mysteries often defy explanation. The Dark Day of 1780 stands as a testament to the unexpected and awe-inspiring moments that shape our world.

Remember to explore the past, for within its shadows lie stories waiting to be illuminated.