The Year Was 1783

Flags, uniforms, currency and arms of the American Revolution / H.A. Ogden. (From the LOC Photo Collection at Ancestry.com)The year was 1783 and the American Revolution had come to an end. Hostilities had ended earlier in the year with a declaration by Britain in February, and the U.S. in April. The Treaty of Paris was negotiated on the American side by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay, and by David Hartley representing Great Britain. It provided for American independence from Britain, established borders for the new country, provided fishing rights for Americans around Nova Scotia, and addressed the issues of settlement with British Loyalists, whose property had been confiscated.

Many of these Loyalists (also called “Tories” or “Royalists”) took refuge in Canada. In July 1783, a claims commission was established to help get Loyalists back on their feet. It’s estimated that 100,000 British supporters made their way to Canada to begin a new life, although not all of them stayed.

Tragedy struck southern Italy, when an earthquake destroyed Calabria and nearby areas and killing an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people. The Edinburgh Advertiser (Edinburgh, Scotland) of 18 March 1783 describes the disaster through an extract of a letter from Naples:

“On the 5th of this month, several shocks of earthquakes were felt in Cabria Ultra, and in Sicily, which lasted near twelve hours; but on the two following days the shocks were more violent, and made most dreadful havock [sic] throughout Calabria, where 320 villages and hamlets are entirely destroyed. The towns of Palma and Seminaria are no more. The Episcopal city of Geracia is destroyed, and the Princess of Grimaldi was buried in the ruins, among many others. The town of Sylla is also swallowed up, and the prince of that name, in attempting to escape in a boat, was drowned. The place where Pizzo stood is no longer to be found. Of the archiepiscopal city of Reggio, universally famed for its trade and riches, and situate opposite Messina, scarce a vestige remains to remind mankind of its ancient splendour. The river Pietra is become entirely dry. The full particulars of this most dreadful disaster are not yet come to hand; all we can learn from Messina at present is, that the town is almost entirely destroyed and the country around much damaged, but Calabria has suffered most. This dreadful earthquake was accompanied with a most violent storm of thunder, lightning, and rain, together with almost total darkness; and those who have escaped with their lives, are reduced to the greatest misery, in want of clothes, victuals, and houses…”

But Mother Nature wasn’t through. In June, the volcano Laki in Iceland erupted wreaking havoc through much of the Northern hemisphere. The eruption, which lasted eight months, released toxic gases and the poisonous cloud and haze was reported as far away as Syria. The effects were catastrophic in Iceland, where toxins settling on grass poisoned livestock, and acid rain devastated crops leading to a famine that would kill nearly one-fourth of the population of Iceland. A more complete description of the disaster in Iceland can be found on the website, Travels in 19th Century Iceland.

The effects of Laki were not confined to Iceland. The prolonged eruption resulted in demonstrable climate change, with temperatures in the eastern U.S. averaging about eight degrees (Fahrenheit) colder that winter. England saw a hotter than usual summer and a colder winter, and in addition, the toxic haze is believed to be responsible for a steep rise in mortality, possibly causing 11,500 additional deaths. 

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Image: Flags, uniforms, currency and arms of the Revolution / H.A. Ogden. From the Library of Congress Photo Collection at Ancestry.

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