The year was 1816 and it was known as â€œThe Year without a Summer,â€ or â€œEighteen hundred and froze to death.â€ It is thought that unusual weather conditions in 1816 were the result of the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the previous year and several other major eruptions in the years prior. In New England, cold waves, drought, and an erratic growing season marked with frosts meant poor harvests.
Te extreme weather and poor harvests werenâ€™t confined to the U.S. either.
Europe also saw famine, exacerbated by post-war conditions left following the Napoleonic Wars. In Switzerland, the government had to put out information on what plants were edible to keep people from eating poisonous vegetation. Germans baked straw and sawdust into bread to make up for the food shortages, and the UK and Ireland were hit with famine as well, so much so that the British government suspended the income tax. In Ireland, it rained for 142 of 153 summer days, and the damp conditions are thought to have led to the typhus epidemic that hit in 1817-18. The famine there is estimated to have killed 737,000 people.
In Hungary, volcanic ash mixed with precipitation to create a brown blizzard, and Italy saw yellow snow that spring. In China, the monsoon season brought severe flooding to the Yangtze Valley and cold weather killed rice crops.
For more on weather conditions in New England, Dick Eastman has a in-depth article in his newsletter.
In February, fire broke out in St. John’s, Newfoundland, burning 120 houses–a large part of the city.
Further west in Canada, conflict between the Hudson Bay Company, the North West Company, and the Metis (descendants of French fur traders and First Nations marriages) escalated into the Battle of Seven Oaks in June, which killed twenty-one settlers and one Metis.
In the U.S., several treaties with Native Americans were made. The Treaty of St. Louis, made with the Ottawa, Ojibwa, and the Potawatomi tribes, ceded a strip of land to the U.S. which would eventually allow for the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, an important passage that connected Lake Michigan with the Illinois River, and through it, to the Mississippi River. This significant link created the first all water passage from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
It was an election year in the U.S. and James Monroe emerged as the winner, defeating Rufus King. The country was growing and on 11 December, Indiana was admitted as the nineteenth state in the union. When you think of those early legislators planning for statehood, it draws to mind traditional political quarters, but in fact much of the deliberation by the delegates took place under a sprawling tree, dubbed the â€œConstitutional Elm.â€ (The image accompanying this post is from the Ancestry Historical Postcard Collection, and is of the Secretary of State and Treasure Office, 1816 to 1825 in the state’s first capital, Corydon. Click on the image to enlarge it.)
In medicine, advances were made by Frenchman, Rene Laennec, who invented the stethoscope. (Since there were no refrigerators back then, doctors had to use ice to keep them cold for patients.)