The Year Was 1816

Secretary of State and Treasurer's Office, 1816-1825, Corydon, IndianaThe year was 1816 and it was known as “The Year without a Summer,” or “Eighteen hundred and froze to death.” 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 weren’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 “Constitutional Elm.” (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.)

11 thoughts on “The Year Was 1816

  1. Ninteenth state (Indiana)…and there are a few other small errors…Who is your proof reader?
    Great work anyway…..

  2. We are so spoiled by life as we know it–we think our weather is soo strange this year and in a few years past. It is nothing like they experienced in 1816. We really need to take a hard long look at ourselves- what would we do if we had to bake straw and hay into our bread to stay alive? Most of us don’t even know how to bake bread :). The past repeats itself but we are cush in our techo based life and probably actually a little out of reality. Something to think about. Great article.

  3. St. John, Newfoundland – the correct name is St. John’s, Newfoundland. [FYI – Since 6 December 2001, the province name has been Newfoundland and Labrador.]

    Hudson Bay Company – correct name is Hudson’s Bay Company. Archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBCA) are located in Manitoba. The following web site privdes more information

  4. My apologies for the typos in today’s article. With the short week last week, I’m afraid I was a bit rushed in getting this out. I appreciate the corrections and have fixed them in the article above.


  5. I can remember back as far as the early 1950’s and doctors didn’t keep stethoscopes warm then. I think people changed the doctor’s ways over the years. What I think is really cool is that a Navy Doctor took my idea of putting that numbing stuff on the gum before sticking the needle in the gum– works for me.

  6. The link provided to the typhus epidemic that hit in 1817-1818 in Ireland wouldn’t work because you need some kind of membership to access the site.

  7. This is my first time reading an article here, and I greatly enjoyed this one. While reading, names of my ancestors that I know were alive in 1816 flashed through my head. Thank you so very much!

  8. Sorry Juliana but you missed one error. It should be Farther west in Canada, not further. Use farther when referring to a distance in miles, yards, inches–but one can “further” their education or further their career.

  9. Pingback: 24-7 Family History Circle » The Year Was 1815

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