Wednesday, January 07, 2009

My ancestor Reuben Philips views the aftermath of the New Madrid quake in 1830

Below is an extract from the autobiography of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Reuben Philips, who was born in 1795 near Asheville, NC and spent his life as a circuit-riding Methodist preacher, schoolteacher and teacher of singing schools throughout western NC in the early 1800s. Keep in mind that all of his travels were on horseback.

In 1830 Reuben traveled to Memphis to collect a debt and traveled across the lake that was created by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812. The lake he refers to as Obion Lake is now called Reelfoot lake. Wikipedia states, "Popular history says that the lake was formed when the region subsided after the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–1812, and that the Mississippi River flowed backward for 10-24 hours to fill it."

"I was called on in the fall of that year to go to Memphis, Tennessee to Collect some money that I had in suit for Dr. Askew by the foreclosure of the Equity of Redemption on a mortgage deed given by a man Hargess to said Askew for loaned money being now collected. I started on the 7th of December and was hindered by high waters and also by hunting up Alexander Starrett who lived near Troy in Obion County Western District. I had claims on him in behalf of his orphan sisters whose money he had got and used as kind brother while single but after marriage he left the country and wandered off, proved insolvent, and swindled his sisters out of their money. I found him and his family living in poverty and worse than all, no disposition to remunerate his sisters even if he had been able.

"I remained one day and two nights with him and then made my way to Memphis, crossing the Obion Lake which had been made by the shaking of the earth in 1810. An eruption took place and threw up the earth across the mouth of the Obion River some 15 miles below where I crossed it. I could see the tops of the trees the water had backed over. Here I was greatly astonished at seeing the boatmen as they crossed the lake catching the flying fish by suspending a hook and line with a small bit of scarlet skimming the surface of the water. The fish would rise out of the water and take the hook; they caught numbers as we crossed. I crossed the Michigan Lake also. It was not so large. I saw a great many earth cracks occasioned by the shake above named, some so large that they had to be bridged where the road crossed them. It was strange to see the white sand thrown out on the black soil in so many places.

"In traveling down the line of counties to Memphis I was so near the river I had to swim the bayous as the waters were very high. I rode all day on Christmas day being the wettest day I have ever witnessed. I however succeeded in getting to Memphis and got my money and started for home on the first day of January 1831. On my way home I came very near being drowned in Little River in the Cherokee Nation. I swam it after night and was washed below the ford but miraculously escaped. Before going into the water I tied all my money in my handkerchief and around my neck so that if I was drowned it might be found on my person. Through great mercy I got home safe, found all well, and though I lost my school that winter I made $150 by the trip and prepared for a crop."

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