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This Day in History, 1755: Cape Ann Earthquake

Exactly 250 years ago today, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the eastern United States hit off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, around 30 miles north of Boston. In Boston, hundreds of walls and chimneys collapsed and fell to the ground. John Adams, one of many people who reported on the quake, noted that the tremors lasted for about four minutes. In Pembroke and Scituate chasms opened in the earth and sand reached the surface. Sailors on the sea felt as if the ships were striking land. The earthquake was felt from Lake George, New York to 200 miles east of the cape and from Chesapeake Bay to Montreal and Nova Scotia. It was given an intensity rating of VIII on the Modified Mercalli scale.

In the weeks afterwards, many citizens of Massachusetts continued to see the earthquake as evidence of God's divine wrath. Reverend Thomas Prince of South Church blamed the quake on the prodigious use of Benjamin Franklin's lightning rods, claiming that they interfered with God's usual way of expressing displeasure with people's morals. (At the time, lightning strikes were seen as divine retribution, and the theory went that if God was stopped from using lightning, He would resort to using earthquakes instead.)

Sources:
Liell, Scott M. "Shaking the Foundation of Faith." (New York Times, Nov. 18, 2005)

Earthquake Hazards Program: Earthquake History of Massachusetts

Earthquake Hazards Program: Largest Earthquake in Massachusetts, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

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