Cotton Mather thought that New England suffered as much as any other portion of the world from lightning, or, as he termed it, thunder, it being in his day generally supposed that thunder and not lightning caused the damage. Lightning had struck buildings, trees, animals and people from the time of the earliest settlement, but it does not appear to have caused very much damage in any one season until 1768. The scattered buildings and people had but slight chance of being injured by lightning on account of their small number and wide separation.

The summer of 1768 is particularly noticeable on account of the very large number of showers accompanied with thunder and lightning, although they did not commence until the month of August. On the morning of the first day, which was Monday, during a shower the lightning destroyed a number of trees in the towns around Boston; in the afternoon another shower came up, during which the lightning struck the residence of the then well-known victualler, Mr. Shirley, at Roxbury, The lightning struck one end of the house in the gable, and entered it through a window which was destroyed together with its frame. The house of Doctor Sprague on Winter street in Boston was also struck on the chimney down the outside of which the lightning came and entered a closet in one of the chambers where were some curtain rods which it was thought conducted the electricity to a clock directly under them in the room below. In the closet was a considerable amount of china, which was not injured, with the exception of a small saucer that was broken. A black smooch was left on some of the plates, which probably marked the track of the lightning. The clock case was knocked about the room in fragments, and the works were thrown on a couch uninjured. A large glass which covered some wax-work was also broken; and the partitions and doors of the house were much injured, the lightning evidently passing down into the bottom of the cellar. Another house in Boston, the residence of Mr. Davis, a barber, situated on Water street, was also struck on the top of the chimney; the electric fluid came down its side, knocking out some of the tiles, and entering a closet, where were some curtain rods, tore it to pieces. The boards and also some articles of clothing which were hanging in the closet were thrown into the room. The lightning then entered another closet, where it partly melted some weights made of lead, and also the heads of several nails from which the boards had been torn, and then departed by way of the cellar. In a chamber in the house two children were stunned by the shock, but soon regained consciousness. Another house struck in Boston was that of Mr. Bacon, a carpenter residing on Temple street. Here the lightning came down the chimney, broke one of the tiles in the hearth of the lower room, where it melted a pewter plate and broke the glass in a picture-frame and in one of the windows. No one was injured, and the damage was slight. On the same afternoon, in Hartford, Conn., the rain fell in torrents, and the vivid lightning struck a tree in the west part of the town under which were two cows belonging to Caleb Bull, which were instantly killed. A barn in Norwalk, Conn., owned by the widow Benedict was also struck, being set on fire and wholly consumed with the hay and grain which were in it. This shower was very slight in Salem, Mass., but the people there were greatly interested in the grandeur of the movements and aspects of the forces contending together in the clouds toward Boston, and one of the citizens was led to pen the following lines, which were published in the Essex Gazette a few days later.


What grumbling Noise comes thro' the yielding Air!

Is it the Cannon's Roar! The Din of War?

No! — 'Tis the Voice of God; he Thunder rolls,

And flashes Lightnings to the distant Polls.

The Clouds impregnate with electric Ire,

Join and disjoin, and fold the Skies in Fire:

At which the Thunders burst with dreadful Roar,

Sweep through the Skies, and grumble on the Shore!

But still the Sound augments: while through the Air

Surprising Lightnings gleam with frightful Glare!

See!— from the Weft the gloomy Tempest rife:

Successive Flashes fire the burning SkiesI —

Such is the Noise, and such the Lightning shine.

They both proclaim the Author is DIVINE!—

Are such his Terrors, when his kind Command

Bids pregnant Clouds water the thirsty Land!

What siry Vengeance will he then display,

In that great, awful and consummate Day;

When down the Skies to Judgment he descends;

To crush his Foes; and to reward his Friends!

When round his shining Throne (no more of Grace)

Shall stand a numerous Hoft, the human Race!

Angels and Devils! When the sov'reign Lord

Shall judge the whole, and give a just Reward! —

Amazing Thought!"

On Wednesday evening, September 7, at Wrentham, Mass., a shower occurred in which lightning tore a large oak tree to pieces. Some of the large sections were thrown from three to four rods, and a few of the pieces were carried more than ten rods. Only the trunk remained standing, and the top of that was completely broomed.

On the next evening, at about eight o'clock, during another shower, lightning struck the tavern of Daniel Mann. At the time, a number of ladies and gentlemen were sitting around the tea table, the room being lighted by a candle, and a flash of lightning came into the room, being followed by an explosion, apparently as loud as the discharge of a cannon. Large sparks were seen, and the air in the room smelled as if impregnated with sulphur. The explosion having extinguished the candle, another was obtained, and the premises examined. A pane of glass in one of the windows was found to be broken, and a large clock in one corner of the room was much injured, a steel spring that held the pendulum being melted. The ceiling and doors of the room were much damaged; and two of the floor boards were raised and split. A gentleman, who was sitting near the clock felt a violent shock on the top of his head, and the coat of another was scorched on the right shoulder. The last named man suffered some pain in the same shoulder, but he was the only one of the twenty-seven persons in the house that was injured. Some damage was also done in other parts of the house, and all the inmates were filled with terror. A man, upon coming into the room, was so affected by the sulphurous air that his head ached for some time. A tree near the house was also struck. A boy at Rehoboth, Mass., ten years old, was instantly killed by lightning in the same shower. At Mendon, Mass., it was very severe, and great quantities of rain fell, continuing from eight o'clock in the evening until four the next morning, with but brief intervals of relaxation. At about one o'clock, the barn of Dr. William Jennison was struck and set on fire by lightning, and in a few minutes it was consumed with the contents, being full at this harvest season with hay, flax and. grain. The house of Joseph Reed of Uxbridge, Mass., was also struck, the lightning coming down the chimney. The hearth and part of the floor were torn up, and Mr. Reed with several members of his family, who were standing near the fireplace were temporarily stunned. This shower was not as local as thunder showers generally are, but it extended over a large territory, and the lightning was sharper and more frequent and disastrous than it was remembered to have been before in many parts of the region.

As late as the afternoon of Wednesday, November 2, there was very heavy thunder at Boston. At Charlestown, the bakehouse of Thomas Rayner was struck by lightning, and considerably damaged on the roof, one side of it being torn to pieces. A lad at the bolting mill was knocked down, but soon recovered, the bolting cloth was burned and the mill broken.

Source: Historic Storms of New England by Sidney Perley, 1891

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