THE first comet to appear in the heavens of New England, of which we have any account, blazed forth from Orion from the ninth to the twenty-second of December, 1652. It was large and had a long and beautiful tail. The people shuddered when they looked at it, for they thought its appearance was inevitably connected with some famine or plague. Another one appeared from February 3 to March 28, 1661. No calamity of any great consequence, certainly, happened in New England as the result of these celestial visits.

Now, in this mild winter of 1664-5, another had come to startle the settlers of New England, "The great and dreadful comet," as Josselyn called it, made its first appearance on the eighth of November. It came, not only as a visitor to New England's skies, but as a universal guest, being visible from all parts of the north temperate zone

and probably from all settled portions of the globe. Night after night the whole winter through, "the great blazing starre" took its position in the southern sky as soon as the stars began to glint in the evening constellations.

Its size and extreme brilliancy greatly alarmed the people. Comets were generally believed to be omens of something to be dreaded, and the learned men of the times taught the people to fear their approach, Morton said to them that it was "no fiery meteor caused by exhalation, but it appeared to be sent immediately by God to awake the secure world." By this sign they were, as they believed, forewarned of the judgment of Jehovah upon the people for their sins, but just what that judgment would be was a mystery. After a comet had disappeared, calamities which succeeded it within the space of a year or two were ascribed to its influence. In regard to the events which were believed to be foreshadowed by this comet, a writer of the time said, "The effects appeared much in England, in a great and dreadful plague that followed the next summer, in the dreadful war by sea with the Dutch, and the burning of London the second year following."

When we consider that after all the years astronomers have been telling us that comets are not dangerous, the great mass of mankind are still disturbed by the appearance of these heavenly messengers, we can understand how the people of the early period here, in their ignorance and superstition, must have been affected. The great meteoric ball and graceful curving tail of sparkling fire, many thousands, perhaps millions of miles in length, was to them frightful in two ways. First, as has already been stated, as the precursor of some dreadful event; and, second, as in itself an instrument capable of the direst consequences if a too close acquaintance was made with our little planet.

The end of the world must have been prominent in the minds of the people of early colonial days, for it has always been supposed by the general populace that the world would at last be destroyed by fire, and what messenger could perform this duty so quickly and so effectually? A comet had only to approach a little nearer, and with a whisk of its fiery tail it could consume everything combustible; or, a conjunction of the molten ball with the earth would annihilate the latter instantly.

So thoughts ran in the minds of the beholders of this fiery visitor of 1664, and as the evenings came and the unwelcome guest presented itself, fear and doubt and anxiety kept the people in an unhappy state of mind all through the long winter. Its disappearance was a welcome event

Probably no one now living has seen such large and glaring comets as were visible here in the colonial and provincial days.

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

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