GREAT notice was taken of all comets in the colonial days. Several have already been mentioned, but the Newtonian comet of 1680, as it was called, should not be passed unnoticed. It was first seen at Boston at five o'clock on the morning of November 14, 1680, appearing in the southeastern sky near fourteen degrees in Libra and one degree and three minutes southward of the ecliptic. The sky being clear, the comet at first appeared plainly, but in a few moments became faint, and vanished away as day began to break. The tail appeared to be about thirty degrees in length. Some writers have said that it reached from the zenith nearly to the horizon.

It appeared earlier and earlier in the morning until about December 8, when it began to be seen in the evening. It continued to be visible till February 10, when it failed to come within the view of the naked eye, though it could be discerned for some time longer with the aid of a telescope. Astronomers fix the time of its next visit to our planet in the year 2225, five hundred and forty-five years being necessary to the completion of its circuit, which is a fact too stupendous for us to realize when we think of the great speed of these bodies.

The magnitude and brightness of this comet caused consternation in Europe and America, and, in fact, in those times people all over the globe were alarmed at the uncommon things that appeared in the heavens.

Increase Mather gave a lecture on the comet, saying, in his introduction, that "As for this blazing star, which hath occasioned this discourse, it was a terrible sight indeed, especially about the middle of December last, the stream of such a stupendous magnitude, as that few men now living ever beheld the like."

Not only were the common people of New England terrified at the appearance of their heavenly visitor, but the alarm reached all classes. The governor and council of the Massachusetts Bay colony appointed a general fast, one reason assigned for it in the proclamation being "that awful, portentous, blazing star, usually foreboding some calamity to the beholders thereof." The greatest strictness was observed by the people in keeping the fast. Probably the terror arose chiefly from ignorance and superstition, but it was as real to them as if it had been demonstrated to be true by the best astronomers. The clergy throughout New England sought to make the most of this fear, some have said with hypocritical intentions, for the purpose of making converts to their religious views. We suppose that most of them did really believe with the laity that .the alarm was well founded, and that the time was at hand when they might be suddenly called to meet their Creator. Therefore, feeling the responsibility of their position, they besought their congregations to turn unto God while yet there was time. The result was that many were brought into the fold, and the ordinances of the church were more carefully observed.

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

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