Monday, June 11, 2012

The Vermont Clarks and the Year Without a Summer

I've talked about this before, but the most common theme in my family history is an insistent westward movement over many generations. I've learned enough by now to understand the macro reasons for such movement: people scraping together an existence from the land had to keep looking for new land, and, being poor people, they had to keep looking for land nobody really wanted.

But in the absence of much detailed written or oral history in my family, I've never known much about the events or decisions that may have led anyone in particular to pick up stakes and move. (There are some exceptions, most notably Silas Jones's perceived need to get out of Arkansas in a hurry.)

So it was exciting for me to hear today about the Year Without a Summer in New England in 1816. I heard about this on an episode of Backstory, a terrific public radio show about American history. As they described it, there was crazy snow, cold temperatures, and frozen ground all summer, leading to crop failures and hunger.

The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 was bad news for farmers, but good news for painters of sunsets. J .M. W. Turner's painting Chichester Canal was inspired by the golden sunsets caused by the ashy sky.
It is now understood that the cold weather was largely due to a huge volcanic eruption in Indonesia the year before, but no one knew that at the time, and, as the Backstory guys explained, the freak winter caused people to leave Vermont and New Hampshire in great numbers for less settled, warmer places like Ohio and Indiana.

As it happens, my only New England ancestors, John and Marcy Clark (who I've talked about a little before), were married in Vermont in 1810. Eight years later, their son Ambrose was born in Ross County, Ohio. I have no record of when they moved (nor do I have birthdates or birthplaces for any children older than Ambrose) but the timing makes me wonder if they were among the people who fled New England when it seemed that summer would never come again.

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