Zac McDorrMaine churchgoers used to keep warm with heavy clothing, blankets, and heating pans full of hot coals. The first church in Bath to install a woodstove was the Old North Church in 1815. It was perfect timing, as summer would never come the following year.

We learned in school that Maine was once covered by an ice sheet a mile thick, but these days we expect the cold stuff to melt away each year as summer returns. Those who plant crops for a living depend on it.
A volcanic eruption in Indonesia in 1815, however, turned 1816 into “The Year Without a Summer,” or the “Year of Poverty.”

Gasses from the volcano entered the atmosphere and partially blocked the sun, causing a global dip in temperatures.

Freezing winds from the north killed the buds of New England fruit trees on May 12. Six inches of snow fell on June 6. As far south as Pennsylvania, rivers and ponds remained frozen into August. There was at least one hard frost every month of the year, making it impossible to grow crops.

The freeze was responsible for many New England farmers giving up their rocky land and heading west for greener pastures.

Hunger became prevalent in the northern hemisphere, with riots throughout Europe. New England farmers were forced to eat their seed corn when supplies ran out. One Deacon Simpson became the hero of the Kennebec Valley by sharing out seed corn he had saved from 1814. Farmers came by canoe, horseback, or on foot to get a handful of Simpson’s corn.

Animals suffered, too. Farmers who had already shorn their sheep tried to reattach the wool to the shivering animals, but most died anyway. People survived by eating their livestock, along with raccoons, pigeons, mackerel, and frozen potatoes.

Let’s hope summer comes this year.

Source: “Kennebec Yesterdays,” by Ernest Marriner, 1954, and www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com.