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Historical Insights The Year Without A Summer

Even during the typically sweltering month of August, New Englanders watched as streams and rivers froze over, causing some to fear it was the end of the world.Credit: SuperStock/Getty Images

The Year Without A Summer

In 1816 the summer never came to New England, when a volcanic eruption caused the Earth to cool and crops to fail.

“The snow and frost continued without the warming sun,” wrote poet Eileen Marguet. “It was in 1816 that the summer never came.” The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia covered the atmosphere in volcanic ash, limiting the amount of sunlight, cooling the Earth’s surface, and causing a once-in-a-lifetime event: a year-long winter. Across New England, it snowed in late May and early June. And in August, beans, corn, and squash froze in the fields. As fall approached, only 10 percent of crops were harvestable. With orchards and fields barren, a famine set in, forcing locals to eat pigeons and raccoons. Because of food scarcity, prices skyrocketed—a bushel of oats that cost a mere 12 cents the year before jumped to 92 cents (the difference between $1.50 and $13 today). The Poverty Year, as 1816 was dubbed, caused many families to uproot in hopes of finding greener pastures and was a catastrophe remembered by locals for decades.