The earthquake of 1663
French settlers trade alcohol with the natives:
From the year 1658, the French colonists began to sell alcohol in large quantities to the native peoples. This provoked the anger of the Jesuit missionaries, since these people, digesting alcohol badly, became very immoral and violent. In order to stop these abuses, the Jesuits turned to Rome, asking that a bishop be sent to Canada. Rome responded to this appeal by sending Saint François de Laval in 1659.
On May 5, 1660, François de Laval, Bishop of Petrea and Vicar Apostolic in New France, issued a threat of excommunication to anyone who gave or sold liquor to the natives. Unfortunately, the civil authorities did not listen to the bishop. Seeing that his authority carried little or no weight, Monseigneur de Laval returned to France in 1662, hoping to obtain more civil power from the king. During this time, God will give premonitions of a terrible punishment that will fall on New France.
Divine premonitions :
Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine tells us: “I had at that time a considerable presentiment and an infallible assurance that God was ready to punish the country for the sins that were committed there, especially for the contempt that was shown for the Church. It seems to me at the time that God was very angry. I could not help wishing for this punishment, whatever it was, because I had no idea at the time what it might be. In the evening, at the same moment that an earthquake began, I saw in my spirit four demons, who occupied the four sides of the neighbouring lands, and shook them strongly, as if they wanted to overthrow everything; and without doubt they would have done so if a superior power, which gave a kind of impulse to everything, had not put an obstacle in the way of their will. Then, the demons said to me that they would do their possible to continue this overthrow that there were many frightened people and that the fear made them have recourse to God and think of their conscience; but that they would make sure that that would not be useful to them. “
The Jesuit Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix mentions another case of premonition. “On the third day of the same month (February 3, 1663), an Algonquin woman, a fervent Christian, being awake at night in her cabin and sitting on her bed, thought she heard a voice saying that in two days, unheard of things would happen and, the next day, as she was in the forest with her sister, gathering wood, she still heard the same voice very distinctly telling her that the next day between five and six o’clock in the evening, the earth would tremble in a terrible way. Her sister did not hear the voice and did not notice anything. “(C.f. Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle-France). Saint Mary of the Incarnation reports the same fact when she says: “On February 3, a savage woman, an excellent Christian, being awake in her cabin, while all the others were sleeping, heard a distinct and articulate voice which said to her: ‘In two days, very astonishing and marvelous things must happen. “An Algonquin woman gave a deposition before two Jesuits, confirmed by her father and mother: ‘On the night of February 4 and 5, being awake and in the midst of judgment, I heard a distinct voice which said to me: ‘Strange things must happen today: the earth must tremble. ‘ About 9 or 10 o’clock on the morning of February 5, the same voice spoke the same words to the same person who had gone to the woods to burn. “
Father Jérôme Lalemant, Superior of the Jesuit Missions in Canada, reports some premonitory facts: “Heaven and Earth have spoken to us many times over the past year. Heaven began with beautiful phenomena, Earth followed with furious upheavals, which made us realize that these voices from the air, silent and brilliant, were not just words in the air, since they foretold us the convulsions that would make us tremble, making the Earth tremble. We saw last Autumn snakes ablaze, embracing each other in the shape of a Caduceus, and flying through the air, carried on wings of fire. We saw in Quebec City a large globe of flames, which was quite a beautiful day during the night, if the sparks it was lighting on all sides had not frightened us with the pleasure we took to see it. This same meteor appeared on Montreal; but it seemed in the Year 1663, to come out of the bosom of the Moon, with a noise equal to that of cannons or thunder, and having walked three leagues in the air, was finally lost behind the big mountain whose name this island bears”.
Father Jérôme Lalemant continues: “But what seemed more extraordinary to us was the appearance of three Suns. It was a beautiful day last winter, that at eight o’clock in the morning, a light, almost imperceptible vapor rose from our great river, and being struck by the first rays of the sun, became transparent, so that it had enough body to support the two images that this star was painting on it; these three suns were almost in a straight line, a few yards away from each other, according to appearance, the true one holding the middle, and having the other two at its two sides. All three were crowned by a rainbow, whose colors were not well defined, sometimes appearing at first to be like those of the iris, then later to be luminous white, as if underneath it, there had been an excessively strong light. This spectacle lasted nearly two hours the first time it appeared, on the seventh of January 1663; and the second time, on the 14th of the same month, it did not last so long, but only until the colors of the iris gradually faded, the two suns on the sides also faded away, leaving the one in the middle as victorious. We can put in this place the eclipse of sun arrived in Quebec City, the first day of September 1663, which in the observation which was made of it very exactly, having been found by eleven whole fingers, made our forests pale, dark and melancholic. Its beginning was at one hour twenty-four minutes, forty-two seconds in the afternoon; and its end at three hours fifty-two minutes, forty-four seconds “.
Father Jerome Lalemant continues: “But what seemed to us more extraordinary, is the appearance of three suns. It was a beautiful day of last winter, that at eight o’clock in the morning, a light vapor almost imperceptible rose from our great river, and being struck by the first rays of the sun, became transparent, in such a way nevertheless that it had enough body to support the two images that this star painted on it; these three suns were almost in a straight line, distant from each other by a few toises, according to the appearance, the true one holding the middle, and having the other two at its two sides. All three were crowned with a rainbow, the colors of which were not well fixed, sometimes appearing like those of the iris, then afterwards of a luminous white, as if underneath very close, there had been an excessively strong light. This spectacle lasted nearly two hours the first time that it appeared, it was the seventh of January 1663; and the second time, which was the 14 of the same month, it did not last so long, but only until the colors of the iris coming to be lost little by little, the two suns of the sides eclipsed also, leaving that of the medium as victorious. We can put in this place the eclipse of the sun which arrived in Quebec, on the first day of September 1663, which in the observation which was made very exactly, being found of eleven whole fingers, made our forests pale, dark and melancholic. Its beginning was at one hour twenty-four minutes, forty-two seconds of afternoon; and its end at three hours fifty-two minutes, forty-four seconds”.
Before the solar phenomena, during the fall season, fiery snakes had appeared, which entwined themselves in each other, in the form of caduceus, and flew in the air, carried by wings of fire. A large globe of flames was seen over Quebec, making a rather beautiful day during the night, which would have been a pleasure to admire if the sparks that it threw from all sides had not aroused fear. This same meteor also appeared over Montreal; but at this place, it seemed to come out of the bosom of the moon, with a noise that was equal to cannons or thunders, and having walked three leagues in the air, was lost behind Mount Royal.
“The earthquake, which began on Monday evening, says Sister Bourgeoys, redoubled nine times in nine hours, not equally, neither for strength nor duration. The first blow was so strong, that our door-bell rang with the greatest speed that can be sounded. “
“‘On February 6, at 4 o’clock in the morning, there took place another very violent earthquake,’ says Sister Morin, of the Hotel-Dieu of Montreal. It rocked us in our beds much more roughly than our mothers had done in our childhood. “
Saint Mary of the Incarnation tells us: “On February 3, 1663, the weather was very calm and serene, and the vision had not yet passed, when a dreadful noise and buzzing was heard from afar, as if a great number of cudgels were rolling over the pavements with speed and impetuosity. This noise had not sooner awakened the attention that one heard under ground and on the ground and on all sides, like a confusion of waves which gave horror. One heard on all sides like a hail of stones on the roofs, in the attics and in the rooms. It seemed as if the marbles of which the bottom of this country is almost entirely composed, and of which our houses are built, were going to open and fall apart to swallow us up. Thick dust flew from all sides. Doors opened by themselves, others that were open closed. The bells of all our churches and the chimes of our clocks were ringing by themselves, and the steeples as well as our houses were shaking like trees in a windy day; and all this in a horrible confusion of furniture overturning, stones falling, floors separating, walls splitting. Among all this one could hear the domestic animals screaming. Some were leaving the houses, others were entering. In a word, one was so frightened that one felt that one was on the eve of the judgment, since one could see the signs of it.
Father Jérôme Lalemant, in the Jesuit Relations of 1663, also gave a rather realistic portrait of the situation: “It was on the fifth day of February 1663, at half past five in the evening, that a great rustling was heard at the same time throughout Canada. This noise, which sounded as if the fire had been in the houses, made everyone leave, to flee from such an unexpected fire; but instead of seeing the smoke and the flame, one was quite surprised to see the walls swaying, and all the stones moving, as if they had become detached; the roofs seemed to bend down on one side, and then to topple over on the other; the bells rang of their own accord; the beams, joists, and floors creaked; the earth leaped, making the palisades’ stakes dance in a way that would not have seemed believable, had we not seen it in various places. “
It is also said that everyone went out, the animals fled, the children cried, the adults seized with fear did not know where to take refuge, wondering if they would not be swallowed up under the ruins of their homes, or swallowed by some precipice dug under their feet. Some, prostrate on their knees in the snow, ask for mercy; others spend the rest of the night in prayer. The mountains, likewise, were raging. Some were uprooted to throw themselves on others, making abysses where they were. (Some specialists say that the Bic National Park was possibly formed as a result of this earthquake).
Father Lalemant: “During this general debris that was made on earth, ice five and six feet thick was shattered, jumping in pieces and opening in various places from which evaporated or large smoke or jets of mud and sand that rose high in the air; our fountains or no longer flowed or had only water ensulfed ; the rivers either were lost or were all corrupted, the waters becoming yellow, the others red; and our great river of Saint-Laurent appeared all whitish until Tadoussac, a prodigy quite astonishing and capable of surprising those who know the quantity of water that this large river rolls below the Isle of Orleans, and what it took of matter to whiten them”.
Father Jérôme Lalemant tells us: “The air was not free of its alterations; for, in addition to the rustling which preceded and accompanied the earthquake, one saw spectres and phantoms of fire carrying torches in their hands. Pikes and spears of fire were seen flying about and lighted brandets were seen creeping over our houses, yet they did no more harm than to strike fear wherever they appeared; one could even hear as if plaintive and languid voices were lamenting during the silence of the night. And, what is very rare, white porpoises throw high cries in front of the town of Trois-Rivières, making the air resound with pitiful mooings”.
Father Lalemant tells us: “An earthquake of more than two hundred leagues in length and one hundred in width shook this entire area, where we saw prodigious changes: Mountains ruined, forests changed into great lakes, rivers disappeared, rocks split open, and the debris of which was pushed to the tops of the highest trees; thunders rumbling under our feet, in the belly of the earth which vomited flames; mournful voices heard with horror; white whales and porpoises howling in the waters; finally all the elements seemed to be armed against us, and threatened us with a final doom. But God’s protection was so gentle on us, that not one of us lost his life or even the goods of the earth; and most of us benefited so much from it for their salvation, Indians and French, faithful and unfaithful, that we have reason to bless God for it, and to admit that his mercies were all kind. A single priest heard more than 300 general confessions in the course of six months.
The earthquake in New England:
The great 1663 earthquake in New England frightened settlers from Quebec City to New York City, but Puritan ministers and Jesuit priests saw a bright side. People flocked to church in the days that followed. No one doubted that the tremors came from God. It was clear that He was trying to tell sinners something. Opinions varied as to what exactly he meant.
The great New England earthquake of 1663, also known as the Charlevoix earthquake, began along the St. Lawrence River, between the mouths of the Malbaie and Ouelle rivers. Geologists estimate that it measured between 7.3 and 7.9 on the Richter scale. It did the most damage in Canada, but in Boston and Portland, it knocked over chimneys, threw tin on the shelves, shook houses and sent frightened men and women into the streets.
On the Monday evening of January 26, 1663, the people of New England, sitting in their homes, suddenly heard a peculiar rumble. It became louder and louder, and the houses shook and swayed. “The tenons of the frame were coming in and out of their mortises,” wrote historian Sidney Perley. People who were standing when the shaking began must have sat down or fallen,” he wrote.
According to a contemporary account in Canada, the skies were serene around 6 p.m. on January 26, 1663, when a sudden roar “like that of a great fire” broke out. “Immediately the buildings were shaken with astonishing violence. The doors opened and closed by themselves with a frightening crash. The bells rang without anyone touching them. The walls collapsed (in New England). The floors separated, and fell down. The fields looked like precipices, and the mountains seemed to move: and in the midst of the universal roar that occurred, most of the animals made scary screams and yells. Boston suffered the most damage, followed by coastal communities in Massachusetts Bay.
The Jesuit relations, volume V, year 1663. Edition of the Day, Montreal, 1972, pp. 1-8.