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The Great Snow of 1717: Settler Landscapes, Deep Snow Cover, and Winter’s Environmental History
Thomas Wickman

Northeastern Naturalist,Volume 24, Special Issue 7 (2017): H81–H114

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Northeastern Naturalist H81 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 The Great Snow of 1717: Settler Landscapes, Deep Snow Cover, and Winter’s Environmental History Thomas Wickman* Abstract - This essay explores how New England settlers documented and interpreted the Great Snow of 1717, a series of 4 snowstorms over 11 days followed by 6 weeks of deep snow cover. The Great Snow is the best-known snow event from the colonial period, and it has been extensively studied by historians of meteorology; however, it has received less attention from environmental historians. This paper relies on numerous unpublished almanac diaries, diaries, and letters; newspaper reports and sermons; and the well-known accounts by John Winthrop and Cotton Mather. Together, these writings from throughout New England show how colonists shared insights about the formation of snow cover and snowdrifts in urban, coastal, and agricultural settings. The documents reveal patterns of winterkill and survival in a landscape that had been altered profoundly by English colonists. Colonists’ descriptions of local devastation implied ambivalence about the idea of improving the landscape and suggested that early 18th-century writers increasingly approached deep snow cover as something they would have to live with and understand. Several consecutive decades of severe winter weather, the recent adoption of snowshoes by English colonists, the founding of the Boston News-Letter, a fragile peace after the 3rd Anglo–Wabanaki War (1703–1713), and the innovative adaptation of religious forms to the study of winter landscapes all contributed to a more sustained discussion of deep snow cover in 1716–1717 than ever before. Some popular writers have trivialized the Great Snow of 1717, imagining it apolitically and even ahistorically; this essay restores the broader political, historical, and environmental contexts for this iconic winter event. Introduction In late February 1717, four large snowstorms occurred in coastal New England within a period of 11 days. Benjamin Webb of Braintree, Massachusetts, recorded weather observations in a personal almanac diary: February 18: “Snowy, a great Snow above mid legg” February 21: “a Terible Storm of Snow” February 24: “another Extraord: Storm Snow – heaps upon heaps” February 28: “Snowd all day” The combined snowfall created a deep snowpack that measured 3–5 ft (1–1.5 m)1 deep at different places from Connecticut to New Hampshire. Reports of snowdrifts above that base snowpack ranged from 10 to 16 ft (3–5 m) in height, and laborers removing the snow subsequently constructed artificial snow banks even higher. The snowpack, snowdrifts, and snowbanks hardened over time and endured *History Department, Program in American Studies, Trinity College, 300 Summit Street, Hartford, CT 06106. Corresponding author - Manuscript Editor: Matthew Mulcahy Winter Ecology: Insights from Biology and History 2017 Northeastern Naturalist 24(Special Issue 7):H81–H114 Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H82 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 through the month of March. In mid-March, Webb (1717) observed “vast banks of Snow as hard allmost as Ice, & a vast body in ye woods”. Even at the end of March, he complained of “Snow banks sevl. foot deep yet remaining”. Settlers writing in 1717 used Old Style dates corresponding to the Julian Calendar; thus, when their records are converted to New Style, or Gregorian Calendar, by adding 11 days, their reports of snow cover in late March correspond to our early April. Little snow fell in March, but the cold weather, winds, strong sunshine, and occasional rains hardened the snowpack, prolonged human inconveniences, impeded the movements of hoofed animals, and made it difficult for livestock to find forage. What came to be known as the Great Snow of 1717 was not a single meteorological event but a slowly forming ecological event, consisting of 4 snowstorms and then 6 weeks of deep and relatively stable snowpack. Weather historians have written about the meteorology of the snowstorms (Ludlum 1966:42–46, 242–244; Perley 1891:24–29). Until recently, though, environmental historians have shown little interest in winter environments, in part because of what I have called a “vernal bias” in the scholarship on early North America (Adcock 2016; Coates and Morrison 2001; Mancall 2010:360; Wickman 2015a, 2015b). A close study of the Great Snow of 1717 shows the promise of examining winter’s environmental history. Documenting and interpreting punctuated winter disasters, long periods of cold, and prosaic winter ecologies will be essential to a fuller understanding of year-round colonialism in the Northeast (Shoemaker 2015). The Great Snow of 1717 was a distinctly colonial event, likely unprecedented in pre-settlement times. Ebenezer Billings (1717) “inquired of Indians about 80 years old”, and learned “their fathers never told them of such a storme”. Climate historians might dispute observers’ claims that the snow depths were “unparalleled” (Billings 1717), given that Little Ice Age conditions had prevailed in the Northeast with varying severity since at least the 1590s (Fagan 2000; Kupperman 1984; White, in press; Wickman 2015a). The findings of environmental historians and winter ecologists, however, support the claim that by the turn of the 18th century, newly created conditions produced winter events without precedent. During the previous century, English colonists along the coast had cleared forests, built towns, and introduced livestock in ways that made humans and non-humans more vulnerable to deep snow. The snow load in Februrary–March 1717 struck densely populated colonial cities particularly hard, especially Boston (Meyer 2009, Whitehill and Kennedy 2000). The cumulative colonial modifications to the landscape, especially in port cities and on pasture islands, inadvertently created new kinds of New England winter landscapes. By clearing entire forests, rather than using fire to clear only the undergrowth as Native Americans had done, settlers opened the land to winter winds, leading to colder wind chills and deeper snowdrifts (Cronon 1983:122–123). Odocoileus virgianus (Zimmerman) (White-tailed Deer, hereafter Deer) and Ovis aries L. (Domestic Sheep, herafter Sheep) died at staggering rates, and sources suggest widespread damage to orchards and disturbances in the populations of Equus ferus caballus L. (Domestic Horse, hereafter Horse) and Bos Taurus L. (Domestic Cow, hereafter Cow, Bovine, Ox, or Cattle). Dire accounts of ecoNortheastern Naturalist H83 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 nomic losses came disproportionately from areas where settlers had removed forest cover to expand Indian planting grounds into broad English-style fields, widened Native paths into colonial roads, bounded their properties with fences, and erected 2-story houses and other flat-sided structures in permanent clusters (Cronon 1983). In other words, the Great Snow affected plants and animals most dramatically where English influence was greatest. The methodologies of environmental history are crucial in revealing the significance of the snows for human and non-human residents of the Northeast, whose lives had become deeply intertwined by 1717. At the same time, neither these colonial landscapes nor deep and lasting snow cover were brand new in 1717. Colonists had documented prior severe winters, such as 1641–1642, 1680–1681, and 1697–1698 (Kupperman 1984, Ludlum 1966). The winter of 1697–1698, when settlers reported 30 snowfalls and widespread losses of livestock, was a notable precursor to 1716–1717 (Kupperman 1984, Wickman 2015a). Indeed, the accumulation of experience through several consecutive decades of severe winter weather, from the 1680s to the 1710s, contributed to the readiness of colonists to try to explain the Great Snow of 1717. Even the term “great snow” was not new in 1717. In Stonington, CT, Thomas Minor classified a storm as a “great snow” in 15 different diary entries between 1653 and 1680 (Minor 1899:6–7, 11, 37, 43, 61, 66, 72, 77–78, 126, 152, 163). His son Manasseh Minor memorialized “a great snow” 8 times between 1697 and 1705 (Minor 1915:27, 31, 33, 64, 73–74). In Boston, Samuel Sewall designated at least 8 storms as “great snows” in his diary in the 3 decades before 1717 (Sewall 1973, 1:90, 316, 328, 363, 389; 2:701, 706, 806). No one defined the term, “great snow”, which was a local alternative to the more common fascination in England with great frosts, and which predated modern terms like nor’easter and blizzard. Numerous other factors led colonists to communicate more about the snow in 1716–1717 than in previous severe winters. The founding of the Boston News- Letter in 1704, a noticeable increase in the practice of snowshoeing at the turn of the 18th century (Wickman 2015a), a fragile peace after the Third Anglo–Wabanaki War (1703–1713), and the innovative adaptation of religious forms to the study of winter landscapes contributed to more sustained discussion of deep snow cover in February–March 1717 than ever before. In almanac diaries, diaries, letters, newspaper reports, and sermons, colonists shared insights about the formation of snow cover and snowdrifts in urban, coastal, and agricultural settings. Few colonial naturalists, if any, went out on snowshoes with the purpose of studying winter’s nature, but a small number of couriers and other travelers on snowshoes transmitted knowledge about the Great Snow in the weeks after the storms. The snowstorms of late February 1717 were well documented in part due to a number of happenstances that caused dozens of hyper-literate New England ministers to take special notice, because they had converged in Cambridge and Boston for the respective funerals of Reverends Ebenezer Pemberton and William Brattle. Pemberton, minister for Boston’s South Church, died on 13 February, and Brattle, minister in Cambridge, passed away on 15 February, before the snows began. The first 2 of the 4 major snowstorms affected services for Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H84 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 Pemberton and Brattle, and consequently ministers became stranded in the storm tracks of the 3rd and 4th snowstorms. Outside of Massachusetts Bay, the 4 snowstorms and their lasting effects caused church services to be cancelled for multiple weeks, which ministers took as a foreboding sign. As Eliphalet Adams later put it, “God was Awfully Preaching to us” by the snow (Adams 1717b:28, 30). Believers in divine providence, ministers were attentive to special events that required interpretation, which they called meteors, prodigies, portents, judgments, and remarkable providences (Hall 1989, Jankovic 2000, Kupperman 1984, Winship 1996). Writers called the Great Snow of 1717 terrible, prodigious, violent, excessive, extraordinary, severe, furious, and mighty (Adams 1717a; BNL 1717e; Homes 1715–1747; Mather 1957 2:439; Mather, I. 1717; Paine 1717; Sewall 1886 2:69; Sewall 1973 2:848–849; Webb 1717; Winthrop 1717a, 1717b). Winthrop (1717a) remarked on the “Unusuall & Unheard of Snows”. Cotton Mather (1717) titled his report, “An Horrid Snow”. Others detected “Tokens of [God’s] Displeasure” (BNL 1717e), felt “much Rebuke from Heaven” (Mather 1957:440), and claimed that “such judgments” had “not been known in the days of old men nor in ye days of their fathers” (Billings 1717). When Eliphalet Adams (1717b:7–8) preached a special sermon on 3 March in response to the snows, he noted that the snowstorms might “seem wild and furious unto us, yet are they perfectly under the Divine Government”. Colonial leaders eventually organized public fasts in response to the snows, framing the weather as a collective punishment or warning (BNL 1717e; Love 1895:316–319, 488–89). In another sense, however, settlers’ writings were logistical, practical, and grounded in everyday knowledge. Colonists expressed concerns about shortages of food and fuel, and some writers suggested that poor settlers suffered most. Property- owning colonists sustained financial losses when ships were cast away, orchards were damaged, or livestock died. Much of the destruction resulting from the snow was deferred. Animals survived for days and weeks in the snow, only succumbing to hunger or cold when settlers failed to reach them. The snowstorms in 1716–1717 occurred during peacetime, diminishing their potential political import and making settlers more willing to look for providential blessings along with judgments. Moreover, heavy snowstorms physically obscured signs in the skies, causing people to study the mundane, snowy world below, where they gathered together numerous minor insights about plant and animal survival and mortality in the snow. The snowstorms aroused attention among literate observers because the storm tracks traced a line along the interconnected coastal settlements of New England where the majority of settlers lived, from New London, CT, to Portsmouth, NH. Extreme weather affected settlers’ distinctions between “improved” and wild space, covering up fences and other markers of property, blocking roads, killing livestock that colonists had introduced to the region, and seeming to bring wintertime nature closer to them for a time (Anderson 2004, Cronon 1983, Mulcahy 2006,). In the 17th century, promotional authors had expressed optimism that improvements to the landscape were rapidly tempering the climate of New England (Johnson 1959:84– 85, 207), but severe winter weather at the turn of the 18th century had undermined Northeastern Naturalist H85 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 this conviction (Kupperman 1984, Wickman 2015a,). Colonists’ descriptions of local devastation implied ambivalence about the idea of improving the landscape and suggested that early 18th-century writers increasingly approached deep snow cover as something they would have to live with and understand. At the same time, historical documents reveal spatial patterns of winter mortality and survivorship in landscapes transformed by English colonists, and it is unclear to what extent settlers grasped how their own land-use patterns had exacerbated the effects of the snowstorms. Colonial development introduced new wintertime risks and perils during storms. When viewed as a slow-moving event from the first snowstorm on 18 February to a public fast held on 4 April, the Great Snow of 1717 comes into focus as what environmental historians call an “unnatural disaster” mediated by humanmade landscapes (Steinberg 2000). If the Great Snow of 1717 was a gradually unfolding disaster, human response to it moved at an even more glacial pace, and this essay explores how settlers haltingly documented and interpreted the event. The first section examines records of the 4 snowstorms. Archival sources including letters and personal diaries, as well as printed newspaper reports, chronicled the 4 snowstorms and the human inconveniences that resulted. The second section explores how colonists encountered and explained the enduring snowpack after the storms. The long aftermath of the 4 major snowfalls gave literate New Englanders extraordinary opportunities to observe, document, discuss, and interpret plant and animal responses to severe winter conditions. The third section uses modern winter ecology to contextualize the findings in an unpublished report by Ebenezer Billings as well as the well-known accounts by John Winthrop and Cotton Mather. Authors of lengthy epistolary reports consciously hoped to contribute to transatlantic scientific projects, and their writings reveal a great deal about winter ecology after the storms. At a time when colonists did not possess thermometers, they relied on language rather than numbers to describe the storms and their effects. The cumulative written record of weather conditions and animal responses make the Great Snow of 1717 the best documented historical case study in New England winter ecology from the colonial period. Winter conditions put into bold relief the survival strategies and vulnerabilities of both wild and domestic animals, many of which experienced elevated winter mortality due to a combination of feeding problems, increased energy demands, and predation (Campbell et al. 2005, Gibson and Bondrup-Nielson 2008, Stokes 1979). As Cotton Mather (1717) wrote, the period from the 18 February snowfall until the thaw at the end of March became a “time of scarcity” for “wild creatures of the woods”, especially Deer and Meleagris gallopavo L. (Eastern Wild Turkey). Livestock, especially Sheep, on islands or at remote and inaccessible grazing sites also suffered for weeks without contact with humans. On the mainland, Canis lupus L. (Gray Wolf or Wolf) and other predators compounded the storm’s impact on both wild and domestic animals. Colonists estimated a 95% mortality rate among Deer and reported total losses of livestock in the hundreds and thousands (Billings 1717; Mather, C. 1717). Together, the methods of environmental history and the findings of modern winter ecology can help Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H86 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 explain and contextualize these phenomena. Such punctuated effects of the storms were predictable consequences of winter’s natural processes but were also indirect results of a century’s worth of colonial changes to northeastern landscapes. Settlers did not fully grasp the way they had exacerbated such winter dynamics, nor did they acknowledge the consequences for Native Americans. Observing Four Snowstorms Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton’s interment had been planned initially for Saturday, 16 February, but “a great Storm of Snow and Sleet” caused the service to be suspended, according to Samuel Sewall (1973 2:846), a longtime member of Pemberton’s congregation. Few people grouped the 16 February snowstorm with the 4 that followed from 18 to 28 February, but the preview of things to come on 16 February was sufficient to cause the funeral to be delayed by 2 days. On Monday, 18 February, the day of the rescheduled burial, the first “Great Storm of Snow” occurred, and the proceedings went ahead anyway, thanks to timely, if arduous, snow removal (Sewall 1973 2:846). Sewall (1973 2:846) reported “good going under foot … a broad path being made” to the burial site, although others faced challenges. Boston minister Increase Mather (1717) complained that the “very stormy snowy” conditions meant he “could not attend mr Pembertons funeral interred this day”. Rev. William Brattle’s interment was held 2 days later, on 20 February. Samuel Sewall and his adult son Joseph Sewall traveled that afternoon “in Capt. Belchar’s Slay”, and returned without any trouble in the evening. That night, the elder Sewall (1973 2:848) noted, “Another Snow coming on. Laus Deo”. In spite of an ongoing snowstorm the next day, 21 February, a funeral sermon in honor of both Pemberton and Brattle during the usual Thursday lecture in Boston attracted a large crowd. Over the course of this second “Extraordinary Storm of Snow”, Sewall reported “many Men at Lecture to hear Mr. [Benjamin] Colman preach the Funeral Sermon of Mr. Pemberton and Mr. Brattle”, and “After Lecture the Storm increases much, grows more vehement” (Colman 1717; Sewall 1973 2:848). Some ministers did not make the trip. Reverend Joseph Gerrish, who had arrived in Cambridge from Wenham on 18 February, the day of the first snowstorm, wrote on 21 February, in an abbreviated notation, “Sto sno: many detaind” (Gerrish 1717–1719). After 21 February, few clergymen seem to have left Cambridge or Boston. The convergence of snowstorms and religious meetings continued with the 3rd snowstorm falling on Sunday, 24 February, interrupting Sabbath services in Boston, Cambridge, and throughout the region. Sewall (1973 2:849) worried that, “Hardly any of the Ministers at Mr. Brattle’s Funeral are got home”, and more broadly, “‘Tis feared many Congregations fail’d”. At Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard, Rev. William Homes (1715–1747) wrote “it was so [stormy] on the Lords day that nobody could go to the meeting house to attend the publicke worship of God”. In Braintree, Benjamin Webb (1717) reported “no meeting”. Rev. John Swift of Framingham, MA, wrote, “We had no meeting by reason of a very deep snow” (Barry 1847:64– 65). New London minister Eliphalet Adams (1717a) recorded in his diary, “The 24th Northeastern Naturalist H87 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 was also an other as furious a Storme of Snow as the first. There was not Meeting at ye Church the Storme was so hard & Violent”. New London farmer Joshua Hempstead (1901:64) wrote more plainly, “it Snowed Smartly last night & this morn windy & Cold. No meeting”. How people spread the word that services had been canceled is not clear from the sources. Perhaps they simply looked out to see that no one had attempted to break through the snow. As Adams (1717b:28) later put it, “There was scarce a possibility of stirring out or so much as making an attempt to go up to Publick Worship”. Boston and Cambridge may have been among the few towns or cities in New England to hold meetings that Sunday. The visiting minister Joseph Gerrish “preacht at Cabr” in the morning, rather than in his home town of Wenham (Gerrish 1717–1719), and Reverend Thomas Blowers of Beverly, MA, followed with the afternoon sermon (Cotton 1717). Of Boston’s Old South Church, Sewall (1973 2:848–849) wrote, “Violent Storm of Snow, which makes our Meeting very thin especially as to Women”. There was no meeting at the “New-South” church. At Boston’s North Church, Increase Mather wrote, “A.M. I preached & administered Lords Supper. P.M. Not about because it was an extreme stormy & snowy day” (Mather, I. 1717). That day, his son Cotton Mather also preached a sermon on the somewhat obscure verse, 2 Samuel 23:20, “The Mystery of Benajah killing a Lion in a Pitt, in a Time of Snow”. In his diary, Cotton Mather (1957) worried, “Never such a Snow, in the Memory of Man! And so much falling this Day … that very many, of our Assemblies had no Sacrifices”. The final storm struck on 28 February, yet again the day of Thursday lecture. Cotton Mather selected a wintry Biblical passage, Psalm 147:16–18, asserting the divine origin of snow, frost, hail, and ice, and then promising a thaw—“He sendeth his word and melteth them” (Sewall 1973 2:849). A thaw would come, but not until mid-to-late March in most places. After the 4 snowstorms, the recovery was slow, and writers continued to express concern about disruption to church meetings. The next Sunday, 3 March, Rev. Joseph Gerrish attended services in Cambridge and noted that in his absence, “No Sacrat: at Wenham” (Gerrish 1717–1719). Rev. Increase Mather wrote ruefully: “I was not abroad this Lords day, my right foot something swelled, & I was afraid of wetting my foot [blot] the Streets very sloppy. No coach or cart can go, because of that [blot] great snow” (Mather, I. 1717). In Stonington, CT, Manasseh Minor (1915:135) noted “no meetin by reason of snow”, and in New London, Joshua Hempstead (1901:64) could be thankful that “Mr Adams pr. al. d.” (or that Reverend Eliphalet Adams had delivered the usual sermons), though he regretted “a thin apearance” at the meetinghouse. Rev. Adams (1717b:30) himself acknowledged in his sermon that, “it is more than probable that even this day, [many are] hindred from going to the House of God in Company with us by the remaining Effects of the late Storm”. In some towns, even if congregants could have made it to the meetinghouse, their minister would not have been there. Rev. John Cotton (1717) of Newtown (now Newton) wrote, “I suppose bec. of Conventions last week, yr County was generally Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H88 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 wtout preaching. I believe ye like was never known as to ministers absence from yr parishes”. Sometime between 25 and 28 February, Thomas Paine (1717) wrote that the “Marbleheadmen sent a shallop to Boston for yr Ministers”, and that another group of ministers aborted an intended journey from Boston to Ipswich. On 5 March, Paine again wrote that “The Ministers, yt wr Still detaind by ye storm, set out from Camb”. Rev. Joseph Gerrish of Wenham, MA, kept his diary while “detein’d 15 days By Depth of Snow” (Gerrish 1717–1719), and John Denison, of Ipswich, confessed in a letter he was “impatiently waiting to get home” (Denison 1717). Outside of urban centers, few residents of rural hamlets penned letters during and after the storms because there was little prospect of having them delivered, even in late March. Waitstill Winthrop (1717d) generalized on 25 March that though the snowpack was “wasted by the sea yet a little into the country there has been no stirring”. As a result, people like Jonathan Huntington of Windham in eastern Connecticut, about 48 km (30 mi) north of New London, simply kept a private record for posterity (Huntington 1717–1759:12). In spite of high literacy rates, New England settler culture was still predominantly oral. News of the snows passed by word of mouth within and between small communities and evolved into local and regional lore; only in rare cases did this folk memory of the snowstorms pass into writing, let alone print (Hall 1989:81–85). If one comment linked the scattered observations of diarists and letter writers, it was that the snowstorms of late February 1716–1717 surpassed any known winter event up to that point in colonial New England. Increase Mather wrote on 21 February, “The greatest snow that I ever knew” (Mather, I. 1717). Thomas Paine (1717) wrote on 24 February, “yr is supposed now to be more snow on ye Ground yn ever [ws] at one Time before”. Cotton Mather (1957 2:439) wrote on 28 February, “As mighty a Snow, as perhaps has been known in the Memory of Man”. In a sermon on 3 March, Eliphalet Adams (1717b:27) sought to explain in religious terms why “the Snow Descended in so very great a Quantity, far beyond what is Usual and hath almost been known in the Memory of man”. Of course, English settlers’ collective memory about weather in the Northeast only reached back about a century, which explains why Billings (1717) queried Native Americans about their deeper experience in the region. Interestingly, other writers waited until weeks later to deem this event the “greatest snow”, perhaps taking into consideration the weeks of severe cold that followed the snowfall. On 12 March, Waitstill Winthrop (1717b) wrote, “it has been such a Time, as has not been known for many years”. On 14 March, a correspondent from Rhode Island wrote to the Boston News-Letter (1717d), “Such a violent Storm of Deep Snow as has been here of late, was never known before, by any of the Oldest Livers”. Two months later, Ebenezer Billings looked back at the recent “unparalleled snose” as winter events that had been unknown to past generations of settlers, and he anticipated that they might not be rivaled in the future. Billings (1717) felt it his religious duty to collect evidence that winter: “it is agreeable to the will of god that we tell it to our children that they may tell it to their children and they to an other generation. ... Recording the wondrous providence in the late storms of snow and wind”. Northeastern Naturalist H89 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 Historical climatologists have identified the years from 1675 to 1715 as a period of global cooling and one of the coldest phases of the Little Ice Age, sometimes called the Late Maunder Minimum (Fagan 2000, Wickman 2015a). Colder weather did not necessarily produce more snowstorms, but lower temperatures prolonged the effects of deep snowfall, because the resulting snowpack was less likely to thaw. New England settlers took notice of the severe winter weather, especially when 2 long conflicts, the Second and Third Anglo–Wabanaki Wars (1688–1699 and 1703–1713, respectively), compounded the stresses on their communities (Wickman 2015a). Cotton Mather (1717) put the extreme winter events of 1716–1717 into this larger context of anomalous weather: “rarely does a Winter pass us, wherein we may not say with Pliny, Ingens Hyeme Nivis apud nos-copia, yet our last winter brought with it a Snow, that excelled them all”. Manuscript diaries kept in printed almanacs reveal in extraordinary detail how the weather events developed, using qualitative descriptors because New England still lacked weather instruments for taking precise measurements. Almanacs were short, printed pamphlets, usually between 16 and 24 pages, with at least 1 page dedicated to the natural phenomena of a single month, including sunrise and sunset, high and low tides, and astronomical changes, as well as weather predictions based on past years’ experience. Private users purchased a copy of the almanac and sometimes inserted blank pages beside each month’s page, sewing these interleaved sheets into a new binding and even using pens to draw orthogonal lines for tables of weather data. Benjamin Webb and Eliphalet Adams wrote 1 line per day in their respective almanac diaries. As early as 1663, shortly after the founding of the Royal Society of London, Robert Hooke had developed a “Method for Making a History of the Weather”, hoping to systematically collect and synthesize observations within England, from English colonies, and beyond, but few New England colonists sent weather diaries across the ocean until the 1720s and 1730s (Golinski 2007:55, 94; Sprat 1667 1:173– 179). In 1717, settlers kept almanac diaries primarily for local use. Diarists’ observations of winds coming out of the northeast and northwest shed light on the initial snowstorms as well as subsequent weather trends. Thomas Paine used a weather code to record a wide range of meteorological conditions in his almanac diary. He noted the prevailing weather 3 times per day, with special attention to relative temperature, precipitation type, and wind direction. Paine’s (1717) notations of a “NE” wind during snowstorms of 16, 18, 21, 24, and 28 February affirm weather historians’ references to the Great Snow of 1717 as a nor’easter, which is an extratropical cyclone with counterclockwise winds that usually moves up the North American coast and strikes New England from October to April (Keim 2005:597–598; Ludlum 1966 1:43; Zielinski and Keim 2003:181–182). The storms are characterized by “cold northeasterly wind flow” and often bring “heavy snowfalls, high winds, and coastal flooding and erosion” (Keim 200:597). The second snowstorm, which lasted from the evening of Wednesday, 20 February to the morning of Friday, 22 February, was almost certainly a nor’easter. One writer from Rhode Island called that event “a violent North East Storm of Wind & Snow” (BNL 1717c). Dr. William Douglass, who had moved from Scotland to Boston in 1716, Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H90 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 declared, “The N. E. Storms are of the greatest Continuance”, and recalled a “Wind at N. E. Northerly” during that second storm of 21 February (Douglass 1749–1751 2:212). But this identification of a single storm type may be augmented, given the clear evidence of changing wind directions and storm patterns during the 4 different snowstorms over 11 days. Weather historians have developed nuanced ways to rate the severity of historical winter storms, which may reveal more about a convergence of meteorological conditions, if applied to 1717 (Kocin and Uccellini 2004, Zielinski 2002), but wind directions also tell us about settlers’ understandings of winter dynamics (White 2015). Paine (1717) recorded northwest winds on 20, 22, 24, 25, and 26 February, which his peers would have understood as a shorthand for freezing winds. Further, Paine’s records and other sources suggest that colonists viewed northwest winds long after the storms—on 8–10 March, for example—as contributing to the frigid conditions and stable snow cover.2 Observing the Fallen Snow In 1716–1717, most colonial writers turned their purview to the ordinary workings and meanings of fallen snow, looking for evidence of God’s benevolence in having created an orderly natural world. In this sense, the snowstorms amplified the usual workings of the winter world, allowing settlers to better understand the season. Hopeful to document God’s general providence, New England writers drew upon the language of wonders and curiosities, a tradition in slow decline (Hall 1989, Parrish 2006). A few observers sought evidence of the snow’s benefits, focusing particularly on strange cases of livestock that survived for days or weeks under the snow. The regional event presented special opportunities for learning, and justified collaboration among college graduates, aspiring naturalists, and witnesses to notable natural occurrences. Cotton Mather regularly requested reports from informants who might contribute to his “curiosa Americana”, a series of natural history reports rife with wondrous details, and he added a write-up about the Great Snow of 1717 to his series (Kittredge 1916:28–29, 44; Stearns 1970:406, 410). In 1717, everyday settlers thought and wrote about the functions of snow within the natural world more than ever before. In their comments on life in the snow, colonists explored some of the themes that later became central to the 20th-century development of the academic field of winter ecology. Firsthand documents about the Great Snow of 1717 reveal that colonists’ observations of snowy landscapes still took place predominantly within agricultural and urban spaces where families lived and worked, especially during periods of severe cold and snow when settler mobility was constrained. Outside their homes, at the meetinghouse, and beside their barns, colonists studied and discussed what historian Sara Gronim (2007) has called “everyday nature”. It may be true that some colonial naturalists used transatlantic letters to create a pastoral sphere of disinterested learning and candid friendship, as Susan Scott Parrish (2006) has argued, but in short-distance correspondence, private diaries, and Sunday sermons, New England writers consciously assembled natural history archives with local and regional purposes. By 1717, graduates of Harvard College had fanned out through Northeastern Naturalist H91 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 New England, taking positions at the pulpit, in colonial government, and in business. 3 With a shared educational background and living within 100 miles (160 km) of each other, 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th- generation ministers consistently recorded observations and occasionally exchanged insights about biotic and abiotic processes visible to them from their daily course of labor. They did not always credit conversations with their lay neighbors. Writers in places like Cambridge, Boston, and New London remarked on the way wind shaped and transformed fallen snow in the days and weeks after the snowstorms. Settlements on islands, peninsulas, and riverbanks were exposed to particularly severe winter winds. In Dorchester, Ebenezer Billings (1717) marveled at “the violence of the wind”. On 3 March, when Eliphalet Adams preached a sermon in New London in response to the snowstorms, he chose for his central text a verse about wind from the book of Nahum: “The LORD hath His Way in the Whirlwind, and in the Storm, and the Clouds are the Dust of His Feet” (Adams, 1717b:1). Clusters of houses and barns, particularly 2-story structures, blocked the blowing snow, which drifted against the walls on one side and left snow shadows on the other. In fields and pastures, the wind deposited huge drifts against roadsides, fences, stands of trees, and outbuildings. The snow’s dynamic motion itself was a marvel to behold. In a 20 February diary entry, Eliphalet Adams (1717a) described the snowdrifts in New London as “Like Hills or Small Mountains”. On 22 February, Benjamin Webb (1717) witnessed “extraordinary wind, & cold, the snow blowing prodigiously”. Cotton Mather (1717) later reported a 16-ft (5-m) snowbank in a sheep pasture, a 12-ft (4-m) drift where Cattle were left to forage, and drifts tall enough to cause 1-floor houses to be “totally covered with ye Snow”. It is worth emphasizing that Mather marked these snowdrifts as having formed across agricultural landscapes. Elsewhere, Webb (1717) and Cotton Mather (1717) described the snow as lying in “heaps”. The winds created the largest accumulations where humans had altered the landscape by removing natural obstacles to the wind over large expanses and by putting up vertical structures that inadvertently blocked the spreading of the snow. This drifting might have been most dramatic at settlements near rivers and harbors, where people cleared trees and built houses back from the shore. A history of Eastham, MA, on Cape Cod, recalled that around the Reverend Samuel Treat’s house, “The wind blew with violence; and whilst the grounds around his house were left entirely bare, the snow was heaped up in the road to an uncommon height” (History of Eastham 1802). Elsewhere, the winds artificially flattened out the landscape, filling in ditches, crevasses, and paths or roads that passeed through elevated terrain. Billings (1717) explained how the “the wayes were filled [levell] with the low hills that were to windward”. The Boston News-Letter quipped on 25 February, “This Month of February has been a Cold Winter Month, which has verify’d the old Proverb February fill Dyke, with either black or else white” (BNL 1717a). If only the few people outside during windy periods witnessed the formation of the snowdrifts, many more later came outside to see the resulting natural Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H92 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 monuments. On 21 and 22 February, Joshua Hempstead (1901:64) wrote in his diary in New London that “ye wind blew very hard the driftts in Some places higher yn a mans head”; Hempstead estimated that “ye Snow is drove in Some places 10 or 12 foot deep”. Dorchester church records reported “Snow in drifts twenty-five feet deep” (Harris 1804:196). When the snowstorms concluded, people went outside to measure the average snow depth. The snowpack was deepest in northern New England. In the interior forests of the Piscataqua River watershed, at the border of present-day New Hampshire and Maine, snow lay “five foot deep on a lavel”, according to the Boston News-Letter (1717c). In coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island, by contrast, measurements tended to be “a yard Deep” or 3–4 ft (1 m) on level ground (Adams 1717a). Similarly, Thomas Paine (1717) wrote that the snow lay “near levell, between 3 & 4 feet deep” on the Cambridge town common. The reports are consistent with general patterns in the northeastern snow gradient: snowfall and snow accumulation both tend to be greater the further northward and inland one goes in the region. Yet, at the same time, since the settlers in southern New England had cleared more land, extraordinary snowdrifts may have been more common in the south than in the north. It is ambiguous whether colonists fully recognized how their alterations to the land had influenced snow formations. Most settlers may not have appreciated the contrast between patterns of snow accumulation across forested and cleared land because exploration of the snowy woods required snowshoes. References to snow depths in forested interior areas tended to focus on average snow depth. In Windham, CT, Jonathan Huntington (1717–1759:12) recalled the snow being “three foot and an half or four feet deep upon a level”. From Martha’s Vineyard, William Homes (1715–1747) reported, “the snow was said to be in the woods where it did not drive about 3 feet and a halfe deep generally on the maine land and in many places much deeper”. Benjamin Webb (1717) noted, “Snow in ye woods near 4 foot deep”. Joshua Hempstead (1901:64) heard that the snow lay “4 foot deep in ye woods on a Level”. By using the phrase “on a level”, whether in urban, rural, or forested settings, informants emphasized that these were modest estimates of the areas where no drifting or depressions occurred (Adams 1717a, Hempstead 1901:64). After each snowfall, laborers cleared paths through town centers, creating snow banks that grew to enormous heights. The combined effects of naturally blowing snow and human efforts at snow disposal gradually created snowbanks even higher than the early drifts. In Cambridge, by the 3rd snowstorm, Thomas Paine (1717) heard reports of “many Banks, to be between 20 & 30 feet deep”. Who performed the work of removing snow? Joseph Gerrish (1717–1719) wrote on 23 February simply that, “people dug us out”. Not all the snow was removed from roadways, and a bottom layer was packed and smoothed into a hard base. As the Boston News-Letter (1717a) wrote, reliable travel could not “be expected till the Roads (now impassable with a mighty Snow upon the ground) are beaten”. Wide, stable roads were especially important for travel by horse-drawn conveyances, a marker Northeastern Naturalist H93 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 of status distinction, but the luxury of even partially cleared roads was practical only in and around city and town centers. The limits to muscle power forced people to make choices about where to remove snow and where to leave it (Meyer 2009). English writers did not mention the use of draft animals for snow removal in 1717. On the crowded streets of Boston, the most concentrated effort to clear the roads resulted in only limited progress. On 22 February, Samuel Sewall (1973 2:846–848) found it “terribly surprising to me to see the extraordinary Banks of Snow on the side of the way over against us”. The Boston News-Letter (1717a) reported on 25 February that in the provincial seat, “the Snow lies in some parts of the Streets about Six foot high”. According to Thomas Paine’s (1717) almanac diary, clergymen attempting to travel from Boston to Ipswich “attended wth y Shovelmen”, but no number of “[s]hovelmen” could facilitate such a long journey, and they turned back. Travel conditions in the month of March proved dismal, as much of the snow remained intact, while in some places it slowly turned to slush, mud, or ice. Wheeled vehicles sunk into the snow and found little traction. The risks of a Horse or Ox becoming injured or a cart or sleigh breaking due to rocks or holes beneath the snow made only the shortest trips safe. Cotton Mather remarked on 7 March, “The Business of the Country has an uncommon Stop upon it”, and on 10 March he fretted about divine providence “shutting me out from the Service of the Flock” (Mather 1957 2:440). Rev. John Swift noted in Framingham on 10 March, “The Lord’s supper adjourned till the next Sabbath, by reason of the restraint of the season by deep snow” (Barry 1847:64–65). There were no reports of flooding. In Windham, CT, Jonathan Huntington (1717–1759:12) wrote that the crusted-over, 4-ft (~1-m)-deep snowpack stayed solid until 14 March, and thereafter it only “wasted away gradely”. In Braintree, Webb (1717) was still noting, “Extream bad Travelling” in mid-March and “bad Travelling” at the end of the month. On 18 March, a correspondent from New London reported “travelling yet very bad”, and that day the Eastern Post arrived in Boston late due to “deep Snow upon the ground” (BNL 1717e). Waitstill Winthrop (1717c, 1717d) went on reporting “impassable” roads on 19 March and snow “so deep” on 25 March that interior travel was still impossible. On 26 March, Sewall (1973 2:850) still warned, “very bad way, No Sled, Cart or Calash has gone that I can see”. By then, muck was as much of a problem as snow. Painstaking trips through deep snow could only cover so much distance. On 12 March, Waitstill Winthrop (1717b) wrote from Boston, “the snow is so deep and like to be so that nobody can stir ten miles from hence”. The radius of feasible travel by foot or with draft animals elsewhere in southern New England was much smaller. Without the labor of these animals to move goods around the region, Boston experienced shortages of fuel and food. On 7 March, Thomas Paine (1717) reported, “A very great Scarcity of Wood (and also Provisions) at Boston & ye adjacent Towns”, and on 8 March, he remarked about Harvard College, “The Scholars began to leave ye Coll for want of Wood”. Such statements are a reminder of just how much colonists in urban centers depended on regular winter transport of firewood to keep their homes and public buildings habitable. Henry David Thoreau (2008:178) later Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H94 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 wrote, based on an unknown source, that “farmers could not get to the woods and swamps with their teams, and were obliged to cut down the shade trees before their houses”, presumably for fuel, even though green wood burned poorly. Settlers who knew how to snowshoe and were willing to make the exertion could travel on top of the snowpack, lightly pressing down trails where the snow naturally lay flat. Snowshoes expanded an individual’s travel opportunities significantly, and evidence from 1717 implies that a growing minority of colonists used them. In several documents, writers referred to snowshoeing as the exception to the rule, using double-negatives. In the midst of the February snows, Webb (1717) found that there was, “No traveling for horse, or man, but with Rackets”. Similarly, on 1 March, Eliphalet Adams (1717a) reported, “no Stirring avout or travelling to & fro. Unless some few that used Rackets or Snowshoes”. Both Webb and Adams specifically noted that snowshoe travel was possible where Horse travel was too risky. John Denison successfully journeyed on snowshoes across the Charles River from Cambridge to Newton on Tuesday, 26 February, between the 3rd and 4th snowfalls. A graduate of Harvard College with experience as a sheriff and military officer, Denison had acquired a skill that many of his neighbors in Ipswich and throughout New England had not (Cotton 1717, Denison 1717). It was no coincidence that a New Hampshire correspondent to the Boston News-Letter made a more straightforward declaration in the first-person plural, “we Travel here altogether with Snow Shoes, Horses not being able to pass” (BNL 1717c). In northern New England, snowshoeing ability was more widespread, in part because of recent service in the Anglo–Wabanaki Wars (Wickman 2015a). Snowshoeing skills and serviceable snowshoes were distributed unevenly throughout the region and within each town, and those who knew how to travel over the snow endeavored to help those who did not. Indeed, it seems to have taken some time for sufficient men with snowshoeing skills to be summoned and assembled when a special job demanded that ability. On 7 March, Joshua Hempstead (1901:65) wrote that in New London, “Ensign George Way was buried brought by men on Snow Shoes, he hath been dead 10 or 12 days”. Billings (1717) wrote of one neighboring community, “their town being well furnished with snow shoes thay soon Release[d] such as was shut up”. He also relayed an anecdote about a young couple and their children trapped in a house, with the chimney “full of snow” and “a banke in the home”. The father did not possess snowshoes, and when the children called for food, the man “Endeavored to go to a hous about a mile from him”, but he worried that he would not be able to make the round trip and gave up. The next morning, “finding hunger pinch himself as well as his children”, the man resolved to go out a second time into the snow. In preparation, he fashioned “stokins and shoes” especially for the trip, put on his “peticote” and “goun”, and “upon the second adventure (hunger driving him hard)” he succeeded in reaching his neighbor, “who by the help of snow shoos Relieved them” (Billings 1717). Overall, persistent reports of lengthy travel delays in 1717 indicate that only some colonists owned or knew how to use snowshoes. In milder winters, most people simply had waited for the snow to subside or freeze over. But the distribution of printed newspapers Northeastern Naturalist H95 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 by snowshoes in peacetime (BNL 1717c) seems to have knit colonists together in wintertime to a greater degree than before. The snow interfered with but did not entirely prohibit postal delivery throughout the region during this long period. Postal service itself was only a few decades old, but by the 1710s it functioned year-round with few interruptions (Grandjean 2015:173–174, 204). The first report of the snowstorms in the Boston News-Letter (1717a) on 25 February predicted poor communication: “The extremity of the Weather has hinder’d all the Three Posts from coming in; neither can they be expected”. One week later, the newspaper again reported, “the Snow so deep that there is no Travelling” (BNL 1717b). The delivery of the post to northern (or “eastern”) settlements depended entirely on snowshoes; a New Hampshire postal messenger appeared in Boston on 8 March “with his Mayle and Snow Shoes” (BNL 1717c). The southern and western posts also faced persistent challenges. In mid-March, the posts were still delayed, “By reason of the Difficulty and Danger of the Road, occasion’d by the vast body of Snow still remaining” (BNL 1717d). Communication by sea was interrupted, too. Waitstill Winthrop (1717b) wrote from Boston on 12 March, “no news stirring here by reason of no Vessels from any part”. Even on 1 April, the newspaper excused postal setbacks the previous week, “the Roads being still very deep with Snow and bad Travelling” in northern New England (BNL 1717f). For most human inhabitants of colonial New England, the hallmark experience of the Great Snow of 1717 was what Billings (1717) called “long confinement”. With improved transportation and communication technologies, news did travel better in 1716–1717 than it had decades earlier, but people waited to receive it. In a 27 February letter, between the 3rd and 4th snowstorms, Rev. John Cotton (1717) wrote from Cambridge to his father Rev. Rowland Cotton in Sandwich that their shared acquaintances “At Boston wr lodg’d as prisoners”. New London farmer Joshua Hempstead (1901:64) wrote on 8 of 10 days from 21 February to 2 March that he “was at home al day”, a refrain that had been common in his diary during the winter months but not with such repetitive frequency. Without being able to travel, some settlers feared shortages of food or clothing. On 3 March, Eliphalet Adams (1717b) preached to a small New London audience, “there is hardly any stirring from our Places about our Necessary Business or Providing our selves with those Conveniences of Life which yet it is very Uncomfortable to want”. Cotton Mather (1717) claimed that some “Cottages” owned by the poor were entirely submerged by snow. He wrote in his diary on 8 March, “Many People are thrown into Straits and Wants, by the Difficulties of the Season; I would both express and excite all suitable Expressions of Charity on these Occasions”. The next day, he wrote more specifically, “There is a poor Widow in this Neigh[bor]hood, who, with her son, is exposed unto Difficulties. I would make my House to become an Home unto them” (Mather 1957 2:440). Tradition, in Sutton, MA, held that among the few early settlers of the town in the winter of 1716–1717, one family became stranded in a “hut” covered by snow, until “an Indian, who knew the circumstances, … found the hut only by the hole which the smoke from the fire place had made through the snow” (Thoreau 2008:178, Whitney 1793:90). Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H96 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 Faced with extreme conditions, writers resorted to all kinds of words to portray their struggles with deep snow. William Homes (1715–1747), Eliphalet Adams (1717a), and Waitstill Winthrop (1717b, 1717d) referred to the eerie calm and restrained travel with a derivation of the phrase “no stirring”. Winthrop (1717b, 1717c) and an author in the Boston News-Letter (1717a) classified the roads as “impassable”, “unpassable”, and “hardly passable”. Cotton Mather (1717) invented the term “innived” to denote the condition of being buried in snow. John Winthrop (1717a) called 1716–1717 a “Doleful Winter” and Benjamin Webb (1717) a “melancholy season”. Among the adjectives employed to describe the snowstorms, “great” was by far the most common (Adams 1717a, Hempstead 1901:64, Huntington 1717–1759:12, May 1708–1766, Minor 1915:135, Sewall 1973 2:846), but not everyone used “great snow” to refer to the storms; the Boston News-Letter (1717b) for example referred to “The great Snow upon the Ground”. One of the most troubling aspects of snowstorms at the end of February, “so very late in the Year”, was that they created a snowpack that lasted into spring (Adams 1717b:27). Devout settlers celebrated the new year on 25 March, rather than on 1 January, an observance that implied each year began with the appearance of plants and animals that had been invisible over the long winter (Hambrick-Stowe 1982:170, 174). Just how late the snowpack remained becomes especially apparent to modern readers by converting the dates from Old to New Style. On 26 March, Benjamin Webb (1717) recorded, “Snow banks sevl. foot deep yet remaining”; that date corresponds to present-day 5 April. The persistent presence of snow so late in March was frustrating because the deep snow had been on the ground for over a month by then, and people were expecting renewal with spring and a new year. Eliphalet Adams (1717b:7–8) invoked rhapsodic words from the Song of Solomon to describe the feeling of settlers in mid-February, after a relatively mild winter: We were almost ready to say … The Winter is past, The Rain (& the Snow) is over and gone, The Flowers are ready to appear on the Earth, The time of the Singing of Birds is almost come, and the Voice of the Turtle shall again be heard in our Land, When, Lo we are cast back into all the Solitudes and Difficulties of the Winter again. Even though God had ordered the snows, Adams preached, they had brought “Violence and Terror”, and “Distress, Loss, and Suffering”, just at the time that colonists expected vernal bounty. Disturbed by the non-appearance of flowers, birds, and amphibians, Adams searched for religious meaning in the phenological confusion (Adams 1717b:27, 31). A similar wistfulness for the signs of spring might explain why Cotton Mather (1717) mentioned how, “immediately after ye fall of ye Snow an infinite multitude of Sparrows made their Appearance, but then, after a short continuance, all disappeared”. Characteristically, the English hoped that great snow would be quickly succeeded by “great Thaws”, especially in the month of March (Mather 1957 2:439–440, 506). Accordingly, settlers participated in days of fasting to call for a return to what Northeastern Naturalist H97 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 they perceived as normal conditions. On 8 March, Samuel Sewall’s son Joseph, a minister at the Old South Church, proposed “Turning the Lecture into a Fast”, an idea that the elder Sewall piously approved in his private diary, hoping for divine favor upon “the seasonable Solemnity”. On Thursday, 14 March, Sewall attended 2 sermons to honor the local fast. Samuel Sewall rode to Cambridge for another town-fast service on 26 March (Sewall 1973 2:850). The province of Massachusetts also sanctioned an official day of fasting on 4 April. As early as 7 March 1717, Cotton Mather (1957 2:439–440) conceived of a province-wide fast day to call for the snows to melt, writing privately in his diary: Such Storms and Heaps of Snow, visit us in the approach of Spring, as were hardly ever known in the Depth of Winter. A great part of the Assemblies in the country have been interdicted their public Sacrifices. A Multitude of Cattle have perished. The Business of the Country has an uncommon Stop upon it. Many Difficulties grow upon us. I would procure a Day of Humiliation and Supplication to be kept upon these occasions. The incongruity of “Heaps of Snow … in the approach of Spring” seemed most alarming. On 12 March, Waitstill Winthrop drafted an “Order for a Fast”, which was “voted, to be Apr. 4th”, to coincide with Thursday lecture (Sewall 1973 2:850). That day, Massachusetts Governor Samuel Shute officially proclaimed “a Day of Publick Fasting and Prayer throughout this Province” (BNL 1717d). Shute’s proclamation, subsequently printed on the front page of the Boston News-Letter, deemed the “late Excessive Snows and Tempests” to be divine warnings and supplicated God to “bless the Springing of the Year”, in other words, to put an end to the snows (BNL 1717e). When 4 April came, Harvard College student Thomas Paine (1717) observed, “A generall Fast throughout this Province”, and classmate Warham Williams (1716–1718) took notes on sermons in Cambridge by Nathaniel Appleton and Henry Flynt to honor the “publick fast”. By then, the snows had already subsided significantly, and other diarists did not mention the fast, but the ritual was significant in imagining the Great Snow of 1717 as a shared regional crisis (Love 1895:316–319, 488–489). Plants and Animals in the Snow If almanac diaries charted out the weather, epistolary reports gave a much fuller picture of snow ecology, animal behavior, and the survival of selected plants in the aftermath of the snowstorms. Privileged authors crafted these formal letters long after the fact, often having waited to receive and compile information gathered from their relatives and colleagues living nearby, before forwarding the full account to Boston or London. Accounts of the Great Snow of 1717 by Cotton Mather, Ebenezer Billings, and John Winthrop fell into this category of a lengthy epistolary report. Mather’s letter synthesized the findings of Billings and Winthrop, though he did not give their names. Mather and Winthrop held college degrees, which conferred authority to collect and interpret such data in a trustworthy manner, and Mather possessed the additional distinction of having been elected fellow of Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H98 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 the Royal Society in 1713. Of the 3 authors, only Billings explicitly credited correspondents at other locations who had supplied firsthand information: Reverend Samuel Man of Wrentham, MA, and Billings’ son, Reverend Richard Billings of Little Compton, RI. In a chain of deferential collaboration, Billings and Winthrop sent their reports to Mather, who digested the letters and submitted an 1100-word essay to the Royal Society, which was never printed in their Transactions. Although Cotton Mather’s letter has remained in continuous circulation in New England from the 18th to the 21st century and was known for example to Henry David Thoreau (Lepore 2011, Ludlum 1966, Perley 1891, Thoreau 1888:328–330, Zielinski and Keim 2003), it is impossible to draw any direct lines of influence from settlers’ insights about the Great Snow of 1717 to modern formulations of winter ecology. Conversely, though, winter ecologists’ findings can shed light on colonists’ testimony about the prolonged effects of the deep snow. One reason that Cotton Mather entitled his report “An Horrid Snow” was because he received vivid reports about non-human life suffering profoundly in the snows. As Winthrop (1717a) wrote to Mather, “The Storme continued so long & Severe that Multitudes of all Sorts of Creatures perrished in the Snow Drifts”. Colonial writers with scientific ambitions, Mather and his correspondents documented the effects of the snows on vulnerable plants and animals, especially species that the English had introduced. Domesticated animals suffered disproportionately from the powerful storms and the deep, lasting snow. When private diarists like William Homes (1715–1747) reported, “This storm did much damage in the country”, or Samuel Sewall (1886:2:69) wrote to John Winthrop about the storms, “Am sorry that your estate was diminished thereby”, they were referring to the loss of living property like livestock and fruit trees. Most colonists thought primarily about domesticated landscapes and secondarily about wildlife. Nevertheless, New England writers did show interest in the effects of the Great Snow of 1717 on Deer, Wild Turkeys, and Gray Wolves. Their brief remarks on wild fauna can be corroborated and indirectly illuminated by their more extensive observations about how extreme conditions affected Sheep, Gallus gallus domesticus L. (Domestic Chicken, hereafter Chicken), and other domestic animals, which faced similar challenges, such as impediments to locomotion, obstructed access to winter forage, and predation by more-mobile species. Some settlers seem to have imagined that the initial snowstorms alone had the power to kill large, hoofed animals, a thought that struck fear in human bipeds. As historian Virginia Anderson (2004:236) has written, English settlers often looked to livestock as proxies in periods of stress or peril. Moreover, domestic animals were a widely distributed form of moveable property, central to the economic system of colonial New England. Symbolically, introduced species also represented settlers’ aspirations to transform northeastern landscapes and make the region more like England (Anderson 2004, Cronon 1983, Crosby 1986). In a private almanac diary, New London minister Eliphalet Adams (1717a) responded, aghast at the consequences of the first 2 snowstorms for domestic ungulates: “Cattle, Sheep, Horses &c Lost & Stiffed in the Violence of ye Wether being Buried up in ye Snow Drifts”. Northeastern Naturalist H99 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 Adams (1717b) later alluded again in a sermon to the phenomenon: “our Eyes have lately seen how Effectual some driving snow is to smother, bury, and Destroy”. Joshua Hempstead (1901:64) also noted tersely on 24 February, the day of the 3rd snowstorm, “many horses & Cattell are dead wth ye Storm”. At first, the destruction of tall, long-legged animals suggested that humans caught alone in such conditions might face a similar fate, although in retrospect it seems that settlers succeeded in taking refuge from the snowstorms. The vulnerability of Horses posed an additional inconvenience to settlers who relied on them for transportation services. Joshua Hempstead (1901:64) wrote that on 21 February, “the drifts were So high thr was no passing to an fro for man or beast”. If Oxen or Horses could not move, then often humans often chose not to travel. Other sources explained that restricted human mobility meant that husbandmen could not reach their herds and flocks to provide relief. Between the 2nd and 3rd snowstorms, Samuel Sewall noted that his cousin’s servants tried “to get their Cattel home that came hither on Wednesday, leaving their Sleds &c. here”, but the outcome is uncertain (Sewall 1973 2:848). Livestock left outside to forage in meadows or to wander freely between feedings suffered the storms’ effects most directly. During and after the storms, animals throughout the New England countryside became disoriented, were blocked from their foddering places, and starved or froze. Immediately after the snows, colonists traded rumors about the number of livestock that had died, indicating a central concern with financial loss, if not food security. In Boston, Waitstill Winthrop had received “a rumour that the late violent storme of snow reached Fishers Island” causing “a loss of 600 or 700 sheep” (Winthrop 1717b). Cotton Mather’s diary entry for 7 March noted that, “A Multitude of Cattle have perished”, and he later wrote that “Vast numbers of Cattel were destroyed in this Calamity” (Mather, C. 1717, 1957 2:440). In Dorchester, MA, by May 1717, Ebenezer Billings (1717) had heard from family and friends that in Rhode Island and Connecticut “many thousands of sheep and hundreds of other cattlers are lost”. He also listed Horses among the animals found frozen solid, dead, and yet still upright in the snow. In September 1717, John Winthrop (1717a) computed, “Lost at o[u]r. Island and Farmes above Eleaven hundred Sheep! besides some Cattle & Horses Inter’d in the Snow”. Scattered references imply that the winter storms must have also affected marine ecology. As John Winthrop (1717a) reflected from New London, “The Storme had its Effects also on the Ocean; the sea was in mighty ferment”. Winthrop bore witness to “great Schooles of Porpises; yt o[u]r. Harbour & River seem’d to be full of them, but none of these came on shore, but kept a play day, among the Disturbed Waves”. Ships caught at sea during the storms likely suffered worse than pelagic sea life. The 4 storms had disrupted voyages to such an extent that Waitstill Winthrop (1717b) thought Boston still had received “no Vessels from any part” by 12 March except one ship “blown off” its course; he heard of another “drove ashore at Cape Ann”. Later, Governor Samuel Shute exclaimed, “great Losses of Lives and Estates have been sustained by the way of the Sea” (BNL 1717e). Surprisingly, though, colonists wrote little about the tempests’ effects on beaches and dunes, even Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H100 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 though winter storms in general and nor’easters in particular transform shorelines and transport massive amounts of sand (Keim 2005, Shumway 2008, Zielinski and Keim 2003). After the storms, John Winthrop (1717a) observed, “vast heaps of the Inclosed Shells came ashore, in places where there never had been any of the sort near before”. New England ships kept in harbors at the time of the storms might be taken as indicators of the forces brought to bear upon coastal landscapes. A correspondent in New London wrote to the Boston News-Letter on 23 February that “Two Sloops were forc’d from their Anchors ashore upon the Rocks” (BNL 1717e). Joshua Hempstead (1901:64) recorded, “Wm Lathams New Sloop is drove a Shore in his Coave bilged filled & overset”, and “Woostters open Sloop is drove out of ye harbour Bound for Easternpoint. got into ye Coave Recd no Damage”. The destruction of livestock was worst along the coast and on islands set aside for grazing animals (Pastore 2014). In coastal communities of southern New England, husbandmen commonly let their animals roam during late winter in meadows near the shore and on islands, trusting that infrequent and shallow snowfalls would melt quickly enough in sunny open areas to let the animals access forage. Billings (1717) reported that animals suffered severely in coastal Rhode Island. Cotton Mather (1717) speculated that the blowing snow along the shore interfered with animals’ vision, and “their eyes glazed over with ice at such a rate, that being not far from the sea, their mistake of their way drowned them there”. In 1717, George Worthylake, the keeper of Boston’s lighthouse, requested higher compensation because the extreme winter conditions had kept him from tending his livestock at Greater Brewster Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands. Without his care, 59 Sheep had drowned (Snow 2002:37). Massachusetts governor Samuel Shute’s official proclamation on 12 March plaintively enumerated “great Numbers of Cattel Destroyed on Shore” (BNL 1717e). The destruction of livestock was not universal across the region. Around Boston, where people commonly kept their Cattle housed in winter, snowdrifts merely leaned against the barn wall, and predators could be more effectively deterred than in rural situations (Billings 1717). As long as farmers could reach their barns, the livestock could be fed. Some animals even found a place in colonists’ homes during the storms. William Homes (1715–1747) wrote that on 21 February, “no body could stirr out of doors all that day, or give their cretures that were in the house any drinke”. By contrast, in new frontier communities, outbuildings had been burned in recent wars (Wickman 2015a), and resettlement and reinvestment were slow and uneven. As Billings (1717) observed, the animals suffered devastation in western Massachusetts, where he claimed people had not built structures to protect their animals, there being “no barns in those towns”. Predators and scavengers took advantage of unattended, injured, or malnourished livestock after the snowstorms. John Winthrop (1717a) wrote sensationally that “Wilde Rapacious Quadrupeds of the Forrest…from the Upland parts of the Country” were “in great Numbers forc’t down to the Seaside among us for Subsistance, where they Nested, Kenneld, and Burrow’d in the Thick Swamps of these Ample pastures, nightly Visiting or. Pens or Yards, for yr Necessity”. So taken was Northeastern Naturalist H101 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 Winthrop (1717a) by the predator–prey relationship that he speculated that, by the doctrine of maternal impression, pregnant ewes “being often terrify’d & Surpriz’d more Especially wth the Foxes! during the Deep Snows” were so affected that the springtime generation of lambs born in 1717 had taken on the “complexion & couler” of foxes, though “their Dams [or mothers] wr all either white or Black”. Extreme hunger among neglected livestock had ramifying ecological effects. Fruit trees suffered indirectly where animals had access to orchards. Billings (1717) claimed to have found Sheep’s wool and chewed bark as high as 11.5 ft (3.5 m) from the ground on a Malus pumila Miller (Apple) tree. Presumably, over time, as the surface of snowdrifts began to harden, Sheep were able to walk on the crust and forage on the trees sticking out of the snowpack like shrubs. As Cotton Mather (1717) put it, the livestock did much “to damnify” the trees. Even where animals did no damage, snowdrifts killed fruit trees. Strong winds filled in the depressions in the landscape between hills, submerging the trees in snow. Billings (1717) wrote, “orchards that were planted in lowland suffered much the snow being as high as the leaves of the trees and freezing to a crust when it [settled] it split the wood all to peeces and young nursereys were many of them utterly Ruined”. Colonial reports balanced interest in both winterkill and the preservation of life within the snow. As John Winthrop (1717a) noted regarding a case on Fisher’s Island, off the coast of Connecticut in Long Island Sound, the deep snow cover had the power to produce winterkill at a large scale: it was very Strange that 28 days! after the Storme, o[u]r. Tennants at Fishers Island, pulling out the Ruins of one hundred Sheep out of one Snow Bank in a Valley where the Snow had drifted over them 16 foot, found 2 of them alive in the Drift wch had Layne there all that time and kept themselves alive by Eating the Wool of the others that Lay dead by them. Even if the phenomenon itself was miraculous, the survival rate, 2 out of 100 Sheep in the 16-ft (5-m) snowdrift, was grim. The Reverend William Homes of Martha’s Vineyard similarly wrote in his diary that on 22 March he “found some sheep that had been buried under the snow that fell Feb 21 one of wch was still alive. She was taken out the 23d of March alive and continued to live for severall days she had continued under the snow without any food about 31 days” (Homes 1715–1747). Again, most Sheep died in the snow, but Rev. Homes focused on the lone survivor. The personal pronoun, “she”, made Homes’ anecdote poignant, reminding us that New England families often knew each animal intimately and by face and name through years of care (Anderson 2004:90–92). Although many more animals had died than these singular survivors, the anecdotes about survival under the snow were part of a hopeful discourse about overwinter survivorship, especially as facilitated by snow cover, one of the fundamental themes in modern winter ecology. Settlers knew their livestock best among non-human life forms, and in the wake of the 4 storms of late February 1717 they gathered insights about the properties of snow through their experiences with Sheep and other vulnerable creatures. Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H102 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 Cotton Mather became fascinated by animal submersion under the snow cover: live Chickens trapped for 7 days, Wild Turkeys for 25, Sus scrofa dometica (Erxleben) (Domestic Pig) for 27, and Sheep for 28 (Mather, C. 1717). What unified these discrete reports was the power of snow to insulate, which seemed paradoxical. Prior to 1717, Mather (1693) had published an innovative devotional treatise, Winter Meditations, that reflected intermittently on the positive aspects of snow cover. In 1713, he also had submitted a specimen he called a “woolen snow” to the Royal Society; in an accompanying report, he claimed the enclosed object was literally a “snow-ball” made of “wool”. He intended the specimen to illustrate what “ye American Snow should be made of” and asserted that “this is the first time that an Englishman sent a parcel of snow wrapped up in a letter to him, yt wast, at such a distance”, across “ye wide Atlantic”. He assured the society that “this wool did fall from shower and a considerable quantity of it; at a time when more common Snow was falling”. He did not give the year of the storm, but reported that in Fairfield, CT, snow of this variety had been found over a significant expanse. One of his concluding lessons in the letter about the “snow of wool” was that “we may not be afraid of ye snow” (Mather 1713). In sermons and other publications, Cotton Mather, his father Increase Mather, and others including Eliphalet Adams commonly cited a Biblical verse about how God “giveth snow like wool” (Adams 1717b, Mather 1693, Mather 1704, Mather 1712). In his 1713 letter to the Royal Society, Cotton pushed beyond the metaphor, hoping to find real evidence that God sent warmth through the snow. The strange claim also implied a popular association of Sheep with snow: some Sheep blended in with snowy landscapes, and in their winter travels the animals rubbed off some of their wool, leaving it on the surface of the snowpack. Mather’s letter also departed from the predominant concern in early modern Europe with the microscopic structure of snowflakes. John Winthrop (1717a) anticipated that a learned audience would be interested in the latter, writing in his report about the Great Snow of 1717, “the Snow Spangles wch. fell on the Earth appeared in Large Sexangular Formes”, and adding a remark in Latin. While natural philosophers wanted to theorize the physical form of snowflakes, a vernacular concern in New England was how snow cover acted ecologically, preserving familiar forms of life. Modern winter ecology can help explain settlers’ observations about life and death in the snows in 1717. Of all the animals Cotton Mather reported to have survived “for whole weeks without their usual sustenance, entirely buried in the Snow-drifts”, Wild Turkeys were the only wild animals he listed. Wild Turkeys, he wrote, “were found alive after five and twenty days, buried in the snow, and at a distance from the ground, and altogether destitute of anything to feed them” (Mather, C. 1717). Winter ecologists have noted that Wild Turkeys respond to deep snow in Massachusetts and other northern locations by taking refuge among softwood trees next to farmlands and pastures, a strategy that certainly would have been feasible in 1717. Scientists have found that Wild Turkeys survive severe winter conditions at higher rates near agricultural lands than in the forests (Holland 2010:333, Vander Haegen et al. 1989). In the wake of snowstorms with high winds, Wild Turkeys seek Northeastern Naturalist H103 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 out “windblown areas” where they can scratch through relatively shallow snow to feed on pasture grass. They also commonly eat winter feed (e.g., corn) left out for livestock as well as seeds within manure. Yet by staying close to open field areas during snowstorms, Wild Turkeys expose themselves to being trapped in unusually high drifts, as Mather reported. Winter ecologists also have found that in agricultural communities, human hunters take advantage of deep snow conditions and can diminish Wild Turkey populations at higher rates than canids and other predators (Humberg et al. 2009). Among the Wild Turkeys that survived in 1717, reproductive success likely would have been low because the cumulative stresses during a severe winter undermine the abilities of female Wild Turkeys “to hatch eggs and rear the young” in the spring, resulting in reduced populations by the following fall (Porter et al. 1983). In tandem with anecdotes about wondrous animal survival beneath the snow and meditations on the physical structure of snow, colonial writers also recognized how light-footed predators used crusted snow to attack heavier animals. Ebenezer Billings (1717) lamented what he perceived as a 95% mortality rate among Deer: the poor Deer that depend on nothing but the swiftness of their Running and that failing the poor creature were a pray to all Ravinous beasts dogs and wolves killed them at their [pleasure] and what they did not eat they left to [foxes] Eagles crowes and there is a Remnant that [escaped] but I think not one in 20. Billings shared the estimate and the ecological description with Cotton Mather, who passed it along without attribution in his letter to the Royal Society (Mather, C. 1717). The report of such severe mortality among Deer is plausible for several reasons. Snow depths over 12 in (30 cm) significantly reduce Deer mobility, and yarding within and near dense conifer stands is only adaptive up to a point. Moreover, deep snow covers up many food sources, leaving only the buds of deciduous trees or the needles of young Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carrière (Eastern Hemlock) or Thuja occidentalis L. (Northern White Cedar) saplings (Holland 2010:401, Stokes 1979:59–60). Hunger further weakens Deer, slowing them down and lowering their defenses (Major 1979:67). When an icy layer forms atop an enduring snowpack, Deer find their legs obstructed and lacerated, while Wolves, dogs, and other predators move swiftly over the hard surface (Major 1979:67). As the historian Jon Coleman (2004:80) has argued, many historical instances from early America support wildlife biologists’ finding that packs of Wolves “thrive in miserable winters”, even engaging in “‘surplus killing’, a form of exuberant bloodletting” when they leave corpses intact rather than eating them up. In severe winters, when snow depths pass a threshold of 27 in (70 cm) for 4–8 weeks, the physical condition of White-tailed Deer deteriorates to a point that Wolves engage in this extreme behavior (DelGiudice 1998). The spectacle was visible to settlers like Billings because both predator and prey migrated to milder lowland areas during such harsh weather. Wolves are known to travel up to 75 mi (120 km) on a single winter day (Krohn and Hoving 2010:56). Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H104 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 Deer were exposed to both canine and human predators, in contrast to livestock, which were protected to some degree by husbandmen. In many places in southern New England, if Wolves did not kill a stranded or emaciated Deer, human hunters might have put it out of its misery and salvaged the meat and hide. Two decades earlier, in 1698, during one of the coldest single decades of the last millennium (Wickman 2015a), Connecticut had banned hunting from 15 January to 15 July, explicitly to protect Deer during this season of vulnerability. The Connecticut law stated that “great numbers” of Deer had been “destroyed in deep snows when they are very poor and big with young, the flesh and skins of very little vallue, and the increase greatly hindered” (Kawashima and Tone 1983:176). The same year, Massachusetts banned Deer hunting from January to July, though not everyone followed the injunction (Kawashima and Tone 1983). An early 19th-century historian of Lynn, MA, recalled about the Great Snow of 1717 that not only did “a great number of deer” come down from interior forests “for food … followed by the wolves, which killed many of them”, but also that other Deer “were killed by people with guns” (Lewis 1829:149). Billings (1717) also mentioned Canis lupus familiaris L. (Domestic Dog) together with Wolves, suggesting that colonists’ and Indians’ Domestic Dogs might have inflicted significant damage on Deer in 1717 (Roberts 2017). Deer are known to escape from canids by crossing shallow waters and taking refuge on nearby islands or protected peninsulas, where colonists intentionally had created environments with no wolves and few people. The migration of these animals in response to extreme snows and the threat of predation might explain why Eliphalet Adams (1717a) in New London recorded an instance on 8 March in which “a Wilde Deer came down the meetinghouse Hill & Run thro ye towne, then crost the mill Cove on the Ice over to [Naumeauge] Neck & so swam thro ye Great River over to [Tonoweeseck]”. In Lynn, MA, a historian later wrote that, “Some of the Deer fled to Nahant, and being chased by the Wolves, leaped into the sea, and were drowned” (Lewis 1829:149). The snowstorms in 1717 had struck the shorelines hard; thus, deep snows along shore might have disrupted and complicated such journeys in some places. Additionally, Deer that made it to islands just offshore likely would have had to compete for forage with livestock placed there by colonists. Even without Wolves, deep snow would have threatened the Deer of southern New England in 1717. Winterkill of Deer is a natural phenomenon that cyclically affects their populations throughout North America. Winter ecologists have demonstrated that “snow depth imposes a far greater challenge to Deer survival than ambient temperature” (DelGiudice et al. 2013). When severe snowstorms occur in succession, it can be hard for Deer herds to maintain a network of packed trails or reliably find food. Ecologists have found that Deer show some flexibility in response to extreme winter weather, sometimes leaving their historical yarding sites and traveling along a river drainage to seek out better conditions. It is not uncommon for Deer to access roadways or to use residential areas as a “surrogate winter yard” (Hurst and Porter 2008). When severe winter conditions last into spring, these challenges could “be particularly hard on animals since their fat and food reserves are depleted” (Halfpenny and Ozanne 1989:160). Northeastern Naturalist H105 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 The devastation among Deer would have remained visible to English settlers in February and March 1717. Whether the animals died due to starvation, attacks by Wolves and Dogs, or bullets from guns, their carcasses remained out in the open, preserved by the cold (Stokes 1979:306). Over time, scavengers like Vulpes vulpes (L.) (Red Fox), Procyon lotor (L.) (Raccoon), Mustela vison Schreber (Mink), and Pekania pennanti (Erxleben) (Fisher) joined in devouring their remains; Billings (1717) mentioned the work of “[foxes] Eagles crowes” in scavenging the waste. It bears repeating that Billings (1717) claimed, “not one in twenty [deer] escaped” during the winter of 1716–1717—in other words, mortality was 95% or higher. A survival rate of 5% among Deer was the most significant finding in Mather’s letter, and to my knowledge historians have been unaware of his original informant. Kenneth Silverman (1968) noted the extent to which Mather cribbed from John Winthrop’s letter, but until now, no scholar has identified Mather’s other major source of data. Was this a single, fairly localized report? Was Billings repeating a vernacular figure of speech that was more numerological than statistical to describe varied losses? Was it fair for Cotton Mather to extrapolate it to a regionwide estimate? The number deserves scrutiny because a 95% mortality rate would have had widespread ecological and social consequences. If accurate, this rate may not have had a single cause, but Billings and others deserve credit for their insights about the contribution of deep snow to winterkill among Deer. On 13 February 1718, Massachusetts banned Deer hunting for nearly 4 years. The timing and text of the ban suggest that lawmakers were responding to the die-off in the late winter of 1716–1717. As the law lamented, “the depth of snow in some late winters hath been so great as hath occasioned the destruction of a great part of the Deer in this province”. With some optimism, legislators hoped that “the said creature (which is both harmless and profitable) may be preserved an d increased” (Acts and Resolves 1874:90). Previous legislation in 1694 and 1698 had limited the Deer hunt to a season between July and December, but still allowing a fall hunt; evidently Deer populations had reached such low numbers by 1718 as to justify a complete prohibition (Cronon 1983:101, Kawashima and Tone 1983:176). Connecticut also strengthened its regulations of Deer hunting in October 1717 (PRCC 1872 6:28–29). Notably, Massachusetts passed a law to further “Encourage the Killing of Wolves” 1 year after the snowstorms as well (Vaughan and Rosen 2004:180–181). Access to healthy populations of Deer apparently seemed significant enough to some colonists to pass protective legislation, even though Deer hunting may not have been a widespread form of recreation, a regular source of subsistence for settlers, or a major element in the trade of animal hides. Environmental histories of the Northeast have been better at documenting steady settler-induced “changes in the land” than at identifying and explaining punctuated changes that followed (Cronon 1983:32). As the Great Snow of 1717 shows, people on the ground noticed, wrote about, tried to explain, and even attempted to counteract such sudden changes. Notably, the archive for 1717 reveals relatively little about Native American responses to the snowstorms, even though indigenous communities were likely Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H106 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 affected by the unnatural disaster in similar ways, given how thoroughly entangled their lives had become with the colonial systems of southern New England by the early 18th century (Den Ouden 2005, Mandell 1996). Most colonial records and local traditions about the Great Snow referred only to Indians who came to the aid of settlers or who gave testimony about past winter weather (Billings 1717, Thoreau 2008:178). Strikingly, after the 18 March 1717 death of Reverend Samuel Treat, who had ministered to Wampanoag Indians on Cape Cod for decades, tradition holds that Wampanoag pallbearers voluntarily assisted in carrying the coffin through tunnels or arches that had to be dug through the snow on the half-mile path from Treat’s house in Eastham to his grave (History of Eastham 1802). But what about Native American reactions within their own communities? Wampanoags of Martha’s Vineyard as well as other Native Americans possessed vulnerable livestock and orchards of their own in 1717 (Silverman 2003). Winterkill among Deer may have been especially distressing for Native families in 1717. As historian Brian D. Carroll (2009:90) has argued, game hunting still held cultural and economic importance for indigenous communities of the Northeast, and in 1717 “the son of the Mohegan sachem, Ben Uncas II, was fined for killing several deer”. At the same time, Native Americans of the Northeast possessed rich and versatile winter traditions, with which they adapted to the realities of colonialism and severe winter weather (Wickman 2015a). A few winters prior to 1717, an Algonkian writer inscribed a response to another “great snow” in the margins of a so-called Indian Bible that John Eliot and indigenous assistants had translated decades earlier. After describing the snowstorm, the writer added, “we Indians still survive well on this morning” (Goddard and Bragdon 1988:447). Indigenous strategies of physical and cultural survival seem to have been of relatively low concern to most English writers in the wake of the Great Snow of 1717. The Great Snow of 1717 occurred at a transitional moment in English settlers’ attitudes toward winter and colonialism. In the decades leading up to 1717, the Anglo–Wabanaki Wars had increased winter suffering, colonists adopted snowshoes on a wider scale in the early 18th century than ever before, and some of the wintertime fears than had afflicted them in wars of the 17th century were lessened (Wickman 2015a). The Anglo–Wabanaki Wars continued intermittently in the mid- 18th century, but English leaders wrote less about their winter vulnerability, thanks in part to effective winter patrols against Native American families and war parties. By the late 18th century, New England writers began to single out the Great Snow of 1717 with nostalgia, perhaps because it was a notable winter event that occurred during peacetime, in contrast, for example, to the winter of 1697–1698. In retrospect, descendants of English settlers chose to remember a winter in which they could minimize Native American presence and influence, elide colonial violence, and instead focus on domestic and natural details. The Great Snow of 1717 was recalled not as a judgment but as an entertaining event for chronologies of the weather. Not unlike the “domestication” of hurricanes in the English colonies of the West Indies (Mulcahy 2006:58), American writers over time elevated the Great Snow of 1717 to an iconic status precisely because it could be remembered apolitically. New Northeastern Naturalist H107 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 England historians identified settlers’ very first winters in the early 17th century as instances of acute human suffering and reflected on the violence and uncertainties of colonialism (Donegan 2014), but when they memorialized the Great Snow of 1717, they took the survival of the colonies for granted and focused instead on the workings of winter landscapes. A disaster with few or no human deaths, the Great Snow has become trivialized by local historians and popular writers over time, singled out for its unusual snow drifts and associated more with quaint, domestic scenes and static tableaus of snow than with the natural effects of severe winter weather or with the politics of colonialism or Native American persistence (Coffin 1845:189; Hawthorne 1982:251, 254, 1023, 1049–1050). Most manuscript diaries and letters referring to the Great Snow of 1717 primarily presented the view from inside colonists’ houses, watching the snows fall and the winds blow, and then looking out at foreshortened expanses of snow. This domestic perspective, repeated uncritically by subsequent historians, has implied that New England’s winter landscapes in 1717 were homogeneous, static, and ahistorical. Moreover, when New England ministers drew on a religious discourse of wonders and emphasized the benign aspects of deep snow, and when in sermons and letters they described rare cases of animal survival beneath the snow, they illuminated the ecology of snow but obscured the historicity of the landscapes and downplayed the scale of mortality across the region, a tendency sometimes repeated by historians. Instead, looking back at a wide range of archival and print sources and with the benefit of insights from winter ecology, this paper shows patterns of winterkill and survival in a landscape that had been altered profoundly by English colonists. Conclusion The Great Snow of 1717 exemplified 2 distinguishing traits of New England winters during the Little Ice Age: a potential for sudden, dramatic storms, and the possibility of deep and steady cold. With English settlements positioned at a nexus between the Atlantic Ocean and a vast continent, colonists experienced the effects of coastal weather systems that brought powerful winter storms and a continental climate that promoted a long winter season (Fagan 2000, Kupperman 1982:1262–1263). Colonists referred to these alternating forces as being associated respectively with northeast and northwest winds: storms that moved up the coasts with strong winds coming out of the northeast as well as frigid conditions when the wind blew from the northwest (BNL 1717c; Johnson 1959:73, 93, 209; Paine 1717; White 2015). For environmental historians of the Northeast, these oceanic and continental winter influences pull in opposite historiographical directions, calling for greater integration with emerging histories of storms and seasonality in the Atlantic world on the one hand and with histories of adaptation to American and Canadian winters on the other (Adcock 2016, Coates and Morrison 2001, Grandjean 2011, Mulcahy 2006). New England’s winter was never a season of disasters like the Caribbean hurricane season, but winter was a season of powerful coastal storms. Nor Northeastern Naturalist T. Wickman 2017 H108 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 were northeastern winters as long as they were in much of Canada, but stable snow cover in New England during the Little Ice Age had much in common with snowy landscapes across northern North America. In 1717, colonists wrote about both pronounced snowstorms and prolonged snow cover, speaking to a special combination of winter stresses. English settlers wrote extensively about life and death in the snow following heavy snowfalls and a subsequent period of deep cold in the winter of 1717. Initial shock at the severity of the snowstorms prompted temporary curiosity about winter’s nature, and the lasting snowpack preserved the answers to people’s questions. Although the snowstorms in February 1717 were not entirely unprecedented in their effects, persistently cold weather in March 1717 allowed settlers to observe evidence of the Great Snow for weeks at a time. In peacetime, settlers on snowshoes circulated reports, which were then transmitted more widely through the region’s first newspaper. At a time when naturalists did not have cars or snowmobiles, the long aftermath of the snowstorms in 1717 gave colonists time to discover the meanings of the storms and share their findings. Yet they were still dependent on muscle power to get around on snowshoes or perhaps by Horse. In this sense, within a longer historical context, the Great Snow of 1717 illustrates winter observation practices not just of the early Enlightenment or before the American Revolution, but before fossil fuels and combustion engines allowed 24-hour snow removal and speedy transportation to field sites (Chaplin 2015, Meyer 2009). After the snows melted, the association of the Great Snow of 1717 with divine punishment dissipated over time, and what remained were observations about nature in winter. In economic terms, the Great Snow of 1717 may not have affected New England greatly in the long term. Unlike warfare, which destroyed infrastructure and resulted in loss of human life, the snowstorms primarily killed domesticated and wild animals, only some of which had financial value. The long-term impacts of this single winter event as well as other ongoing pressures on Deer populations remain to be researched further. Initial reports totaling the number of livestock deaths may have suggested the fragility of agricultural landscapes, but these systems were remarkably resilient. Even a loss of several thousand Sheep, Bovines, and Horses statistically represented a tiny fraction of the animal population in colonial New England. Historians have estimated that there may have been hundreds of thousands of Sheep in early 18th-century Rhode Island alone (Bridenbaugh 1974:57, Pastore 2014:64–65, 130). These animals had prolific reproductive capacities and because of access to robust regional markets, farmers could replenish their flocks and herds relatively easily. The 1690s were a period of extreme cold and regional warfare, and consecutive years of historically severe winter weather caused fears of food shortages (Wickman 2015a). In contrast, the winters immediately before the winter of 1716–1717 occurred during peacetime and were not quite so extreme. Without having to dedicate their collective energies to logistical concerns like military security or famine relief, New England leaders instead wrote reports detailing animal mortality and survival. Proto-ecological insights, therefore, might have been the most lasting legacy of the Great Snow of 1717. Northeastern Naturalist H109 T. Wickman 2017 Vol. 24, Special Issue 7 Acknowledgments I presented some of these findings at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association and at the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and thank attendees for questions and comments. Archival research for this article was made possible by staff members at the Massachusetts Historical Society, American Antiquarian Society, Maine Historical Society, and Connecticut Historical Society. I also thank Scott Smedley, Matthew Mulcahy, Kaci White, and two anonymous readers for responses to drafts of this article. Literature Cited Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. 1874. Vol. 2. Wright and Potter, Boston, MA. Adams, E. 1717a. Diary in Almanac: Pre-Revolutionary Diaries, microfilm, Reel 1, Vol. 1.1. Massachusetts Historical Society. Boston, MA. Adams, E. 1717b. A Discourse Occasioned by the Late Distressing Storm. T. Green, New London, CT. Adcock, T. 2016. A Cold Kingdom. 17 March 2016. 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Settlers agreed that the weather in December 1716 and January 1717 had been mild. Samuel Sewall (1886 2:63) noted on 21 January, “The weather of January has hitherto been exceeding moderate, with a great deal of Rain and some Snow”. Increase Mather (1717) marveled on 31 January, “it hath bin the warmest Janry that I think was ever known in N.E.”. The next month, the Boston News- Letter (1717a) concurred, “The Month of January past was very Moderate, most like to Spring Weather”. So far, proxy data and weather models have not shed light conclusively on what caused unusually mild weather in January 1717 followed by extreme snowfall events in the following month. 3For references to Harvard College graduates writing about the Great Snow of 1717, I have consulted volumes 2 through 6 of the series collectively referred to as Sibley’s Harvard Graduates. See John Langdon Sibley, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Charles William Sever, 1881); Sibley, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Charles William Sever, 1885); Clifford K. Shipton, Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard College, v. 4 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933); Shipton, Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard College, v. 5 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1937); Shipton, Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard College, v. 6 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1942).