The Great Blizzard of 1717
from "Little Stories of Old New England"
By William Dow Cram
Hampton Union and Rockingham County Gazette, December 1, 1938
With weather prophets foretelling snowy winter ahead and with the remembrance of the recent visit of the hurricane, a return engagement of the storm of 1815, there are some fearful people who are worrying lest there should be a return of the great snow storm of 1717, a storm which New England has never seen the like of since. History repeats itself, they say, why not this winter?
The winter of 1717 was a long time ago and not even the oldest inhabitant can remember anyone telling him of his experiences in that trying period, but the story has come down in written form from various people who lived through it and they agree very generally. According to all reports, February of that year was generally stormy. One storm followed another in close succession so that intervening fair days were forgotten as each new storm deposited new layers of snow atop that which had already fallen.
Here is one man's account of it:
1717 Storm Begins
"The storm began early in the month of February and was 'very ordinary' at first. It kept right on for a couple of days and the farmers commenced to think that perhaps it would be a severe one. A week went by and still the snow fell. It had not stormed continuously all of that time but there was no clearing of the skies. It stopped for a few hours perhaps and then more clouds gathered and then came the snow. Storm after storm swept down on the country and village until two weeks had elapsed. Finally when the sun did come out and the skies became clear, what a sight was before people! Snow lay at a depth of from ten to twenty feet.
Drives Wild Animals In
"At that time the forests were near at hand. The snow storm had its effects upon the animals and drove wolves, foxes, bears and wildcats to the settlements. These animals made raids upon the sheep pens and hog pens, and in some places so much were the deer harassed that the farmers cleared places and setup carts, fence rails and other barriers so that the deer could run in and be safe from the wild creatures.
Pastured Cattle Frozen
"In many places the cattle and sheep were allowed to roam about in the large yards during the winter and such was the fall of snow that scores of these were buried and then of course they froze to death before help could reach them. In the spring some of the cattle were found standing erect, frozen solidly in their tracks. In other places the sheep had huddled together for mutual warmth and had succumbed in that way.
Couldn't Find Houses
"It was not an uncommon thing, just after the storm, for searching parties to go hunting for neighbors, lose their bearings and not be able to locate the houses. Or perhaps a little smoke, curling upward through a hole in the snow, would show where the chimney was. Such was the depth of the snow where drifts were great. Most of the houses in fact were covered to the third story windows on the wind shaken side, and the barns were entered through the windows or traps to the hay lofts, the doors being so deeply buried that they could not be shoveled out.
Burned Their Furniture
"Every village organized searching parties to hunt for widows or elderly people who could not care well for themselves and many cases were found where the people were starting to burn their furniture as they could not get to the wood shed for fuel. Marketing was out of the question and many villages that depended upon the outside farmer bringing in supplies had to send out boys with sleds to haul in butter, eggs, milk and other provisions. It was great fun for the boys, coasting and fumbling about in the deep snow, but it was a serious business for the 'grown ups'."
Snow Stayed Long
The snow lasted a long time and there is a story of how Abraham Pierce of Newbury, Mass., paid a visit on snow shoes to his "Lady Love" and was the first person the family had seen abroad for more than a week. When at last the warmth of the sun and influence of the southern wind rendered the roads passable and allowed the light to enter the windows of the first floors, there was doubtless great satisfaction and happiness. The storm probably covered much of the whole country, but because of the limited area of population at that time the only records of this storm are to be found in New England. In Hampton, folks had to leave their houses from the second story windows on the lee side on snow shoes. There have been many severe storms since then but none that came up to this record.