On December 16, 1811 a massive earthquake rocked the southern United States, its tremors and aftershocks spreading so far as to make church bells ring in Philadelphia. Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake was formed by the upheaval. Methodist preacher Peter Cartwright, one of America’s most colorful itinerant evangelists, recorded several earthquake experiences in his autobiography. Cartwright, who had been converted through the Cane Ridge revival and subsequently traveled throughout the South and Midwest for almost 70 years preaching, spreading revival, and starting churches, wrote:

It seemed to stop the current of the Mississippi, broke flat-boats loose from their moorings, and opened large cracks or fissures in the earth. This earthquake struck terror to thousands of people, and under the mighty panic hundreds and thousands crowded to and joined the different churches. There were many interesting incidents connected with the shaking of the earth at this time. I had preached in Nashville the night before the second dreadful shock came, to a large congregation. Early the next morning I arose and walked out on a hill near the house where I had preached, when I saw a Negro woman coming down the hill to the spring, with an empty pail on her head. When she got within a few rods of where I stood the earth began to tremble and jar; chimneys were thrown down, scaffolding around many new buildings fell with a loud crash, hundreds of citizens suddenly awoke, sprang into the streets; loud screaming followed, for many thought the day of judgment was come. The young mistresses of the above-named Negro woman came running after her, and begging her to pray for them. She raised the shout and said to them, “My Jesus is coming in the clouds of heaven, and I can’t wait to pray for you now; I must go and meet him. I told you so, that he would come, and you would not believe me. Farewell. Hallelujah! Jesus is coming, and I am ready. Hallelujah! Amen.” And on she went, shouting and clapping her hands, with the empty pail on her head.

When you hear about wars and threats of wars, don’t be afraid. These things will have to happen first, but that isn’t the end. Nations and kingdoms will go to war against each other. There will be earthquakes in many places, and people will starve to death. … No one knows the day or the time. … So watch out and be ready! (Mark 13:7,8,32,33a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Dec. 16.

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