Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Great Frost of 1608

Copyright 2017 Christy K Robinson
This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article. 

I have been researching and writing a nonfiction biography about Anne Marbury Hutchinson.  Someone who negatively reviewed one of my Dyer books complained that some of the articles were taken from this Dyer blog, which costs me thousands of hours in research and writing time, and money spent on research books--but is provided at no cost to readers. With that sort of critical attitude, I decided to remove or heavily edit some of the articles from this blog, to make my books even more exclusive than they had been. "The Great Frost" is one of those articles. 

In this era when publishing companies and print periodicals have gone out of business, it's silly to dismiss websites and blogs as being wildly speculative or unsupported opinion. I know scores of historical authors and researchers who will agree with me that blogs are legitimate sources of research, infotainment, and newly discovered fact, as well as corrections to fanciful antiquarians of the 18th and 19th centuries.

When I researched the Dyer books, I read literally hundreds of books and scholarly papers about their culture, beliefs, and practices, spoke with experts and scholars, and I visited the places I was writing about.

In the Hutchinson book, there's a very long bibliography at the end. This article, excerpts of a chapter of the Hutchinson book, is about an event that took place when Anne Marbury (not yet Hutchinson) was a teenager living with her family in London. Her father was a popular minister and had authority over several churches at the time.

The Great Frost
excerpts from the book,  
Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother
© 2017 by Christy K Robinson
he Great Frost of 1608 began in December 1607, when a massive freeze descended on Great Britain, Iceland, and Europe. It enveloped city and country alike, freezing animals and people, stopping trading ships, sending icebergs on the North Sea between England and the Continent, and freezing seaports so that coastal shipping trade came to a stop for three months. 

“The first decade of the 17th century was marked by a rapid cooling of the Northern Hemisphere, with some indications for global coverage. A burst of volcanism and the occurrence of El Niño seem to have contributed to the severity of the events. … Additional paleoclimatic, global evidence testifies for an equatorward shift of global wind patterns as the world experienced an interval of rapid, intense, and widespread cooling.”
Schimmelrnann, Lange, Zhao, and Harvey,  abstract,
The Peruvian silica volcano, Huaynaputina, erupted in 1600, with so much ejecta that more than 12 cubic miles of rock and ash filled the atmosphere, causing rapid global cooling and catastrophic weather events for a decade, including a Russian famine that killed two million people, epic mud flows in California, great droughts and freezes that affected the Popham and Jamestown colonies in Virginia, and die-offs in European vineyards. The far-off Peruvian volcano affected Great Britain, too.

Perhaps to profit from the phenomenon of a once-in-a-lifetime cold spell, an anonymous author wrote a 28-page book, The Great Frost: Cold doings in London, except it be at the Lottery, With newes out of the country. A familiar talke betwene a country-man and a citizen touching this terrible frost and the great lotterie, and the effects of them. the description of the Thames frozen over, which may have a longer title than the interior text. The cover says it was printed on London Bridge (then supporting shops and tenements above the shops), so undoubtedly the book was meant to be sold on the frozen river below. There were two characters, the Countryman and the Citizen, having a dialogue about the first Frost Fair ever held, and the economic conditions of England because of the extended freeze.

         In the city, the Frost Fair meant that shops could set up market tents on the frozen river that “shows like grey marble roughly hewn” and sell souvenirs and winter clothing and shoes, serve alcohol from bars on wheels, gamble on sports or animal baiting, provide hot fair food from fires built on the ice (I wonder if they deep fried odd things as we do now), and have sleigh rides up and down the river. Ice skating was well-known in the Netherlands and Germany, and perhaps the English tried it. They also played football, and shot arrows and muskets. The Citizen said: “Both men, women, and children walked over, and up and downe in such companies, that I verily believe, and I dare almost sweare it, that one half (if not three parts) of the people in the Citie, have been seene going on the Thames.” 

And right there in London, probably out on the ice on a Saturday, we’d find the Marbury family, listening to musicians and watching dancers, playing, and eating fair food like turkey leg, meat or fruit pies, and gingerbread. 

A man golfing on ice, whose clothing style
 puts him in this time frame. Some avid golfers
will tell you that their sport of chasing
a little ball is silly in the best of summer
weather—but this man is very determined
to improve his game.

With little or no firewood or coal, people shared beds, mixing up aunties and grandchildren, parents and babies, servants and any guest staying the night. They had cupboard beds or four-posters with a canopy and curtains to keep their body heat and warm breath captive. The large Marbury family would have shared beds and body heat at night.

         With commercial traffic stopped in its tracks during the Great Frost, the merchants, warehouses, dock hands, ship crews, and others were forced into stoppages they called “The dead vacation,” “The frozen vacation,” and “The cold vacation.” We can imagine the effect on their economy, especially if they were living hand to mouth. 

         Coupled with the loss of work and little to sell in the shops, the price of food rose precipitously. “For you of the country being not able to travel to the City with victuals, the price of victail [victuals, food] must of necessity be enhanced; and victail itself brought into a scarcity,” wrote the Citizen.

The church poor rolls, the parish charity for widows and orphans, would have been stretched past their limits when they experienced weather and epidemiological catastrophes, so of course the Marburys would have been no stranger to hard work, short rations, and sharing small spaces.

The Great Frost was harsh, and it wasn’t the only time the Thames froze, but it was the most memorable. It lasted a little more than three months until the ice broke up and life returned to normal. Well, normal for them. Warmer meant…

Table from page 49 of
Schimmelrnann, Lange, Zhao, and Harvey,  abstract,
that gives extreme climate events in the early 1600s.

 Click image to enlarge.


Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the titles): 

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)   
Effigy Hunter (2015)   

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)

Books by Christy K Robinson, with a framed print of Mary Barrett Dyer's handwritten letter to the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony, October 1659.