The Doctrine of Earthquakes

Thomas Paine. The Doctrine of Earthquakes. Two sermons preached at a particular fast in Weymouth, Nov. 3, 1727, the Friday after the earthquake. Wherein this terrible work appears not to proceed from natural second causes, in any orderly way of their producing, but from the mighty power of God immediately interposed, and is to the world, a token of God's anger, &c. and presage of terrible changes. With examples of many earthquakes in history--illustrating this doctrine. By Thomas Paine, M.A. pastor of a church in Weymouth. Boston: Printed for D. Henchman, over-against the Brick meeting house in Cornhill, 1728. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

Signs of the Times II

And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall raise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places.

The Gospel of Matthew 24:3-7

If American preachers kept their eyes peeled on the sky, they also listened for God's word in the earth, as the Book of Revelation indicated that earthquakes were equally important signs of the end of the world. John's vision describes no fewer than six earthquakes in the course of the final days. Not surprisingly, the earthquake that shook New England on October 29, 1727 spoke directly to American theologians familiar with John's vision: no one doubted that the voice of God had emerged from the bowels of the earth to warn sinners of their sorry state. Consequently, selling sermons that interpreted this terrifying event became a small industry, leading to two sermons by the great theologian Cotton Mather entitled The Terror of the Lord and Boanerges.

At right: Cotton Mather. Boanerges. A short essay to preserve and strengthen the good impressions produced by earthquakes on the minds of people that have been awakened with them, with some views of what is to be further and quickly look'd for, address'd unto the whole people of New-England, who have been terrified with the late earthquakes, and more especially the towns that have had a more singular share in the terrors of them. Boston: Printed for S. Kneeland, and sold at his shop in King-Street, 1727. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

Three sermons by Thomas Foxcroft, Benjamin Colman, and Thomas Prince are also bound together here to form a "greatest hits" edition of the New England earthquake. So profound was the scare that the preacher Thomas Paine felt it necessary to refute any possible scientific explanation for the earthquake, and Cotton Mather wrote a letter to the Governor of Massachusetts requesting a government-approved public fast to appease the wrath of God. Two more earthquakes struck New England in November 1755, eliciting another round of sermons and exhortations, such as the practical discourses delivered by Jonathan Mayhew.

At right: Cotton Mather. The Terror of the Lord. Some account of the earthquake that shook New-England, in the night, between the 29 and the 30 of October. 1727. With a speech, made unto the inhabitants of Boston, who assembled the next morning, for the proper exercises of religion, on so uncommon, and so tremendous an occasion. Boston: printed by T. Fleet, for S. Kneeland, and sold at his shop in King-street, 1727. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.

Revelation 11:13

At right: Thomas Foxcroft. The Voice of the Lord, from the deep places of the earth. A sermon preach'd on the Thursday-lecture in Boston, in the audience of the General Court, at the opening of the sessions, Nov. 23, 1727. Three weeks after the earthquake. Boston: Printed for S. Gerrish, at the lower end of Cornhill, 1727.

At right and below: Autograph Letter, signed, from Cotton Mather to Governor Dummer. 9 December 1727. 3pp. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.