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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The 1886 East Coast Earthquake

It’s been over a week since a 5.8 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia, shook East Coast residents.  Although earthquakes in the eastern part of the United States are rare, they have occurred.  On Sept. 1, 1886, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattled South Carolina “killing 60 people and damaging many buildings.”  Years later while conducting fieldwork in the 1930s amongst the Gullah people on Edisto Island, South Carolina, linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner recorded Rosina Cohen’s account of the events that early morning.  Below is a description from the transcribed interview in the Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers.  

Jennifer Morris, Archivist and Xavier Courouble, Cataloger
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

The Earthquake 1886
(By Rosina Cohen, Edisto Island, South Carolina)
 And the earthquake?  You ask me if I know about the earthquake?  Lord, have mercy!  When the earthquake, my son, Calvary couldn’t hold the people.  You hear the people holloing all around and hollo so mournful: ‘Oh, Lord!  The world going to end.’  (They) say we are going quickly. 

 (He)say – this here same man where I am staying there now – him grandfather say, ‘You stand still;’ say, ‘I see, I see earthquake before today.’ 

That was a night in August.  I don’t know the date.  I can’t tell you I know the date, because I ain’t know the date.  I won’t lie, say I know the date; but I know it was August.  And they – it just go up and come down.  And if you have water, you – if you have water in your pail, every bit, every bit turn over.  And it make a big, white – big, white hole, like a grave; like a grave.  And the sand white!  Now we afraid, because they say it going fall in on us.  That there is the earthquake now.  That’s the earthquake.  And you never – them white men had to make we shut up that hole.  That is the earthquake  -- where the earthquake big.  You understand? – earthquake big there, big there.  Oh, yes! Earthquake big there.  Oo!   Earthquake!  Big earthquake!  Oo! 

My children all been big ones.  Oh, yes!  They all been big ones.  They all had their sense.  They all just cry.  Why, all around this section could I hear the whooping and holloing – all around, and so mournful.  And Calvary couldn’t hold the people.  The church inside just as thick; outside everything was crying:  Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!  We done!  We ain’t know why ‘tis.  Edward Whaley say:  ‘No!  sa, ‘I see this here ain’t going kill you, but it is the earthquake.’
Phonetic transcription of Ms. Cohen's account, box 13, folder 9. Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers.

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer,

    As you know, a second recording of a Gullah informant, Diana Brown, from Edisto Island South Carolina, recalling the earthquake of 1886, was included in the exhibition “Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner Connecting Communities through Language” at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum.
    Please click on the following link to read a transcribed text of the audio clip:

    Thank you,