The Moon Phenomenon of May 19, 1780-No. 1

What happened on that fateful day?

By RICHARD E. DELAFIELD, Pastor-Evangelist, Texico Conference

Under the sixth seal of Revelation 6, four great phenomena of nature were to occur. "There was a great earth­quake ; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell." Rev. 6:12, 13. We of the second advent movement understand when these four divinely appointed events occurred. They were to come in chronological order after the sixth seal was opened. The first phenomenon, of course, was the Lisbon earthquake of No­vember 1, 1755; and the last, the falling stars of November 13, 1833. Between these two events a dual-natured phenomenon was to occur in the prophetic order of things—the sun was to be darkened and the moon was to withhold her light.

While in attendance at the Theological Semi­nary recently, I chose for my assignment in re­search technique the subject, "An Investigation of the Moon Phenomenon of May 19, 1780." Considerable has been written and said regard­ing the great earthquake, the falling of the stars, and the dark day of May 19, 1780, but seem­ingly not too much study had been given to the actual phenomenon of the moon—whether it appeared that night at all, its appearance as blood, and so forth. Further study seemed to be justified, therefore, and I spent some time examining original as well as secondary source materials. The Library of Congress contained the volumes from which most of my material here is quoted.

As suggested before, much more has appeared in print regarding the dark day than has come forth in regard to the terrible dark night that followed it. There is an abundance of evidence to show that the sun and moon phenomena oc­curred in connection with each other on May 19, 1780. For instance, in the Boston Gazette of May 29, 1780, appears the following state­ment, which shows how the phenomena affected both sun and moon:

"There was the appearance of midnight at noonday. . . . The wind in the evening passed round further north where a black cloud lay, and gave us reason to expect a sudden gust from that quarter. The wind brought that body of smoke and vapor over us in the evening (at Salem), and perhaps it never was darker since the children of Israel left the house of bondage. This gross darkness held till about one o'clock, although the moon had fulled the day before.

Between one and two the wind strengthened up at northeast, and drove the smoke and clouds away which had given distress to thousands, and alarmed the brute creation."

The Boston Gazette, referring to the attitude of several which was indicative of the intense darkness of that historic night, says further:

"These gentlemen say the night was as remarkable as the day. One of them attempted to go to the barn to feed his horse, but found it impossible. . . I have also seen a very sensible captain of a vessel, who was that morning about 40 leagues southeast of Boston. . . . Between 9 and x o o'clock at night, he ordered his men to take in some of the sails, but it was so dark they could not find their way from one mast to another."—/bid.

Thomas Gage, no doubt an eyewitness of the event, writes in a year-by-year history of Rowley, Massachusetts :

"By ten o'clock A. M. the darkness was such as to occasion farmers to leave their work in the field, and retire to their dwellings; fowls went to their roosts; and before noon, lights became necessary to the transaction of business within doors ; the darkness continued through the day; and the night, till morn­ing, was as unusually dark as the day."1

It is not at all unlikely that Nathaniel Adams, from whom the following is taken, saw the phenomena of May 19, 1780. He writes :

"The 19th of May, 1780, was remarkable for its uncommon darkness. . . . The evening was enveloped in total darkness; the sky could not be distinguished from the ground. The clouds began to separate and the vapors to disperse a little before midnight, and some glimmerings of light appeared. The next morning was cloudy, but not unusually dark. . . . The darkness extended throughout New England and was observed several leagues at sea." I

We quote now from a secondary source, a Saturday edition of the Journal of Literature and Politics, of Portsmouth, Massa­chusetts:

"The dark day, May 19, 1780, is thus described by Mr. Stone, in his 'History of Beverly :"The night succeeding that day was of such pitchy darkness, that, in some instances, horses could not be compelled to leave the stable when wanted for service. About midnight, the clouds were dispersed. and the moon and stars appeared, with unimpaired brilliancy."

"It will be recollected that the venerable Noah Webster, in speaking of this dark day, said that no cause had yet been assigned to it."'

Now comes perhaps the most thrilling account I found. Interrupting a military episode of the greatest importance in the history of our coun­try (dealing with General Washington, General Lafayette, Dr. Franklin, and Mr. Jay), Dr. William Gordon, a personal eyewitness of the scene of prophetic importance, takes leave of his narrative and gives his impressions of the dark day :

"This day has been rendered very remarkable by an extraordinary phenomenon, which demands a particular relation................................... about eight at night, he [referring to himself] set out for home [after a special business session], not suspecting but that being fully acquainted with every foot of the road, he should easily return notwithstanding its being extremely dark. There were houses all the way, though at a considerable distance from each other. He marked the candlelight of one, and with that in his eye went forward till he got up to it ; but re­marked that the appearance of the place was so dif­ferent from what was usual, that he could not have believed it to be what it was, had it not been for his certain knowledge of its situation.

"He caught the light of a second house which he also reached; and thus on. At length the light being removed from the last [house] he had gained sight of, ere he was up with it, he found himself in such pro­found darkness as to be incapable of proceeding, and therefore returned to the house he had passed and procured a lantern.

"Several of the company, having further to go, were on horseback. The horses could not see to direct themselves ; and by the manner in which they took up and put down their feet on the plain ground, ap­peared to be involved in total darkness, and to be afraid lest the next step should plunge them into an abyss.

"The gentlemen soon stopped at another tavern, and waited for the benefit of the moon; but after a while finding that the air received no accession of light from it (note Matt. 24:29), when they were cer­tain it had risen, they had recourse to candles to as­sist them in getting home. . . . The shifting of the wind put an end to it, and at midnight it was suc­ceeded by a bright moon and starlight."'

After a few more sentences in which he ex­plains the possible natural causes, "owing to the clouds being highly charged with smoke, which had been collecting for days, from the fires in the back country," he says, "Let us proceed to our military narrative.'


1 "History of Rowley, Mass." (Ferdinand Andrews, Boston, 1840), p. 423.

"Annals of Portsmouth" (New Hampshire, 1825), PP. 271, 272.

3The Portsmouth (Massachusetts) Journal of Lit­erature and Politics, May 20, 1843.

4 "History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the Independence of the United States of Amer­ica" (London, 1788), Vol. III, pp. 364-368.

5 Ibid.

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By RICHARD E. DELAFIELD, Pastor-Evangelist, Texico Conference

April 1943

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