“On Monday morning last, about a quarter past two, St. Louis and the surrounding country, was visited by one of the most violent shocks of earthquake that has been recorded since the discovery of our country.” (Louisiana Gazette, 21 December 1811)

This is where the story begins, in the wee hours of the morning on 16 December 1811. Many early Americans, in particular in the sparsely populated midcontinent, were awakened that night by seismic waves from the powerful mainshock and kept awake by a robust aftershock sequence. Of those who experienced the shaking, only a small percentage documented their...

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