1816 Year without a Summer
On April 5, 1815, the sun set on the world that people knew when on a small Indonesian island Mount Tambora exploded to life. The largest volcanic eruption in recorded history spewed its first of several plumes of ash eighteen miles into the atmosphere which eventually blanketed the world with 150 million tons of dust which impacted the weather around the globe for over a year.
The unusual weather caused crop failures, floods, famine and disease. 1816 was known as “the starvation year” in Europe, “18-hundred-and-froze-to-death” in Canada and “the year without a summer” in northeastern US and all along the eastern seaboard as far as North Carolina.
In New England, farmers dealt with killing frosts and snowfall throughout the summer months decimating the staple crops of vegetables, corn, wheat and hay. Scarce feed crops also led to the loss of livestock.
In what is now the Town of Ashland, New Hampshire, farmer Reuben Whitten used the southern slopes of Indian Hill to full advantage and succeeded when his neighbors had not—he managed a harvest of wheat. On an engraved stone that still stands today, his compassionate act of sharing that harvest with the community to get through the lean winter is immortalized.
Born in Massachusetts in 1771, Reuben was the son of a Revolutionary soldier, John Whitten, who died soon after the Revolutionary War. Reuben worked in Newburyport, MA, saving all of his money to buy a farm. He later came to Plymouth, NH and while out hunting wandered to Indian Hill in New Holderness, later known as Christian Hill and now Highland St, Ashland. Here he purchased 73 acres of land and built his small house around 1795. Reuben was then about 24 years old. He married Sally Sawyer, daughter of Humphrey Sawyer. Her mother was the daughter of William Piper, the first settler of Holderness.
In 1816, he managed to raise wheat that he shared with his neighbors to get through the winter. Reuben died in 1847, and his gravestone was paid for by the children of his grateful neighbors. In 1911, his grandson erected a memorial stone commerating his heroics which resides in the family graveyard on Highland Street.
Reuben & Sally Whitten had 8 children between 1800 and 1817. In 1816, the year without a summer, they had 7 children between the ages of 10 and 16 and yet, the Whittens decided to share their rare bounty with their neighbors. Three of Whitten's sons predeceased Reuben Whitten who predeceased his wife; all 6 of their sons predeceased Sally Whitten, all of them between 33 and 55 years of age. Reuben Whitten died at 76, Sally at 84. Their two daughters died after both of their parents.
All of the Whitten's children made their lives in Ashland NH except their second daughter, Clarissa who lived in Boston MA. Alfred Roberts, grandson to the Whittens and oldest son of Mary Mooney (Whitten) Roberts carved the memorial stone and is pictured above. Geneology Researcher Kathleen DeWolfe has identified 21 Whitten grandchildren, though it appears that few remained in the area. Research continues.
Reuben Whitten 1771-1847 Holderness NH
Sally Whitten 1775-1859 Holderness NH
Mary Mooney Roberts 1800-1866 Holderness NH
Clarissa R Frost 1802-1869 Boston MA
Joseph Whitten 1802-1858 Holderness NH
Ezra S Whitten 1805-1859 Holderness NH
EbenezerWhitten 1806-1839 Holderness NH
Daniel Baker Whitten 1810-1853 Holderness NH
Simeon D Whitten 1811-1843 New York NH
John Colby Whitten 1817-1874 Holderness NH
Whitten Press Information
We welcome stories that share Whitten's legacy and will provide whatever information or images you might need.
Updates on the Reuben Whitten House Project, Ashland NH celebrations planned for 2016 and other relevant information are available in our Whitten Press Release
High Resolution Photographs of the Whitten House, Whitten Headstone and Whitten Memorial Stone are available at Shutterfly under Reuben Whitten.
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What caused this unusual weather during the summer of 1816? Some at the time believed it was caused by sinners, some on the sunspot activity visible that year, while some even blamed it on Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod experiments. However, climate data obtained from trees, ice cores, marine sediment and historical documents indicate 1816 was part of a mini ice age that lasted from 1400 to around 1860. During this time lower solar output produced harsh winters, shorter growing seasons and drier climates.
The eruption of the Tambora volcano on the island of Soembawa in Indonesia on April 15th 1815 lasted one week and rumbled for 3 months. Close to 10,000 people on the island were killed and another 80,000 people would eventually die from starvation and diseases related to the eruption's effect on the climate. Summer weather in Northeastern North America included snowstorms and killing frosts from June into September, severely impacting staple crops. The dismal, cold summer in Europe inspired Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley to write Frankenstein and the lack of horses in Germany led Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun to invent a model of bicycle for transportation.
May 28 Snow in Quebec and frost as far south as Pennsylvania
June 6 Heatwave in the 90s in the morning dropping to freezing in the afternoon. Nor’easter rain mixed with snow 6” to 12” of snowfall in New England
June 8 June 8th through 10th frost every morning in New England. Boston Independent Chronicle on June 17, 1816:
"On the night of 6th instant, after a cold day, Jack Frost paid another visit to this region of the country, and nipped the beans, cucumbers, and other tender plants. This surely is cold weather for summer. On the 5th we had quite warm weather, and in the afternoon copious showers attended with lightning and thunder -- then followed high cold winds from the northwest, and back again the above mentioned unwelcome visitor. On the 6th, 7th, and 8th June, fires were quite agreeable company in our habitations."
June 22 to 24 Heat wave
July 4 Ice was as thick as window glass throughout New England, NY and parts of PA. July cold front moved through New England early in the month killing corn, beans, cucumbers & squash but grains continued to survive
August In Maine throughout month morning temperatures were in the low 30’s
Mid-August Interior NY and all of NE experienced damaging frosts
August 20 Strong cold front across northeast with thunderstorms; temperatures dropped 30 degrees.
August 21 Frost reported as far south as MA; snow reported on Mount Moosilauke in NH; Corn destroyed from Albany to Boston.
August 28 Cold front across northeast on August 28th with severe frost that ended growing season for most of northern New England.
Whitten House Restoration
A Year Without A Summer museum/educational center will be established in the preserved Whitten House Museum / Educational Center highlighting both subsistence farming and the impact of the Year without a Summer 1816 climate, and the history of the Ashland mills (house was used as worker housing from 1870’s to 1960's), and as a lab for students of preservation and building techniques.
Phase 1 – Clear debris and sort materials – Summer/Fall 2014
Phase 2 – Exterior roof & wall restoration – Summer 2015
Phase 3 – Exterior trim restoration – Spring 2016
Phase 4 – Interior repair – pending funding
Phase 5 – Interior restoration – pending funding
Phase 6 – Exterior access –pendng funding