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June 3, 2010

Otsego Herald: A tragedy

HUGH C. MACDOUGALL
THE OTSEGO HERALD

— From the Otsego Herald for Saturday, June 2, 1810 Compiled, with comments

BY HUGH C. MACDOUGALL

EARTHQUAKE

Letter from the Cape of Good Hope, Dec. 13, 1809.

``As you will probably have heard of the earthquake which has taken place here, I wish to let you know that I am perfectly well, having escaped injury, much alarmed.

It took place on the fourth  of this month; the first shock about a quarter after ten at night.

``We were roused up suddenly by a most violent, loud, hollow, rumbling, subterraneous sound, with a considerable degree of motion over the entire house; which from its cracking and rocking, we imagined it could not stand. The bells rang most violently; we therefore made our escape as fast as possible into the open air.

``The shock continued about a minute, and after a moment’s calm, was succeeded by a second one, much more alarming and heavy than the first, and attended with all the same symptoms, but in a much more terrible degree, and proceeding like it from the centre of the Table Mountain, nearly due south, into the sea; the sky perfectly clear and bright with stars, and not a cloud to be seen.

``This continued about two minutes, and was most dreadful. -- There were three others within the space of half an hour from the first, all comparatively light.

``The chief symptoms, during this most awful phenomenon, were the dogs barking and howling most terribly; watches and clocks either stopping entirely, or else losing time; the bells in all the houses ringing violently; houses cracking from top to bottom; the earth discharging water in places hitherto dry; and the stars shooting in every direction across the sky.

``We have had lesser ones, either by night or day ever since, which leaves us in the most unpleasant state of suspense.

``To attempt giving an idea of the confusion and dismay of the inhabitants and every class of people, is quite out of my power. Most of them were in bed at the time, and in a moment the streets and government garden were filled with persons of all ages, sexes, and colors, nearly naked, screaming and wringing their hands, in expectation of being swallowed up every moment.

``They remained out the whole night, since which they have pitched tents in the different squares and open places, where they remain during the night; nor do I think they will be induced to sleep within their houses for some time.

``Providentially there were no lives lost, as no houses were actually thrown down, but many persons have been obliged to take theirs to pieces, in consequence of the injury they have sustained.

The thermometer was, during the whole time, between 77 and 79.”

COMMENT: This December 4, 1809, earthquake was one of the first known to have occurred in South Africa. Its magnitude has been estimated at 6.3 on the Richter scale, which was not exceeded in southern Africa until the 1960s. There seems to have been at least a small tsunami, as ``a heavy swell came into Table Bay after the shocks.’’

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

The following amendments are proposed to be made to the Constitution of the United States. The last one has already been agreed to by Congress.

``No Senator or Representative, after having taken his seat, shall during the time for which he was elected, be eligible to any civil appointment under the authority of the United States, nor shall any person be eligible to any such appointment until the expiration of the Presidential term, during which such person shall have been a Senator or Representative.’’

``If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honor, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office of emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to the a citizen of the U. States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of profit under them, or either of them.’’

COMMENT: Neither proposed amendment was adopted. The first seems intended to prevent a President from bribing a Congressman by promise of a government job. The second was to prevent any citizen from being bribed by a foreign government.