Portrayal of the cold day and a Winter scene by George Henry Durrie

The Cold Friday of January 19, 1810

In 1857, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the Cold Friday of 1810, the coldest New England winter of the 19th century, with heavy snow, brutal cold and violent winds from mid-December until late April.

On Jan. 19, 1810, the weather had been warm on the preceding day, but then a snow squall came up and the temperature fell as much as 55 degrees in 24 hours. The piercing wind made the cold unbearable. Thoreau wrote:

“Began snowing yesterday afternoon–& it is still snowing this forenoon–Mother remembers the Cold Friday–very well–She lived in the house where I was born–The people in the kitchen Jack Garrison–Ester–& a Hardy girl drew up close to the fire–but the dishes which the Hardy girl was washing froze as fast as she washed them close to the fire. They managed to keep warm in the parlor by their great fires.”

The Cold Friday on Jan. 19, 1810 brought terrible winds and frigid temperature talked and written about for generations. Tales of the killer weather event made their way into town histories, journals and court records long after it happened. They told of the many people who froze to death while traveling along the highways. Houses, barns and vast numbers of timber trees were blown down or broken to pieces. Ships were wrecked, cattle froze in their barns and old people died of hypothermia in their homes. It was so cold pens wouldn’t write though they were right next to the fireplace. What made the Cold Friday so lethal was the sudden, steep drop in temperature that caught people unaware. Several journals claimed the mercury dropped 100 degrees in Boston in less than 24 hours, from 67 to 33 below zero.


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