THERE are who affirm, that although terrible lightnings with thunders have ever been frequent in this land, yet none were hurt thereby (neither man nor beast) for many years after the English did first settle in these American desarts, but that of later years fatal and fearful slaughters have in that way been made amongst us, is most certain; and there are many who have in this respect been as brands plucked out of the burning, when the Lord hath overthrown others as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. Such solemn works of Providence ought not to be forgotten. I shall now, therefore, proceed in giving an account of remarkables respecting thunder and lightning, so far as I have received credible information concerning them; the particulars whereof are these which follow:---

In July, 1654, a man whose name was Partridge, esteemed a very godly person, at Salisbury in New England, was killed with thunder and lightning, his house being set on fire thereby, and himself with others endeavouring the quenching of it, by a second crack of thunder with lightning (he being at the door of his house), was struck dead, and never spake more. There were ten other persons also that were struck and lay for dead at the present, but they all revived, excepting Partridge. Some that viewed him report that there were holes (like such as were made with shot) found in his clothes and skin. One side of his shirt and body was scorched, and not the other. His house, though (as was said) set on fire by the lightning in divers places, was not burnt down, but preserved by an abundance of rain falling upon it.

 

July 31, 1658, there hapned a storm of thunder and lightning with rain, in the town of Marshfield, in Plymouth colony in New England. Mr. Nathanael Thomas, John Philips, and another belonging to that town, being in the field, as they perceived the storm a coming, betook themselves to the next house for shelter. John Philips sat down near the chimney, his face towards the inner door. A black cloud flying very low, out of it there came a great ball of fire, with a terrible crack of thunder; the fire-ball fell down just before the said Philips; he seemed to give a start on his seat, and so fell backward, being struck dead, not the least motion of life appearing in him afterwards. Captain Thomas, who sat directly opposite to John Philips, about six feet distance from him, and a young child that was then within three feet of him, through the providence God, received no hurt; yet many of the bricks in the chimney were beaten down, the principal rafters split, the battens next the chimney in the chamber were broken, one of the main posts of the house into which the summer was framed rent into shivers, and a great part of it was carried several rod from the house; the door before Philips, where the fire came down, was broken.

 

On the 28th of April, A.D. 1664, a company of the neighbours being met together at the house of Henry Condliff, in North-Hampton in New England, to spend a few hours in Christian conferences and in prayer, there hapned a storm of thunder and rain; and as the good man of the house was at prayer, there came a ball of lightning in at the roof of the house, which set the thatch on fire, grated on the timber, pierced through the chamberfloor, no breach being made on the boards, only one of the jouyces somewhat rased. Matthew Cole, who was son-in-law to the said Condliff, was struck stone dead as he was leaning over a table, and joyning with the rest in prayer. He did not stir nor groan after he was smitten, but continued standing as before, bearing upon the table. There was no visible impression on his body or clothes, only the sole of one of his shoes was rent from the upper leather. There were about twelve persons in the room; none else received any harm, only one woman (who is still living) was struck upon the head, which occasioned some deafness ever since. The fire on the house was quenched by the seasonable help of neighbours.

 

July 15, 1665, there were terrible cracks of thunder; an house in Boston was struck by it, and the dishes therein melted as they stood on the shelves; but no other hurt done in the town, only Captain Davenport, a worthy man, and one that had in the Pequot war ventured his life, and did great service for the countrey, then residing in the castle, where he commanded, having that day wrought himself weary, and thinking to refresh himself with sleep, was killed with lightning as he lay upon his bed asleep. Several of the soldiers in the castle were struck at the same time, but God spared their lives. It has been an old opinion, mentioned by Plutarch (Sympos. lib. 4, q. 2.), that men asleep are never smitten with lightning; to confirm which it has been alledged, that one lying asleep, the lightning melted the money in his purse, without doing him any further harm; and that a cradle, wherein a child lay sleeping, was broken with the lightning, and the child not hurt; and that the arrows of King Mithridates, being near his bed, were burnt with lightning, and yet himself being asleep received no hurt. But as much of all this may be affirmed of persons awake; and this sad example (triste jaces lucis evitandumque bidental) of Captain Davenport, whom the lightning found and left asleep, does confute the vulgar error mentioned. And no doubt but that many the like instances to this have been known in the world, the records whereof we have not. But I proceed.

 

June 23, 1666. In Marshfield, another dismal storm of rain with thunder and lightning hapned. There were then in the house of John Philips (he was father of that John Philips who was slain by lightning in the year 1658) fourteen persons; the woman of the house calling earnestly to shut the door, that was no sooner done, but an astonishing thunder-clap fell upon the house, rent the chimney, and split the door. All in the house were struck. One of them (who is still living) saith, that when he came to himself, he saw the house full of smoke, and perceived a grievous smell of brimstone, and saw the fire ly scattered, though whether that fire carne from heaven, or was violently hurled out of the hearth, he can give no account. At first he thought all the people present, except himself, had been killed; but it pleased God to revive most of them. Only three of them were mortally wounded with Heaven's arrows, viz., the wife of John Philips, and another of his sons, a young man about twenty years old, and William Shertly, who had a child in his arms, that received no hurt by the lightning when himself was slain. This Shertly was at that time a sojourner in John Philips his house. The wife of this Shertly was with child and near her full time, and struck down for dead at present, but God recovered her, so that she received no hurt, neither by fright nor stroke. Two little children sitting upon the edge of a table, had their lives preserved, though a dog, which lay behind them under the table, was killed.

 

In the same year, in the latter end of May, Samuel Ruggles, of Rocksborough in New England, going with a leaden cart, was struck with lightning. He did not hear the thunder-clap, but was by the force of the lightning, e're he was aware, carried over his cattle about ten foot distance from them. Attempting to rise up, he found that he was not able to stand upon his right leg, for his right foot was become limber, and would bend any way, feeling as if it had no bone in it; nevertheless, he made a shift with the use of one leg to get to his cattle (being an horse and two oxen), which were all killed by the lightning. He endeavoured to take off the yoak from the neck of one of the oxen, but then he perceived that his thumb and two fingers in one hand were stupified that he could not stir them; they looked like cold clay, the blood clear gone out of that part of his hand; but by rubbing his wounded leg and hand, blood and life came into them again. As he came home, pulling off his stocking, he found that on the inside of his right leg (which smarted much) the hair was quite burnt off, and it looked red; just over his ankle his stocking was singed on the inside, but not on the outside, and there were near upon twenty marks, about as big as pins heads, which the lightning had left thereon; likewise the shoe on his left foot was by the lightning struck off his foot, and carried above two rods' from him. On the upper leather, at the heel of the shoe, there were five holes burnt through it, bigger than those which are made with duck shot. As for the beasts that were slain, the hair upon their skins was singed, so that one might perceive that the lightning had run winding and turning strangely upon their bodies, leaving little marks no bigger than corns of gun-powder behind it. There was in the cart a chest, which the lightning pierced through, as also through a quire of paper and twelve napkins, melting some pewter dishes that were under them.

At another time in Rocksborough, a thunder storm hapning, broke into the house of Thomas Bishop, striking off some clapboards, splitting two studs of the end spar, and running down by each side of the window, where stood a bed with three children in it. Over the head of the bed were three guns and a sword, which were so melted with the lightning that they began to run. It made a hole through the floor, and coming into a lower room, it beat down the shutter of the window, and running on a shelf of pewter, it melted several dishes there; and descending lower, it melted a brass morter, and a brass kettle. The children in the bed were wonderfully preserved; for a lath at the corner of it was burnt, and splinters flew about their clothes and faces, and there was not an hands breadth between them and the fire, yet received they no hurt.

 

On the 18th of May (being the Lords day) A.D. 1673, the people at Wenham (their worthy pastor, Mr. Antipas Newman, being lately dead) prevailed with the Reverend Mr. Higginson of Salem to spend that Sabbath amongst them. The afternoon sermon being ended, he, with several of the town, went to Mr. Newman his house. Whilst they were in discourse there about the word and works of God, a thunder-storm arose. After a while, a smart clap of thunder broke upon the house, and especially into the room where they were sitting and discoursing together; it did for the present deafen them all, filling the room with smoke, and a strong smell as of brimstone. With the thunder-clap came in a ball of fire as big as the bullet of a great gun, which suddenly went up the chimney, as also the smoke did. This ball of fire was seen at the feet of Richard Goldsmith, who sat on a leather chair next the chimney, at which instant he fell off the chair on the ground. As soon as the smoke was gone, some in the room endeavoured to hold him up, but found him dead; also the dog that lay under the chair was found stone dead, but not the least hurt done to the chair. All that could be perceived by the man, was, that the hair of his head, near one of his ears, was a little singed. There were seven or eight in that room, and more in the next; yet (through the merciful providence of God) none else had the least harm. This Richard Goldsmith, who was thus slain, was a shoemaker by trade, being reputed a good man for the main; but had blemished his Christian profession by frequent breaking of his promise; it being too common with him (as with too many professors amongst us), to be free and forward in engaging, but backward in performing; yet this must further be added, that half a year before his death, God gave him a deep sense of his evils, that he made it his business, not only that his peace might be made with God, but with men also, unto whom he had given just offence. He went up and down bewailing his great sin in promise-breaking; and was become a very conscientious and lively Christian, promoting holy and edifying discourses, as he had occasion. At that very time when he was struck dead, he was speaking of some passages in the sermon he had newly heard, and his last words were, Blessed be the Lord.

 

In the same year, on the 21st of June, being Saturday, in the afternoon, another thunder-storm arose, during which storm Josiah Walton, the youngest son of Mr. William Walton, late minister of Marble-head, was in a ketch coming in from sea, and being before the harbours mouth, the wind suddenly shifted to the northward; a violent gust of wind coming down on the vessel, the seamen concluded to hand their sails; Josiah Walton got upon the main-yard to expedite the matter, and foot down the sail, when there hapned a terrible flash of lightning, which breaking forth out of the cloud, struck down three men who were on the deck, without doing them any hurt. But Josiah Walton being (as was said) on the main-yard, the lightning shattered his thigh-bone all in pieces, and did split and shiver the main-mast of the vessel, and scorcht the rigging. Josiah Walton falling down upon the deck, his leg was broken short off. His brother, being on the deck, did (with others) take him up, and found him alive, but sorely scorched and wounded. They brought him on shore to his mothers house. At first he was very sensible of his case, and took leave of his friends, giving himself to serious preparation for another world. His relations used all means possible for his recovery, though he himself told them he was a dead man, and the use of means would but put him to more misery. His bones were so shattered, that it was not possible for the art of man to reduce them; also, the violent heat of the weather occasioned a gangrene. In this misery he continued until the next Wednesday morning, and then departed this life. He was an hopeful young man.

 

In the year 1678, on the 29th of June, at Cambridge in New-England, a thunder-clap with lightning broke into the next house to the colledge. It tore away and shattered into pieces a considerable quantity of the tyle on the roof. In one room there then hapned to be the wife of John Benjamin, daughter to Thomas Swetman, the owner of the house, who then had an infant about two moneths old in her arms; also another woman. They were all of them struck; the child being by the force of the lightning carried out of the mothers arms, and thrown upon the floor some distance from her. The mother was at first thought to be dead, but God restored her, though she lost the use of her limbs for some considerable time. Her feet were singed with the lightning, and yet no sign thereof appearing on her shoes. Also the child and the other woman recovered. In the next room were seven or eight persons who received no hurt. It was above a quarter of an hour before they could help the persons thus smitten, for the room was so full of smoke (smelling like brimstone) that they could not see them. Some swine being near the door as the lightning fell, were thrown into the house, and seemed dead awhile, but afterwards came to life again. A cat was killed therewith. A pewter candlestick standing upon a joynt-stool, some part of it was melted and carried away before the lightning, and stuck in the chamber-floor over head, like swan shot, and yet the candlestick itself was not so much as shaken off from the stool whereon it stood.

 

June 12, 1680. There was an amazing thunder-storm at Hampton in New-England. The lightning fell upon the house of Mr. Joseph Smith, strangely shattering it in divers places. His wife (the grand-daughter of that eminent man of God, Mr. Cotton, who was the famous teacher of the church of Christ, first in Old, and then in New Boston) lay as dead for the present, being struck down with the lightning near the chimney; yet God mercifully spared and restored her; but the said Smith his mother (a gracious woman) was struck dead, and never recovered again.

 

From: A History of Godís Remarkable Providences in Colonial New England by Increase Mather, pag. 51-60, 1997, Back Home Industries,Milwaukie, OR, USA.

 

 

Index