As early as 1735, residents living along what is now the New Hampshire-Vermont border made reports of a New Hampshire volcano violently erupting.
The inhabitants of Fort Dummer in Brattleboro, Vt. gave the story its greatest boost when they reported one night that they heard rumbling, the earth shook and flashes of light shot through the sky. It was so jarring that the people at the fort sent out an expedition the next day to scour mount Wantastiquet in New Hampshire – on the border between Hinsdale and Chesterfield.
Near the top, the searchers found an indentation and some strange rocks, which they took to be signs of an eruption.
The volcano next played part in what was apparently a scam carried out by a travelling con man working the area around 1774. He persuaded several residents that silver was to be found in the earth under the site of a volcanic eruption and for a fee he would instruct them where to dig.
After prolonged mining at the mountain’s top and at its base, the townspeople concluded that there was no silver to be had. The only thing that had been had was them. But the story of the volcano went unchallenged.
Daniel Jones Explores the New Hampshire Volcano
Daniel Jones, a lawyer, was asked to investigate the volcano in 1783 and report to his colleagues. He traveled to the mountain and reported back.
The Mountain is situated about twelve miles north of Massachusetts line, on the east side of, and adjoining the Connecticut-River, in the county of Cheshire, and State of New-Hampshire, and opposite the mouth of West-River, from which its name arises.
On the south side of the Mountain, about eighty rods from the summit, there has been an eruption,-perhaps not within the present, or last century. The peasants, in the neighborhood of the Mountain, discovered this place, and became possessed with the idea of gold dust being in the mountain, and that it melted down into a solid body by the extreme heat of the explosion of Mountain, at the time the eruption happened: in consequence of which, they went to work in search of the supposed treasure. After fruitless searches, they formed larger connections, entered into covenant with the proprietors of the land, and with one another, to make search for all kinds of mine and mineral.
Jones conclusion was that there had been some sort of explosion, but that it was not definitive evidence of a volcano.
Timothy Dwight and the Volcano/h3>
The volcano next crops up in Timothy Dwight’s Travel’s in New England and New York, published in 1821:
In a journey, which I took in 1798, I visited Hinsdale for the purpose of examining West River Mountain, reported many years since to have been in a very humble degree volcanic. A Mr. Butler of this town, to whom we were recommended for information, accompanied us to the spot. The mountain is in the Northern limit of the township; and terminates on the Connecticut in a bold bluff, from eight to nine hundred feet above low-water mark.
About one hundred and fifty feet from the summit, we found a pit, sixty or seventy feet deep, dug by the neighboring inhabitants, with the hope of finding some species of ore. We had no means of descending into it, and were enabled to examine it only in a very imperfect manner from the surface above. From our guide, and some other persons, whom we found at an inn, we received the following story. Twenty-three years before, the people of the neighborhood were alarmed by a loud noise, proceeding from this mountain, and resembling the sound of cannon.
A Mr. Barrett, who visited the place, found a hole, forced through the mountain by a blast, evidently as he thought the result of intestine fire. The hole was about six inches in diameter. A pine tree, which stood near it, was in a great measure covered by a black mineral substance, forced violently out of the passage, and consisting chiefly of melted and calcified iron-ore strongly resembling the scoriae of a blacksmith's forge. It was forced out in a state partially liquid; and driven with such violence against the tree, as not to be separated without difficulty. The tree stood several years afterwards; but was cut down, and carried away, before we visited the place. The same calcified, and vitrified, substances were, however, still adhering to the rocks and earth in several places; and could not be broken off without a violent effort. From the whole appearance it was completely evident that it was driven against the cliffs in the same liquid state.
The cliffs were of the common grey granite of this country; and exhibited no appearance of having been heated. At a little distance from the pit there was a large pile of calcified and vitrified ore. A quantity of yellow ochre, also, was dug out of the pit; a part of which coarse, mixed with other substances, and unfit for use, was still lying in the vicinity. Specimens of the ochre, and of the vitrified ore, I brought to the cabinet of Yale College. We saw a little below the pit, two holes; one circular, the other of an irregular figure; which I at first supposed to have been made by animals. A nearer inspection convinced me, that this was impossible, and that they must have been formed by a blast of air from the bowels of the mountain.
The Volcano Dies Out/h3>
Over the next several decades the New Hampshire volcano received publicity in newspapers throughout America.
It would be several decades before geologists would conclude that the New Hampshire volcano was not a volcano. Instead, they theorized, the sound that the residents heard was a rock slide, and in the darkness they mistook it for a volcano.
Over many years, the story of the volcano gained credibility through repetition until it could be thoroughly investigated.