Maine

The 1762 Drought Troubles George Washington

The 1762 drought, one of the worst in New England history, stretched all the way to Virginia. It even prompted complaints from Mount Vernon.

The drought hit Eastern Massachusetts hardest, according to Sidney Perley, in his classic 1891 book Historic Storms of New England: Its Gales, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Showers With Thunder and Lightning.

George Washington, in a letter dated June 20, 1762, worried he wouldn’t harvest an ounce of tobacco.

We have had one of the most severe Droughts in these parts that ever was known and without a speedy Interposition of Providence (in sending us moderate and refreshing Rains to Molifie and soften the Earth) we shall not make one oz of Tobacco this year. Our Plants in spite of all our efforts to the contrary are just destroyed, and our grain is absolutely perishing, how it may be in other parts of the Country I can not postively [sic] say, yet I have heard much complaining.

1762 drought

The 1762 Drought

In New England, the weather didn’t warm up until late, and it barely rained at all. The wells went dry, the grass dried up, vegetation scorched.

On July 7, Falmouth (now Portland) held a fast and prayer meeting on account of the drought. But hardly anyone went because they had to put out the fires that broke out.

Throughout the region, farmers prayed to God to avert the dreadful evil. On July 24, a cloudburst with thunder and lightning brought relief to Dorchester, Mass. But only Dorchester (now part of Boston) got wet. The fires continued, the earth got drier and the vegetation died. By late July, farmers thought the crops would fail completely.

And then at the end of July, wrote Perley, “A bounteous rain gladdened the earth.” It rained again on August 13 and August 16. Three days later, a great rain fell on New England/ And from that time on people had no reason to complain about the drought.

The crops were skimpy, however, and hay was so scarce it sold for four times its normal price the next winter. Grain and hay had to be imported from England. Many farmers slaughtered their cows because they couldn’t afford the price of hay.

The Dry Year

Farmers’ diaries tell the story of the terrible summer when the earth turned to dust.

Jeremiah Weare of York, Maine, called it the “dry year.” He noted hay was very scarce and dear, about $16 to $20 a ton.

Thomas Smith, a farmer in Portland, Maine, described the drought as a “melancholy dry time.” ”All are now looking for an absolute famine,” he wrote.

For the next 19 days, Smith simply recorded the weather as fair. After the bounteous rain on August 19, he no longer lamented the “sore and amazing” drought.

In Danvers, Mass., it didn’t rain until September 22.

This story last updated in 2022.

 

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