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1 March 2017 The Great Snow of 1717: Settler Landscapes, Deep Snow Cover, and Winter's Environmental History
Thomas Wickman
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This essay explores how New England settlers documented and interpreted the Great Snow of 1717, a series of 4 snowstorms over 11 days followed by 6 weeks of deep snow cover. The Great Snow is the best-known snow event from the colonial period, and it has been extensively studied by historians of meteorology; however, it has received less attention from environmental historians. This paper relies on numerous unpublished almanac diaries, diaries, and letters; newspaper reports and sermons; and the well-known accounts by John Winthrop and Cotton Mather. Together, these writings from throughout New England show how colonists shared insights about the formation of snow cover and snowdrifts in urban, coastal, and agricultural settings. The documents reveal patterns of winterkill and survival in a landscape that had been altered profoundly by English colonists. Colonists' descriptions of local devastation implied ambivalence about the idea of improving the landscape and suggested that early 18th-century writers increasingly approached deep snow cover as something they would have to live with and understand. Several consecutive decades of severe winter weather, the recent adoption of snowshoes by English colonists, the founding of the Boston News-Letter, a fragile peace after the 3rd Anglo—Wabanaki War (1703–1713), and the innovative adaptation of religious forms to the study of winter landscapes all contributed to a more sustained discussion of deep snow cover in 1716–1717 than ever before. Some popular writers have trivialized the Great Snow of 1717, imagining it apolitically and even ahistorically; this essay restores the broader political, historical, and environmental contexts for this iconic winter event.

Thomas Wickman "The Great Snow of 1717: Settler Landscapes, Deep Snow Cover, and Winter's Environmental History," Northeastern Naturalist 24(sp7), (1 March 2017).
Published: 1 March 2017
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