The Great Meteor Shower of 1833…a religious event
My last blog was written on Sunday, October 21, when we saw an early morning meteor shower in progress. None of us were living when the really great meteor shower took place in 1833. It was so impressive that many found a new spiritual life or religious experience that night in their lives. Makes one think….does it take something this impressive to make people reach out for God?
The following is an interesting writing by a preacher who observed the 1833 event and an interview of a 100-year-old slave who tells about it in her own dialect:
First-hand account of 1833 Meteor Shower by Elder Samuel Rogers( Elder Samuel Rogers, an itinerant preacher and circuit rider from Antioch,
Virginia recorded this event in his autobiography.)
I at once sold my little farm in the neighborhood of Antioch, and, having disposed of what stock and stuff I could not take with me, on the 13th of November, 1833, I was ready to start upon the journey for our new home in the West. On the evening of the twelfth, many of our dear friends came into bid us adieu, and they remained until a very late hour, when, after a prayer, the most of them returned to their homes, a few remaining to see us off in the morning.
We had but little rest that night, for, before three o’clock in the morning, we were all aroused from our slumbers, making preparation for an early start. Some one, on looking out of the window, observed that it was almost broad daylight. “That can not be,” another answered, “For it is scarcely three o’clock.” “I can’t help what the clock says,” replied the first speaker, “my eyes can not deceive me; it is almost broad daylight –look for yourselves.”
After this little altercation, some one went to the door for the purpose of settling the question. Fortunately, there was not a cloud in the heavens; so by a glance, all was settled. I heard one of the children cry out, in a voice expressive of alarm: “Come to the door, father, the world is surely coming to an end.” Another exclaimed: “See! The whole heavens are on fire! All the stars are falling!” These cries brought us all into the open yard, to gaze upon the grandest and most beautiful scene my eyes have ever beheld. It did appear as if every star had left its moorings, and was drifting rapidly in a westerly direction, leaving behind a track of light which remained visible for several seconds.
Some of those wandering stars seemed as large as the full moon, or nearly so, and in some cases they appeared to dash at a rapid rate across the general course of the main body of meteors, leaving in their track a bluish light, which gathered into a thin cloud not unlike a puff of smoke from a tobacco-pipe. Some of the meteors were so bright that they were visible for some time after day had fairly dawned. Imagine large snowflakes drifting over your head, so near you that you can distinguish them, one from the other, and yet so thick in the air as to almost obscure the sky; then imagine each snowflake to be a meteor, leaving behind it a tail like a little comet; these meteors of all sizes, from that of a drop of water to that of a great star, having the size of the full moon in appearance: and you may then have some faint idea of this wonderful scene.
It must be remembered that, in the Western States, at that day, there was not much knowledge among the masses upon the subject of meteorology. No tome in a thousand could give any rational account of this wonderful phenomenon; so it will not appear strange that there was widespread alarm at this “star-shooting,” so called. Some really thought that the Judgment Day was at hand, and they fell on their knees in penitence, confessing all the sins of their past lives, and calling upon God to have mercy. On our journey we heard little talked of but the “falling of the stars.” All sorts of conjectures were made by all sorts of people, excepting there were but few, if any, wise conjectures, and very few wise people to make them along the way we traveled. Not a few thought it an evidence of God’s displeasure, and believed that fearful calamities would probably speedily follow. There were those who believed the Judgment Day was near at hand, and undertook to prove out of the Scriptures that this was one of the signs of the coming of the Son of Man. One old lady was emphatic in the statement that it was certainly a “token of some sign.” Statements made even by good-meaning people were often quite erroneous. Some men declared that they saw great balls of fire fall into the water, and heard the sizzling noise, like that made when a red-hot iron is thrown into a slake-tub. Others thought they saw these great balls of fire bursting among the tree-tops.
We may learn of this that, when men are in a high state of excitement, their testimony must be taken with many grains of allowance. I heard of a few who professed religion under the influence of these lights. In that day, for the sinner under conviction to be able to say that he had seen a light, whether he had heard a voice or not, furnished a ready passport into almost any church in the land. I suppose the reformation produced by these meteors was like the appearance of the meteors themselves — of very short duration. I have no faith in any repentance grounded upon objects of sense. The gospel only is the power of God unto salvation. Love to God and hatred for sin, only can work a permanent change in the life of a man; and nothing short of this can be trusted as permanent in its effects.
Sarah Gudger, Age 121
(Written in the dialect of her day and remembering the tragic event after the meteor shower. This caused many to be quite superstitious. )”I ‘membahs de time when mah mammy wah alive, I wah a small chile, afoah dey tuck huh t’ Rims Crick. All us chillens wah playin’ in de ya’d one night. Jes’ arunnin’ an’ aplayin’ lak chillun will. All a sudden mammy cum to de do’ all a’sited. “Cum in heah dis minnit,” she say. “Jes look up at what is ahappenin’,” and bless yo’ life, honey, da sta’s wah fallin’ jes’ lak rain.* Mammy wah tebble skeered, but we chillen wa’nt afeard, no, we wa’nt afeard. But mammy she say evah time a sta’ fall, somebuddy gonna die. Look lak lotta folks gonna die f’om de looks ob dem sta’s. Ebbathin’ wah jes’ as bright as day. Yo’ cudda pick a pin up. Yo’ know de sta’s don’ shine as bright as dey did back den. I wondah wy dey don’. Dey jes’ don’ shine as bright. Wa’nt long afoah dey took mah mammy away, and I wah lef’ alone.”
The Southern States of the United States of America is known as the Bible Belt. One may assume that when this great event happened in 1833 that those who knew the Holy Scriptures felt that they were seeing the beginning of a great prophecy. What exactly does the Bible say that would make them believe this?
“29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other..”
“13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.
14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
Even those who did not profess Christianity made note of the event in their writings and history:
The Indians of the Great Plains recorded the passage of time in various ways. A notch on a stick or a painted symbol reminded them of a single event such as “the spring with many berries” or the “winter with no snow.” Among the Sioux, the winter of 1833-1834 was described as the winter that “the stars fell.” One Sioux known as “Brown Hat” recorded the winter as the”Storm of Stars” winter.
Whether we are believers in the Holy Scriptures and prophecies of the things to come or simply an observer in history, it would be good to remember that many things are not in our control. Should we ever see such an event as 1833 meteor shower, we may be passionately ready to bend our knees to the One who is controlling it. Perhaps we should not wait that long.