The Dark Day, also known as the New England Dark Day, refers to an event that occurred on May 19, 1780, when the skies over New England and parts of Canada became very dark despite it being daytime.
The main cause for this may have been a combination of smoke from forest fires, thick fog and overcast skies. The darkness was so great that it was necessary to use candles during the day. The phenomenon did not disperse until halfway through the following night.
According to Professor Samuel Williams of Harvard College, the darkness was seen at least between Portland, Maine to the north and New Jersey to the south, but not in Pennsylvania.
The first report of the darkness came from Rupert, New York, where the sun was already covered by sunrise. Professor Samuel Williams observed from Cambridge, Massachusetts, “This extraordinary darkness came between 10 am and 11 am and continued until the middle of the next night.”
Reverend Ebenezer Parkham of Westborough, Massachusetts, reported that the peak of darkness occurred “around noon” but did not record the time it arrived.
At Harvard College, darkness was recorded as having arrived at 10:30 am, peaking at 12:45 pm, and decaying at 1:10 pm, although remaining for the rest of the day. Darkness was reported to have reached Barnstable, Massachusetts at around 2pm, with the peak occurring at 5:30pm.
At 2 pm in Ipswich, Massachusetts, roosters crowed, woodcocks whistled and frogs croaked as if night had come. One witness reported that a strong sooty smell lingered in the atmosphere, and that rainwater had a film over it that was made up of particles of burnt leaves and ash.
Contemporary reports have also indicated that ash and volcanic dust fell in parts of the New Hemisphere to the point of accumulating a six-inch layer.
Other atmospheric phenomena
For many days before Dark Day, the sun seen in New England was reddish in color, while the sky appeared yellow. While darkness was present, soot was observed being collected from rivers and in rainwater, suggesting the presence of smoke. Also, when night came, observers saw the moon dyed red. For parts of New England, the morning of May 19 was characterized by rain, indicating that the sky was overcast.
Many people interpreted the day as some kind of divine manifestation.
In Connecticut, a member of the legislature, Abraham Davenport, gave the following response to his colleagues as he saw them express fears that this was Judgment Day:
“I am against delays. The day of judgment is either approaching or it is not. If not, there is no reason to delay. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles should be brought.”
Abraham’s courage was celebrated in the poem “Abraham Davenport” by John Greenleaf Whittier.
Today, some Christians, especially those among Seventh-day Adventists, believe that the Dark Day was the fulfillment of biblical and apocalyptic prophecies.
They quote the passage “…Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken…” (Matthew 24:29 are signs preceding the return of Christ) and interpretations of the event as cited by Ellen G.White.
See also Revelation 6:12–13 “…and there was a great earthquake. The sun turned black as burlap made of fur, and the entire moon turned to blood. The stars of heaven fell to earth, like a fig tree dropping its green fingers when it is shaken by a strong wind.”
A Seventh-day Adventist, Arthur Maxwell, even mentions this event in his series The Bible Story (Vol. 10). Some Progressive Adventism scholars do not interpret this as a sign that Jesus will soon return.
Conservative and Traditional Historical Adventists, who cherish the writings of Ellen White, still consider that date as one of the fulfillments of biblical prophecies.
The likely cause of the darkness was smoke from large forest fires. When fire fails to kill a tree and it continues to grow, there are scars that remain on its growth rings.
Studying tree rings in Ontario, Canada, researchers attributed the Dark Day to a massive fire in the area now occupied by Algonquin Provincial Park.