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"The Sun Shall be Darkened "
WE recall that in the vision of latter-day signs given to the prophet John, he saw the "great earthquake" followed by a sign in the heavens:
"The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood." Rev. 6: 12.
Of this event our Saviour spoke, in giving the signs of His second coming which were to begin to appear following the cutting short of the days of persecution. We repeat His words:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light." Matt. 24:29.
The Prophecy Fulfilled
True to the order of the prophecy, following the great earthquake of 1755 in Europe, there came, in America, the second sign of the approaching end, the wonderful darkening of the sun, known in history as "The Dark Day."
This sign appeared at the time indicated in the prophecy, "immediately after the tribulation of those days;" or as Mark has it, "in those days, after that tribulation." On May 19, 1780, the sun was darkened, and the following night the moon did not give her light. Whatever explanation men may have to offer as to the cause of the phenomenon, the fact remains that when the time of the prophecy came, the sign appeared.
The first volume of the "Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences," published in Boston in 1785, contains a paper entitled, "An Account of a Very Uncommon Darkness in the States of New England, May 19, 1780. By Samuel Williams, A. M., Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy in the University at Cambridge [Massachusetts]."
Of the extent, duration, and degree of darkness on that occasion, this scientific observer said:
"The extent of this darkness was very remarkable. . . . From the accounts that have been received, it seems to have extended all over the New England States. It was observed as far east as Falmouth [Portland, Maine]. To the westward, we hear of its reaching to the furthest parts of Connecticut, and Albany. To the southward, it was observed all along the seacoasts. And to the north as far as our settlements extend. . . .
"With regard to its duration, it continued in this place at least fourteen hours: but it is probable this was not exactly the same in different parts of the country. The appearance and effects were such as tended to make the prospect extremely dull and gloomy. Candles were lighted up in the houses; the birds having sung their evening songs, disappeared, and became silent; the fowls retired to roost; the cocks were crowing all around as at break of day; objects could not be distinguished but at a very little distance; and everything bore the appearance and gloom of night." (See pages 234-246.)
Whittier has commemorated it in the poem, "Abraham Davenport:"
"'Twas on a May day of the far old year
Seventeen hundred eighty, that there fell
"Birds ceased to sing, and all the barnyard fowls
Lowed, and looked homeward; bats on leathern wings
Men prayed, and women wept; all ears grew sharp
The black sky."
The words of the poet are substantiated by the plain prose of the dictionary maker. In the department explanatory of "Noted Names," Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (edition 1883) says:
"The Dark Day, May 19, 1780 so called on account of a remarkable darkness on that day extending over all New England. . . The obscuration began about ten o'clock in the morning, and continued till the middle of the next night, but with difference of degree and duration in different places. The true cause of this remarkable phenomenon is not known."
At the time, some explained the darkness as being due to smoke from forest fires, others to the exceptional rise of vapors and atmospheric dust in the warm spring following the melting of unusually heavy winter snows. But forest fires were not of extraordinary occurrence in these regions, and many a springtime since has seen the melting of heavy winter snows and the rise of vapors; yet May 19, 1780, still stands unique in the annals of modern times as "the dark day." However observers and writers disagreed as to the nature of the mantle of darkness that was drawn over New England that day, they were one in recognizing the extraordinary character of the event.
The facts are fully covered by the statement in the dictionary, "The true cause of this remarkable phenomenon is not known.”
What we do know is that the Saviour's prophecy declared, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light." And when the time for it came, the sign appeared.
Though the comparatively small-sized newspapers of the day were crowded with news of the progress of the Revolutionary War, then raging, no little space was given to reports and discussions of this remarkable darkening of the sun.
A correspondent of the Boston Gazette and Country Journal (of May 29, 1780) reported observations made at Ipswich Hamlet, Mass., "by several gentlemen of liberal education:"
"About eleven o'clock the darkness was such as to demand our attention, and put us upon making observations. At half past eleven, in a room with three windows, twenty-four panes each, all open toward the southeast and south, large print could not be read by persons of good eyes. "About twelve o'clock, the windows being still open, a candle cast a shade so well defined on the wall, as that profiles were taken with as much ease as they could have been in the night.
"About one o'clock a glint of light which had continued to this time in the east, shut in, and the darkness was greater than it had been for any time before. . . . We dined about two, the windows all open, and two candles burning on the table.
"In the time of the greatest darkness some of the . . . fowls went to their roost. Cocks crowed in answer to one another as they commonly do in the night. Woodcocks, which are night birds, whistled as they do only in the dark. Frogs peeped. In short, there was the appearance of midnight at noonday.
"About three o'clock the light in the west increased, the motion of the clouds [became] more quick, their color higher and more brassy than at any time before. There appeared to be quick flashes or coruscations, not unlike the aurora borealis. About half past four our company, which had passed an unexpected night very cheerfully together, broke up."
Of the night following, this gentleman (then at Salem) wrote:
"Perhaps it never was darker since the children of Israel left the house of bondage. This gross darkness held till about one o'clock, although the moon had fulled but the day before."
The Boston Independent Chronicle of June 8 quoted from Thomas's Massachusetts Spy:
"During the whole time a sickly, melancholy gloom overcast the face of nature. Nor was the darkness of the night less uncommon and terrifying than that of the day; notwithstanding there was almost a full