Monadnock Moments No. 68: A Year Without a Summer

Although there were many complaints about the lack of summer in some years, our ancestors experienced a summer unknown to current generations.  The severe weather during the year of 1816 has become known as “the year without a summer.”
The spring season that year was cold, with the ground frozen solid on May 15.  Warm weather arrived with the month of June as temperatures rose into the 80s.  On June 5th, however, Keene was hit with a heavy frost, and ground froze every night for the next week.  Snow fell in the region on June 6th, 7th, and 11th.  Vegetable gardens were destroyed and had to be replanted. Corn and hay crops were endangered.
July brought little relief.  Frost was reported four days in succession during the first week of July, and again on the 9th and 17th.  In addition to the cold, the region experienced a drought from the end of June to the end of September.  Some people to the north were forced to sell their livestock because there was not enough hay for feed.
August 21st and 28th saw more frost descend upon Keene, ending all hope for the corn crop.  The corn in the fields was cut up for animal feed and the entire crop failed in Swanzey where the town subsisted on emergency supplies from other towns.
The summer ended with several more nights of frost in September.  Hay was almost nonexistent and trees were felled so that the livestock could feed on the leaves and branches.  Many cattle died before the winter passed.  Food and hay prices increased dramatically and passenger pigeons supplemented the sparse diets.  Although 1817 brought a normal summer season, our ancestors never forgot “the year without a summer.”