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In Their Own Words

August 31, 1886

Reaction to Earthquake Recorded in Journal

On this day, the great Charleston Earthquake shook a large area of Georgia. Near Augusta, Gertrude Thomas witnessed the event, as she vividly recorded in her journal ten days later:

“… Just then a noise was heard right above my head as if a hundred rats might have been scampering. ‘Look out for the ceiling’ said Mr. Thomas, ‘run here,’ as he rushed into the bed room which is not plastered and exclaimed, ‘It is an earthquake.’ As that one horrible word, so portent with evil was uttered, as I glanced in his face, as I took in the meaning of the word some impulse prompted me to rush out into the front piazzi where I met Turner [her son] just escaping from the parlour. I do not think either of us uttered one word. Together we stood while the house shook and reeled like a drunken man, and still that awful, rushing, roaring sound is heard. I look, I see the piazzi sway to and fro (I seem to feel it now) and then as a man flies for his life I grasp Turner, and hand in hand we rush down the step and out into the front yard. I feel the earth sway to and fro. Oh God! the horror of the moment! Just then I expect the earth to heave and swallow us up. Has the day of judgement come? And as I sway with that awful, horrible motion, far away from the distant coloured church is heard the most pathetic, mournful wail I ever listened to. I looked up for one instant. I expected the heavens to fall. Just where that day the lovely clouds floated the stars now shone brightly. The sight steadied me thank God. Turner and I had separated. He looked toward the house expecting it to fall. I had just time to glance towards the sky when another shock came. I heard Mr. Thomas say ‘support your mother Turner.’ I felt my husband’s arms around me. I was conscious that I was falling. I was conscious of an intolerable pain in my back, and an awful nausea, and from that time through the successive shocks I was sick like unto death… .”

Source: Virginia Ingraham Burr (ed.), The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), p. 438.