Although there were many complaints about the lack of summer in some years, our ancestors experienced a summer unlike anything known to recent generations. The severe weather during the year of 1816 has become known as “the year without a summer.”
The spring season that year was unusually cold, with the ground still frozen solid on May 15. Warm weather arrived with the month of June as temperatures rose into the 80s. On June 5, however, Keene was hit with a heavy frost, and the ground froze every night for the next week. Snow fell in the region on June 6, 7 and 11. 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 were forced to sell their livestock because there was not enough hay for feed.
Aug. 21 and 28 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.
The year without a summer was caused by a volcanic winter resulting from a massive eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies. The ensuing decrease in global temperatures caused major food shortages throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
Although 1817 brought a better growing season, our ancestors never forgot “the year without a summer.”