Former Town of Andover Historian

Article loaned by Mabel Halsey McCormick

Submitted by William A. Greene  2007


      Former Town of Andover Historian Margaret P. Wood compiled the following story in 1930 from old newspaper clipping she had.

      I have added a few extra notes and stories from the “Greene Genealogy”, “History of Town of Alfred, New York” by Cortez R. Clawson, and from “Allegany and Its People 1896” by W. A. Fergusson & Co., that pertain only to Allegany County.


      I’ll start with Margaret Wood’s story.


Old diary tells of snow and ice for an entire summer with crops all destroyed by frost - 1816


      A year in which there was no summer – the summer less year of 1816 when frost, snow and ice continued through June, July and August – is described in diaries kept almost 190 years ago.  To those who wonder whether the odd variety of climate now being served by the Weather man presages a summer as abnormal as the past winter has been, accounts of the weather of 1816 give warning, at least, that such is possible.

      The following account of summer less summer following a winter less winter is based upon a diary begun in 1810 and continued without break until 1840.  According to weather data for 1816, unusual weather was experienced that year throughout the northern and eastern parts of the United States.

      According to the ancient diary, January was so mild that most persons allowed their fires to go out and didn’t burn wood except for cooking.  There were a few cold days but they were very few.  Most of the time the air was warm and spring-like.  February was not cold.  Some days were colder than in January, but the weather was about the same.

      March from the first to the sixth was inclined to be windy.  It came in like a small lion and went out like a very innocent little sheep.

      April came in warm, but as the days grew longer, the air became colder, and by the first of May there was temperature like that of winter, with plenty of snow and ice.  In May the young buds were frozen dead, ice formed half an inch thick on ponds and rivers, corn was killed and the cornfields were planted again until it was too late to raise a crop.  When the last of May arrived in 1816 everything had been killed by the cold.

      June was the coldest month the roses ever experienced in this latitude.

      Planting and shivering were done together and the farmers who worked out their taxes on the country roads wore their overcoat and mittens.

      On June 17th there was a heavy fall of snow.  A Vermont farmer sent a flock of sheep to pasture the day before.  The morning of the 17th dawned with the thermometer below the freezing point.  At about nine o’clock in the morning, the owner of the sheep started out to look for his flock.  Before leaving home he turned to his wife and said jokingly:  “Better start after the neighbors soon, it’s the middle of June and I may get lost in the snow.”


      An hour after he had left home a terrific snowstorm came up.  The snow fell thick and fast, and as there was so much wind, the fleecy masses piled up.  Night came and the farmer had not been heard from.

      His wife became frightened and alarmed the neighborhood.  All the neighbors joined the searching party.  On the third day they found him.  He was lying in a hollow on the side of a hill with both feet frozen; he was half covered with snow, but alive.  Most of the sheep were alive.

      A farmer near Tweksbury in Vermont owned a large field of corn.  He built a fire every night, he and his men took turns in keeping up the fire and watching that the corn did not freeze.  The farmer was rewarded for his tireless labors by having the only crop in the region.

      July came with snow and ice as thick as window glass formed throughout New England, New York and some parts of the state of Pennsylvania.  Indian corn, which in some parts of the east struggled through May and June, gave up, froze and died.

      To the surprise of everybody, August was the worst of all.  Almost everything green in this country and Europe was blasted with frost.  Snow fell at Barnet, 30 miles from London, England, on August 30th.  Newspapers received from England stated that 1816 would be remembered by the existing generations as the year in which there was no summer.  Very little corn ripened in New England. There was great privation, and thousands of persons would have perished in the country had it not been for the abundance of fish and wild game.


      It was written in “Allegany and Its People”, 1816 was and is known as “the cold season.”  According to all accounts it was in deed a very cold one; frosts occurring in every month in the year, shortened the crops to a mere nothing, but the most pinching times came on the next year.

            The prospects were dreary when 1817 dawned.  In addition to the hard times, which closely succeeded the war, was the general shortage of the limited area of crops.  The condition of some of those settlers, who had no teams nor other means to get out to the older settlements for corn and wheat, before harvest became distressing if not alarming.  With some, leeks (wild onions) were a blessing being some degrees better than nothing as food.  Groundnuts and “putty root” also helped.  In cases of dire necessity potatoes that had been planted were dug up and eaten.  Ripening grain was eagerly watched, some of the earliest to ripen was harvested, cured as quickly as possible for threshing, placed in a large kettle over a fire and briskly stirred to get in a condition to grind, then hurried off to the nearest mill.  Some of the old settlers used to claim in all sincerity that the sweetest cakes and best bread they ever tasted, was made from flour thus prepared.


      The following was taken from the Alfred History book.

      The year 1816 is known as the “starving year:  of as one has called it “the year without a summer.”  The winter was unusually mild but snow fell and ice formed every month in the year.  Vegetation as a result, was mainly destroyed.  Great suffering and privation prevailed throughout the little hamlet of Alfred Centre.  Relying so largely upon the products of the soil for food, the killing frost of this year deprived the settlers of their main source of supply.  It was almost impossible to procure food of any kind and those who had larger supplies on hand generously shared with their less fortunate neighbors.  It is said that food was so scarce that had it not been for the help provided through the Land Office many would have died from starvation.  There are those living today in the vicinity of Alfred who remember very distinctly having heard accounts of how strong men, deprived of nourishing food, were so weakened that they were incapacitated for manual labor.  Mothers would place before their children the last morsel of food the little log cabin contained, and the would shed tears in contemplation of their dire necessity not knowing how nor from what source the next meal would be provided.

      The Hull family, of which Elder N. V. Hull was a member, suffered greatly the lack of food, and Elder Hull could not speak of those days without the tears coming to his eyes. The children who went to school were so weak that it was an effort to get around. One day some one gave the family a ham bone, from which the best part of the meat had been taken.  This the mother boiled, and cooked some dried peas in the water, and on their return from school, the children sat down to a feast.  The often spoke in later years of how GOOD this soup tasted.

      These were trying time for the pioneers.  It is hard for us living today, surrounded as we are by so many comforts, to appreciate the trying situations to which our forefather were exposed.  With their lives consecrated to a high purpose, through hardship and surroundings unknown today, they laid deep the foundations upon which later generations were to build.


      This is taken from the Greene Genealogy:  The years of 1816 – 17 were truly a time of famine.  While no one seems to have starved to death, hunger “stalked the land”, the Sabbatarians (Seventh-day Baptists), almost to a man, got hungrier and hungrier and thinner, to a point that it was said that “seven Sabbatarians could sit in a sap bucket”.  At least they didn’t lose entirely their sense of humor. Crops failed to come up, or to grow and wild life was scarce, as they didn’t have food either.  There were few if any Indians in the area, as the Indian power had been broken by Sullivan’s march across the Southern Tier during the last year of the Revolutionary War.  But the next year, things began to improve, and the “Starving Time” became but a bitter memory.