This essay is about one of the most extraordinary natural events in early American history, the great “Dark Day” of May 19, 1780. On that morning a preternatural gloom settled upon the New England landscape, and by noon the sun had been all but blotted from the sky. Using accounts drawn from contemporary diaries, journals, newspapers, broadsides, and other sources, this essay reconstructs the events of the Dark Day and explores the manifold ways—from theological speculation to amateur scientific inquiry—in which New Englanders sought to explain and rationalize the sudden darkness.

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