What really happened on the Revolutionary War's "Dark Day"

In the middle of the U.S. Revolutionary War, there came a day in New England when it seemed that the sun disappeared. Both sides thought that the world was ending. Now we know what actually happened.

May 19, 1780 was a nerve-wracking day for most of New England. They in the midst of an ongoing war, and were looking for signs as to how it would turn out. The sign they received was neither positive nor subtle. A few hours after dawn, the light turned yellowish, as if it were sunset. The skies dimmed, then darkened. People ate lunch by candlelight, and stumbled around the streets in complete darkness. Many proclaimed it the end of the world.

Fortunately for everyone, they were wrong about it being the end of the world, and fortunately for Americans it was not a sign. (Sorry Brits. Better luck next time.) Most experts agree that it was a cloud of some kind of ash - New Englanders reported ash residue and a burnt smell - but ash from what? There was no volcanic activity at the time. Its doubtful any area nearby was hit by a meteor.

A clue came in 1950, when a forest fire in Canada gave off clouds of smoke so dark that people thought that it was a solar eclipse or the beginning of nuclear winter. Recently, University of Missouri researchers found scarring on tree rings in Canada caused by massive wildfires that started roughly 230 years ago. The ash cloud must have drifted over New England and blotted out the sun. Or we are a cursed nation. You decide.

Image: Public Domain Images

Via University of Missouri, BBC.