Southern States Total Solar Eclipse on 24 June 1778


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Vol. 10 No. 3                                                                                                                       Fall 2014

On 24 June 1778, a combined American force of Col. Samuel Elbert’s Georgia Continentals, South Carolina Continentals commanded by Col. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, reinforced by South Carolina backcountry militiamen under Col. Andrew Williamson, and Georgia militiamen commanded by Gov. John Houston were gathering at the Satilla River preparing to make the third and final try to capture British East Florida.  On this day a total solar eclipse was experienced by much of central Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.  Many towns were within the path of totality, including: Augusta, Ninety Six, Orangeburg, Camden, Charlotte, Cross Creek (later Fayetteville), Salem (later Winston-Salem), Hillsborough, New Bern, Edenton, Norfolk, Va., and Williamsburg, Va.

1778-eclipse Total Solar Eclipse, Zone of Totality, 24 June 1778, NASA

Has anyone read an eyewitness account of this extraordinary event in Georgia and the Carolinas and how residents anticipated or reacted to it?  It could not have gone unnoticed since at about 10:00 am the sky became as dark as night, even if cloudy.  Duration was up to 5 minutes.  The only first-person account I’ve seen is that of British Lt. Frederick Mackenzie who was in Rhode Island, outside the totality zone.  Source: (Mackenzie, Frederick, “Diary of Frederick Mackenzie”, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1930, p. 303).  No doubt, totality was much more dramatic in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Bill Anderson     September 06, 2014

After searching every major book, past and present about NC as well as the NC Historical Review, I then turned to the papers of Pinckney, Pettigrew, Carter, and several other 18th century folks.  Just as I was about to hit the internet, it struck me that the one place we might find a contemporary account is in the Records of the Moravians in NC (RMNC).  Not only does it mention the total eclipse on June 24th, it also mentions one other solar eclipse which from the description sounds like partial one from Adelaide Fries, RMNC, Volume III, pg. 1237 it reads as follows:  1778

“June 24.  Beginning shortly before 9 o’clock in the morning there was an almost total eclipse of the sun.  At the peak of the eclipse the sun was under a cloud, and for some minutes it was necessary to light the candles, stars peeped out here and there, and no one can remember to have the like before.  The reapers returned from the field about 9 o’clock, and did not go out again until afternoon.”

An earlier entry dated 9 January 1777 from RMNC Vol. III, pg. 1137:

“Jan 9.  Soon after nine o’clock this morning there was an eclipse of the sun, and as the sky was clear it could be seen on the horizon.  The sun was more than three-quarters covered.”

Shelia Bumgarner, Librarian, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, 310 North Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC   

Search the on-line Revolutionary War pension applications.

Hershel Parker, California

I have made note of references to solar eclipses in the pension applications, then used online sources to determine the dates.  Here are the ones I have recorded.  There may have been others. If you give me the year I can look them up, or they can be found by Googling.

9 Jan 1777  Partial solar eclipse

24 June 1778  Total solar eclipse

C. Leon Harris, Vt. and Mt. Pleasant, SC


Searching the pension files for “eclipse” found 15 pension applications with definite references to the total solar eclipse of 24 June 1778.  A few descriptions were colorful enough to quote in a document.  That was all I wanted.  Of course, the eclipse had no significance on the war.  Searching the pension records was a terrific idea.  Although I have searched them many times before, that thought did not occur to me for the eclipse.  That is a testimony to the great value of these online pension applications. Kudos to Will Graves and Leon Harris for this wonderful archive.  A librarian in Charlotte who specializes in history found one reference to the eclipse from a Moravian settlement, probably Bethabara, now near Winston-Salem.  She searched many standard historical archives that a librarian would know.  It’s surprising and remarkable that the pension records have more references to the eclipse than any other category of archive.

Bill Anderson, Charlotte, NC