Recording Weather Observations
Madison Barracks

Sackets Harbor

On Sunday morning, March 26th, 1820, Dr. Wheaton, the Medical Officer for the United States Army 6th Infantry, noted in his diary that the skies were clear and the weather was beautiful.  He made his observation because he was following the orders that he had received from Dr. Joseph Lovell, the United States Surgeon General in Washington, D.C.


On that same morning, a 14-year-old boy went into the woods to pray. The teenager would remember the lovely weather for the rest of his life.  It was indeed a clear and beautiful morning.


Starting on the first of January of that year, Dr. Lovell had commanded medical officers at 16 military posts around the country to record each day meteorological observations -- one at 7:00 a.m., another at 2 p.m., and a third at 6:00 p.m.  As part of their observations, the officers used standardized Fahrenheit mercury thermometers.

EARLY SPRING 1820 WEATHER RECORDS

TABLE

MILITARY WEATHER OBSERVATIONS AT MADISON BARRACKS

DR. WHEATON, MEDICAL OFFICER OF 6TH UNITED STATES INFANTRY, SACKETS HARBOR, NEW YORK

REPORT SENT TO DR. JOSEPH LOVELL, SURGEON GENERAL OF UNITED STATES ARMY, WASHINGTON, D.C.

FROM WEDNESDAY, MARCH 1, 1820 TO SATURDAY, APRIL 15, 1820


There are hundreds of data points in the weather record for upstate New York in the early spring of 1820.  This was the first time in history when there are weather records with so many details. The Smith Family that spring produced 1,000 pounds of maple sugar. The production of maple sugar is very dependent on temperatures. Look at the facts and then ask specific questions as they relate to the facts. These facts are sufficient to ask specific questions and to get specific answers for any day in the period of 45 days to discover the date that satifies the weather conditions for the First Vision.


The table has specific data (a) temperatures, (b) sky conditions, and (c) wind directions that are observed at (d) 7:00 am, (e) 2:00 pm, and (f) 6:00 pm for each day over the 45-day early spring period. That gives us 45 x 6 = 270 observable events or data points in the weather record. The table does not use nor rely on temperature averages. The weather report in the 1820 newspaper specifically mentions the hottest day for the month of March 1820 as Sunday, March 26th, 1820. This date is a confirmation in the newspaper of the handwritten document that Dr. Wheaton sent to Dr. Lovell.  It is possible to get a copy for yourself of these weather records by contacting the US National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Original Hand Written Weather Record for March 1820

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Weather Record Kept by Dr. Wheaton, Medical Officer for the US Army 6th Infantry

This is a microfilm copy of the weather records for March 1820, Madison Barracks, Sackets Harbor, New York and is taken from the United States National Archives, Microfilm T907-358, New York Reel No. 1-152.


The weather for the day of the First Vision is identified in the microfilm with a red box.


Dr. Wheaton recorded the highest monthly temperatures in the Early Spring of 1820 for Sunday, March 26th, 1820.  He also noted that the skies for that day were clear.  This day is by far the most beautiful day in upstate New York for the 45-day period of Early Spring 1820.


Dr. Wheaton's record became part of a collection of tens of thousands of weather observations made by medical officers from 16 military posts from around the country.  Starting on January 1st, 1820, the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Lovell, in Washington, D.C. had commanded the keeping of these records.


This report became part of the world's first systematic collection of national weather.  The date for the First Vision also found itself published in a national newspaper as the hottest day for March 1820 in Sackets Harbor, New York.


As a matter of fact, the first weather report ever published in the history of the world has the date of the First Vision.  This report was printed in the National Intelligencer, July 27th, 1820, Washington, D.C.

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Morning Temperatures Early Spring 1820

 

The above chart shows 7:00 a.m. weather conditions at Madison Barracks, Sackets Harbor, New York from March 1st to April 15th, 1820.


Yellow bars show clear skies.  Gray bars show overcast skies.


Sunday, March 26th, 1820 is the warmest and clearest morning for the 45-day period.

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Regency Period Cased Mercury Fahrenheit Thermometer by Thomas Rubergall

The early 19th century thermometer in the above  photo was constructed from a single piece of engraved bone or ivory with the mercury tube affixed and housed in its original red leather case with velvet interior. It was complete with catches and suspension ring.

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Work When the Sap Runs - Rest When the Sap Stops

  • There is nothing in the weather record for early spring that compares to the rising temperatures and clear mornings from Friday, March 24th to Sunday, March 26th. I have asked a dozen New England sugar makers to analyze the significance of these temperature changes as it would have related to the making  of sugar. These sugarmakers and their ancestors have watched the flow of maple sap for four hundred years since the time when Europeans learned how to make maple sugar from the Indians. All these sugar makers agree that Sunday, March 26th, would have absolutely been a day when the sap would stop and the Smith Family would rest.
  • If you like, go to New England during sugar time and talk to the people who are tapping millions of trees. All of them only make sugar when the sap runs. The sap runs because of the pump-action of positive and negative pressures from the dissolution rate of carbon dioxide gas in the cells that comes from the seesawing of temperatures between freezing and thawing. Let these sugar makers look at the weather chart and ask them to identify the clear morning during the 45-day period of early spring when the Smith Family would stop their sugar production and would take a day to rest. They will all tell you that it was Sunday, March 26th, 1820.
  • On that clear Sunday morning, Joseph Smith was freed from chopping and carrying wood for the boiling fires.  He was freed from carrying sap in wood buckets from taps in the grove to the cast iron cauldrons that were boiling over trench fires.
  • The morning was the Lord's Day, the Sabbath. On that morning he went alone to the woods to pray.


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america's largest Military Post in early spring 1820

Madison Barracks - Sackets Harbor - Lake Ontario

After the War of 1812, Madison Barracks was the largest military post in the United States.  The forces protected the country's northern border against British aggression.  At the time of the First Vision, there were 15,100 men in the United States Armed Forces and no other place in the country had more men in uniform than at Sackets Harbor.  As a matter of fact, at no other time in America's military history have commanders put such a high percentage of their forces into one place as in Sackets Harbor at this time. In the early 19th century Sackets Harbor had 1,500 canons, and one-third of all the vessels of the United States Navy.


All these military forces were in place to ensure that even a ploughboy in the newly formed nation would have the promised rights of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.


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