The Weston Meteorite

Judge Thomas Douglas, image from Florida Supreme Court

I just came across this interesting account of the Weston Meteorite, a rather famous extraterrestrial visitor to the early republic, in The Autobiography of Thomas Douglas, late Judge of the Supreme Court of Florida, published in 1856. Douglas grew up in Connecticut, relocated to Indiana, where he served as a judge at the age of twenty-five before he was even licensed to practice law, and then made his way to East Florida in 1826. Douglas was a young man of seventeen “lying wakeful and musing upon [his] situation” when the meteorite lit up the sky overhead. His memory of the event is a little suspect–the meteorite is supposed to have fallen early in the morning, rather than late at night, for example–but this sort of thing is usual in historical testimony and gives us a picture of the older man remembering his youth as much as it illustrates the event itself. Here’s the account:

“In the winter… one clear, beautiful, star-light night, I was lying wakeful and musing upon my situation, when I heard a tremendous roaring like distant, but heavy thunder, on the approach of a severe storm of wind and rain, and my room suddenly became so light that I could have seen a pin upon the floor. I called to my father, who was sleeping in an adjoining room, he rose and on looking out of the window told me it was a large meteor. This erratic visitor was traveling from northeast to southwest, and its immense size may be judged of from the fact that a gentleman, who standing in his yard at Westerly, in the State of New York, saw a piece fly off, which appeared but a spark, while the main body looked as large as a hogshead. This spark fell near where this gentleman was standing. He had it taken up, and found that its weight was about seventy pounds. It was afterwards sent to Yale College and analyzed by Professor Silliman, who found it composed principally of iron. Where this came from is a question which the wisest philosophers have not yet been able to determine.”

The Autobiography of Thomas Douglas, late Judge of the Supreme Court of Florida. New York: Calkins & Stiles, 1856: 24.
This fragment of the meteorite, housed in the Yale meteorite collection, “appeared but a spark, while the main body looked as large as a hogshead.” Image from Wikipedia.

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