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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Total Solar Eclipses in 19th Century North America by Zina Abbott

Eclipses in its various forms from partial to angular to total are fairly rare occurrences, but have happened more often than we may realize. Many total eclipses took place all over the world from the North Pole to Antarctica, across all continents, and a great number of which would not have been observed unless people were on the right ship in the right section of isolated ocean. Here are a few that could have been seen by those in the North American continent during the 1800’s.

February 21, 1803 - The eclipse was visible in the Pacific Ocean and Central America. It appeared in its totality in Mexico.

June 16, 1806 - Totality was visible in a diagonal path across the United States and ended in North Africa.

It has been called Tecumseh's Eclipse after the Shawnee chief Tecumseh realized that the only hope for the various tribes in east and central North American was to join together. He was assisted by his brother, Temskwatawa, considered by his people to be a "prophet," who called for a rejection of the white ways and a return to traditional values. Tenskwatawa was ready for Tecumseh and had learned from explorers that a total Solar Eclipse was to occur. Using this knowledge, Tecumseh ordered the Great Spirit to release the sun.

José Joaquín de Ferrer, a Spanish astronomer, was part of the first solar eclipse expeditions. He journeyed to Cuba in 1803 to observe the total eclipse that year, and came to Kinderhook, New York in 1806 to observe the eclipse observed the both the 1803 and 1806 eclipses.from Kinderhook, New York. He was a Spanish Basque astronomer who he coined the word corona for the bright ring observable during a total eclipse. Ferrer also states, that during the total eclipse of 1806, the irregularities of the moon's surface were plainly discernible.

July 28, 1851 - This eclipse was visible in western and far northern Canada until it crossed Greenland and was seen in northern Europe. 

1851 First photograph of total solar eclipse- Royal Prussian Obseratory, Konigsberg
Prior to the eclipse of July 28, 1851, no properly exposed photograph of the solar corona had yet been produced. The Royal Prussian Observatory at Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia) commissioned one of the city's most skilled daguerreotypists, Johann Julius Friedrich Berkowski, to record a still image of the event. The observers attached a small six-centimeter refracting telescope to a 15.8 centimeter Fraunhofer heliometer, and Berkowski made an eighty-four second exposure shortly after the beginning of totality.

(Aug 29, 1867 - José J. Vergara and Luis Grosch observed the eclipse from a small hill close to Santiago)

August 7, 1869 - It path of totality was visible from eastern Russia, Alaska, across Canada, and the northeastern United States. A partial eclipse occurred across all of North America.

In 1869, astronomer and explorer George Davidson made a scientific trip to the Chilkat Valley of Alaska. He told the Chilkat Indians that he was especially anxious to observe a total eclipse of the sun that was predicted to occur the following day, August 7. This prediction was considered to have saved Davidson's expedition from an attack.

July 29, 1878 - This eclipse was visible at sunrise at a path across northeastern Asia and passed across Alaska, western Canada, and the United States from Montana through Texas. It then tracked across most of Cuba and southwestern Hispaniola before ending.

January 1, 1889 – This eclipse was visible across western United States, and central Canada. Partiality was visible across the northern Pacific ocean including Hawaii, and all of the United States.

As for today, August 21st, I am spending the next few minutes viewing the total eclipse. It will be only about 75% where I live, but still a memorable event to celebrate my birthday.

Today is the last day the Prairie Rose Publications Eclipse Day Party featuring many books at reduced prices. For more details, click HERE.


  1. Great information! I just peeked outside (with my eclipse glasses on, of course) and it's much cooler than I thought it would.

  2. This was a wonderful, in depth article about the different solar eclipses in the USA. I also appreciated the inclusion of the cultural responses to these events, especially Tecumseh asking for the "release of the sun." I also liked all the graphics you included.
    Well done.