1806 Lightning Strike - Hammock House

Earliest known photo (circa 1900) 
of the Hammock House, built in 1800
Six years after building the Hammock House, Samuel Leffers wrote the following description in a letter to his brother John Lefferts, Hempstead, New York - "sent by favor of Capt. Duncan" - August 13, 1806. It is interesting to imagine Mr. Leffers as he wrote this letter - sitting at his desk in what would later become known as the Hammock House; he referred to the house and acreage as "Spring Garden."
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Sunday morning the 10th, I passed my time at home, being somewhat indisposed, till about 12 o’clock when there come on a heavy shower of rain with some distant thunder. My wife was in a bedroom. Betsey Pugh and Sally Leffers were in the Kitchen and I happened to walk there and make a stand about 6 ft. from the fire place when I observed Betsey at the fire attending to a pot that was boiling. There I lost all sensation, occasioned by a body of lightning coming down the chimney which I cannot recollect seeing, feeling the stroke or hearing the thunder. Betsey was in a worse condition having received a more severe shock and having her feet badly scalded by the pots being over set. Sally was little hurt...My wife coming in frightened almost to distraction ordered Sally to run for help. It rained excessively and the nighest neighbor about 200 yards off and people mostly at Church as was Samuel.

The first thing I recollect was that I was lying on my back on the floor and several people around me raising my head. The circulation from my body downwards seemed totally suspended and my thighs & legs felt like solid masses of lead which I was totally unable to stir. I told the people my legs and feet were dead. They then stripped them and by chaffing and rubbing with camphor soon encouraged the circulation which proceeded gradually downward until the dead weight was in a measure removed and I could stir my feet. As the floor was covered with fire, ashes, soot, broken bricks and lime I was removed to another room. Here I discovered Betsey gasping for breath in the utmost agony, which was all the symptoms of life I could discover in her. The sight of this revived in me a heartfelt grief which I had not felt for myself. After some time I could begin to move my legs and feet.was washed and put to bed. Betsey was also put to bed in a much worse condition and my heart still melts when I recollect what my wife must have felt on this tragic occasion.

I proceed now to give you a short and imperfect account of some of the wonderful and incomprehensible properties of lightning.

The top of the chimney was broken to pieces and fell on the back of the house. As it was a [stack ??] in the middle of the house the rafters and roof kept the part that was confined standing, after which one side was burst off almost to the second floor. The lightning then proceeded down the fireplace where 2 trammels were hanging. The lightning then seems to have separated into a number of parts, one stream struck the jamb of the chimney, a solid wall of bricks about 12 inches thick and drilled a hole through which was not more than a quarter of an inch in diameter at the entrance and not so big as a goose quill on the other side. It then went through the floor took a shiver out of a ([...?...sleeper...] to the door which has a stairway of 3 steps one of the side pieces of which it split and followed to the ground, another stream entered the floor at the opposite end of the fireplace, took a shiver out of the underside of a plank running nearly at right angles with the first mentioned stream to another door and descended to the ground exactly in the manner of the first. Between these two streams we all three stood. Betsey received a violent stroke on the left side of her neck which proceeded down her breast inclining towards her side until it took her arm and proceeded in a spiral manner round her arm and ended in a point. The skin seemed seared and of a dark color. The streak in the widest part about an inch growing less toward each end. Altho` the wound itself is neither much sore or painful yet her whole body is disorder being sore and painful in every part. It is with difficulty she can swallow any kind of nourishment and she is still in a low state but we have good hopes of her recovery.


I now proceed to give an account of myself during this uncommon scene.

It has been long known that one property of lightning is that it is of as subtle a nature that will pass thro` a bar of solid iron without impeding its force or velocity. Another property of this inexplicable something I find is that when it meets a brick wall which it seems resists it subtlety, Though the stream is not bigger than a straw, it will bore its was though with equal velocity. I have reason to believe that a stream of this incompressible something passed though my clothing with out any visible mark and coincided with my body a little below my armpit .. glided down my side nearly to my hip, it then became forked...one stream continued its course in a pretty direct line down my thigh and leg and went off at my heel bursting my shoe behind. The other streak went down the right side of my belly directly to my watch...melted the silver on the edge of the case and left a black tarnish on the edge of the crystal without doing her any other damage. The skin in these streaks is of a deep red color in some places an inch wide and others less. In parts that are fleshy the skin was colored but not injured but in the bony parts, as down the side of my knee the skin seemed seared and was a dark color and some small blisters appeared. Under the crystal of my watch there still remains a very deep red spot, all this done without scorching a thread of my clothing, as I can perceive, altho` they have been washed. The streaks and blister are neither sore or painful and the smart of the whole is not more than what I have felt in one day from being sunburnt...