I restrained myself from titling this “Party like it’s 1812”, so, for that you can be thankful… but since it’s Halloween week…
It should come as no surprise that I came upon this little piece of history about Nimrod Hughes… the man who offered a prediction of the end of the world… well, sorta… he projected that a third of mankind would be destroyed.
Though, by the time of his death, in October 1845, it had been thirty-three years since his failed prognostication, the Winchester Republican paid attention to word of his death… and put it in their paper. In turn, on October 10, 1845, the Spirit of Jefferson, in Charles Town, picked-up on the story (from which I transcribed what follows below).
While I can’t account for his impact on the central and southern reaches of the Shenandoah, it’s clear that he, with a little help from a follower of his predictions, helped to stir things up, in the lower Shenandoah, between Winchester and Martinsburg.
Destruction of the World
Many of our citizens doubtless remember the excitement produced hereabouts, as well as in some other portions of Virginia, by the Prophecy of Nimrod Hughes, that the world was to be destroyed on the 4th of June, 1812. An edition of the pamphlet was printed in the Martinsburg Gazette office, for an old man named Crawford, who peddled the Prophecy about, and in some instances met with rather a rough reception for frightening the women and children, and not a few of the men, also. When the dreaded day came, not a speck of cloud was to be seen, and Nimrod’s prediction had no other effect than to alarm the timid, and “put money in the purse” of some adventurers.
The following article from the Abingdon Virginians, gives some items of interest concerning Nimrod. Win. Rep.
THE LAST PROPHET.
NIMROD HUGHES, one of the most remarkable men, perhaps, of the age, died at his residence in this vicinity, on Thursday, the 4th ult., aged about 72 years. He was of obscure origin, grew to manhood in obscurity, and, like a passing meteor, he made on grand display, then relapsed back again to his native obscurity, and lived and died unhonored and unknown. His life, were its incidents known and collected, would form a curious scene of vicissitude, with here and there a green spot in the great desert of existence. Though not remarkable for any brilliancy of intellect or high moral attainments, he nevertheless possessed strong native sense, and too much tact and discretion to be understood or detected. He looked upon mankind as a cast herd, nearly equally divided into two great classes – knaves and fools – the first of whom were to be dealt with in their own coin, while the fears and superstitions of the latter were to be operated upon at the pleasure and to the advantage of those who might prey upon them.
It was upon the latter class he operated in 1811, by means of that prophecy which well-nigh turned some portions of the world topsy-turvy. We have an indistinct recollection of its effects – it was written in the most chaste and ingenious style, by another pen, but in the name of Nimrod Hughes. Its circulation was co-extensive almost with Christendom, and it was put into the hands of people of distant nations, and translated into their own language. Thousands upon thousands locked with fear and trembling for the awful consummation of his prediction, and we have seen a smile of triumph play upon the old man’s features, when he has declared he was instrumental in converting more sinners that year, than all the cap meetings in the land.
His prophecy had its origin thus: – A gentleman in his neighborhood, upon rising one morning, found his meat-house broken open and his bacon stolen. From previous threats of revenge for some imaginary grievance, suspicion fell upon Nimrod, who, in the absence of bail, was “shut up in durance vile” to await his trial. From some defect in the glorious uncertainties of the common law, his period of incarceration was protracted, during which, although finally acquitted, the plot was laid and accomplished which has stamped his name with immortality – the Prophecy of the Judgement in 1812. Like the letters of Junius, the name of the author was never discovered; and although Nimrod realized but little by his copy right, he shone with a borrowed light for a season, whilst others gathered the harvest.
Taken altogether, he was, as stated in the outset, a remarkable man – shrewd, discriminating and wary. As a land speculator, he had, at one time, but few equals, and became acquainted with every line and corner throughout this whole region of the country. Over many in his sphere, the ignorant and credulous, he exercised an extensive influence, and partially subsisted upon the effects of their superstition. Up to his last illness, which was of some two or three month’s continuance, he was as active, his eye as bright, and his step as elastic, as a many of forty. Although strictly temperate in his habits, and to all appearance enterprising and industrious, his pathway uniformly lay through the vale of adversity, and he at last died the tenant of a rude cabin in the midst of his native hills.
He is gathered to his fathers, alike insensible to earthly good or ill; and, if he could not boast the prowess of “Nimrod the mighty hunter,” he lived a chequered and eventful life, and has gone down to the grave, the last of the prophets.
For a glimpse at Hughes’ pamphlet, take a look here, courtesy of “Out of the Box” (the blog of the Archives of the Library of Virginia). Hughes also warranted a portion of a chapter (aptly titled “A Rogues’ Gallery“) in Doomsayers: Anglo-American Prophecy in the Age of Revolution.