History’s Darkest Year? Believe it or Not, It’s Not 2020!


A study set out to determine the darkest year ever. While we may assume it’d have to be 2020, that’s not the year they came up with!

For many people, between the coronavirus, the loss of loved ones, and financial woes made 2020 the darkest year. It may have been the worst year of their life time.

But how does this past year rank among the terrible years in history? Well, while many historians may agree it was bad, they don’t rank it at the top.

I imagine it’s hard to come up with a definitive list.

After all, some might say 2001, the year of the 9/11 attacks, should top the list. Others might say 2008, the year of the Great Recession hit them hard enough to qualify.

The year 1968 brought 12 months of unrest, including the ongoing Vietnam War, protests, and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. Some say the year 1963, with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, forever changed them.

You could say 1933, the year in which Adolf Hitler rose to power, could be a major contender. America didn’t have the greatest year in 1929, thanks to the start of The Great Depression.

The year 1919 brought us another pandemic, the Spanish Flu. After 2020, I’d automatically rank a pandemic year as lousy.

Some rank 1862 as “rock bottom.” They say that was the darkest year of the American Civil War. It outranks 1865, the year John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Why? One historian says it was the bloodiest year of the war and ended with the bleakest outlook. That year also included Antietam, with more than 2,000 Union deaths in the bloodiest single day of war in American history. People began to realize that this war between the states would not have a quick end.

Others list 1944, from World War II, as one of the worst. They cite that year as part of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed.

One survey placed 2020 in 8th place.

Ivy League and Oxbridge University professors said 2020 doesn’t even make the top five. They placed it eighth behind many of the years listed above.

One that ranks worse that I did not list was the year 1838, the year of the “Trail of Tears.” Between 1830 and 1850, the U.S. government forced approximately 100,000 Native Americans to move off their land. In 1838, about 15,000 Cherokee Indians were forced to relocate. Approximately 4,000 died during the journey.

The year of the Cuban Missle Crisis, 1962, also ranked higher than 2020. That year marked tremendous tension between the U.S. and Cuba.

Three other years might outrank 2020.

These years may not immediately come to mind. I can assure you, after all, that all three definitely were before your time.

Take 1520, for example. In that year, a smallpox pandemic wiped out up to 90% of the population in the Americas. Discover Magazine points out that European germ killed more Native Americans than any European weapon did.

We might also consider the year 1348. It was the height of yet another pandemic. In this case, the Bubonic Plague, also called “the Black Death,” killed up to 25 million people. That works out to be a third of the population of Europe.

But if you really want to consider a contender for the darkest year, you may want to buckle up for the final time jaunt. We’d travel all the way back to 536. That year, a volcano in Iceland erupted.

What’s so bad about that, you ask? It was a big eruption. Big enough, in fact, that the ash spewed from the volcano created an 18-month fog. Temperatures plummeted, crops failed and famine became widespread, Discover reported. And then re-enter another familiar character. The Bubonic plague also struck that year, wiping out up to half of the Roman Empire.

Plagues and pandemics certainly led the way in determining which years were the worst.

But as many problems as we may feel we experienced this year, when we compare it to some of these others, 2020 suddenly may not look quite as bad as we thought.

Still, we can hope 2021 will be an improvement. We certainly don’t need more bad news.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.