August 24, 1635: The Great Colonial Hurricane
The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 hit the Jamestown Settlement and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Scholars believe it was the first hurricanes to have struck the New England colony, occurring fifteen years after the founding of the Plymouth Colony. Although the hurricane’s exact track is unknown, several eyewitness accounts describe the storm.
First sighted on August 24, 1635, witnesses in the Jamestown Colony noted the massive storm as it grazed their colony, and moved rapidly to the northeast. Several days later, the hurricane made landfall near Narragansett, Rhode Island in the early morning, where it produced twenty-foot storm surges, toppled hundreds of trees, and destroyed homes. William Bradford, who lived in Plymouth Plantation, stated the hurricane “was such a mighty storm of wind and rain as none living in these parts, ever saw… It caused the sea to swell to the southward above 20 feet right up and down…” An estimated forty-six people died, including seventeen Native Americans, the storm swept into Narragansett Bay’s rising tides.
The storm arrived in Boston near midnight, blanketing the sea surrounding the region, and catching a small ship in its fury. Prior to the storm’s arrival, twenty-one Puritan settlers, including Anthony Thacher, his cousin Avery, their families, and friends, boarded a small ship in Ipswich, which was bound for Marblehead. It was a short journey, but the hurricane caught the ship near the city of Gloucester. The sailors attempted to drop anchor and ride out the storm. The anchor, however, was no match for the intensity of the hurricane’s winds and rough seas. The storm tossed the ship about until smashing it against the rocks of a small offshore island. The hurricane swept the sailors away, and Thacher and his family clung to the rocks as the remains of the ship washed into the ocean.
Thacher later wrote that he said to cousin, “I am willing and ready here to die with you and my poor children. God be merciful to us and receive us to himself!” The waves continued to pound at the desperate survivors, but the powerful swells ripped the families from the rocks and washed them into the sea. The current carried Thacher and his wife to the island, but no one else survived. The small island still bears the name “Thacher’s Island” in memory of the disaster.