Mother Nature’s Fury: 10 Devastating Historical Hurricanes, 1502-1780
Mother Nature’s Fury: 10 Devastating Historical Hurricanes, 1502-1780

Mother Nature’s Fury: 10 Devastating Historical Hurricanes, 1502-1780

Gregory Gann - August 30, 2017

Mother Nature’s Fury: 10 Devastating Historical Hurricanes, 1502-1780
Areas affected by Great Hurricane (excluding Bermuda). Wikipedia

October 19, 1749: The Coastal Hurricane of 1749

On October 19, 1749, one of the most powerful hurricanes in recorded history smashed into the coast of Virginia. Although the exact size of the storm is unknown, residents in New York and Rhode Island recorded an immense uptick in local winds, and scholars suspect this system was a class four hurricane. Unlike most devastating Atlantic storms, this hurricane’s story ends on a positive note.

The storm made landfall throughout the Chesapeake Bay between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. Survivor’s recorded harrowing accounts of the storm’s intensity. A family in Williamsburg drowned when the furious rains unleashed a flood that washed their home away. Hampton residents wrote that water rose to four feet in the city streets, and described forests of uprooted, broken, trees. Waterfront buildings throughout the Bay area washed into the ocean when the sea rose fifteen feet.

James Barron, the future Commodore of the Virginia State Navy, recorded a detailed description of the storm’s fury, and an astonishing sight following its passage. Stationed at Fort George, Barron wrote, “One could hear the sand picked up by the wind from the beach outside and blasted against every object that still withstood the gale.” And, “Shortly afterwards the seawall lurched and sank at the point where it was exposed to the wave fury of the storm. Finally the outside wall of the fort gave way, and the filling of sand poured out, leaving the inner wall exposed to the blast without support.”

The storm passed before the fort disintegrated, and the following morning, Barron finally understood what raging winds of sand created. A massive sand spit rose out of the ocean, one built up by numerous storms throughout the years that followed, and is known today as the Willoughby Spit, a resort neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia.

Mother Nature’s Fury: 10 Devastating Historical Hurricanes, 1502-1780
Artist rendering of colonial hurricane destruction. Pinterest

Great Hurricane of 1752 and the Second Hurricane of 1752

If you’ve ever wondered whether the universe hates you, rest assured that you’re not alone. Everyone residing in Charleston throughout September of 1752 probably felt the same way. Of course, being ravaged by two hurricanes in the same month probably gives Charleston a stronger case.

September 14, 1752 – First Hurricane of 1752

On the evening of September 14, violent gusts of wind blew into Charleston, buffeting the city throughout the night. Residents claimed the dawn showed a ‘suddenly overcast’ sky, followed by drizzle, and then rain. The powerful gusts of wind strengthened until their ‘violence was so great that no person could stand against it without support.’ As mid-morning approached, the sea surged in through the bay ‘like a bore’, flooding the harbor area in moments, and smashing ships, sloops, and schooners into the homes along Bay Street.

Cattle and hogs drowned in the suddenly flooded streets, and the storm drove a nearly arrived ship across the bay, and into the marshes near James Island. Residents eventually dug a ‘channel a hundred yards long, thirty-five feet wide and six feet deep’ to drag the ship back into the sea. A wooden house on Sullivan’s Island was ‘carried six miles up the Cooper river.’ Witnesses stated the floodwaters reached ten feet above the harbor high-water mark as it poured into the surrounding homes.

September 30, 1752 – Second Hurricane of 1752

Two weeks later, the city’s rebuilding efforts steamed ahead. Residents cleared the wrecked ships, repaired homes, and struggled to overcome their losses. The storm’s chaos was fading, and order was taking shape in its wake. That, of course, is when the second hurricane roared through Charleston.

This hurricane was not as powerful as the first, but what the storm lacked in strength, it more than made up in speed. It raced through Charleston in only a few hours, ruining many of precious remaining crops, killing livestock, and smashing the Onslow County courthouse (along with its records) as it headed northward. This devastated the year’s already weakened harvest, and winter was fast approaching. Officials clamped down on exports, “corn, pease and small rice,” to ensure the city’s survival. The colony produced 82,000 barrels of rice in 1752, but following the dual hurricanes, the city’s records show that only 37,000 survived the storms.

Mother Nature’s Fury: 10 Devastating Historical Hurricanes, 1502-1780
Known tracks of the 1780 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Wikipedia

The Extraordinarily Destructive 1780 Hurricane Season

1780 is less about stories of death and survival and more about mother nature hating on humans. This is one of the most active, and destructive, hurricane seasons on record. Between the months of June and October, no less than five hurricanes made landfall throughout the United States and Caribbean islands.

June 13, 1780: St. Lucia Hurricane

On June 13, a hurricane swept over through the Caribbean, striking St. Lucia, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The storm caused “deaths and losses” in Puerto Rico, killing roughly 4,000 to 5,000 people, and an unknown number at St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic.

August 24, 1780: New Orleans Hurricane

In late August, a massive hurricane rolled over New Orleans, Louisiana. Boasting wind gusts estimated between 160 and 180 miles per hour, New Orleans resident Count de Lafrenière recorded that the storm destroyed nearly every building on Grand Isle, La., damaged the Crescent City, ruined crops, induced flooding, and spun off tornadoes. The storm killed at least twenty-five people.

October 1-3: Savanna-la-Mar Hurricane

This hurricane started off by sinking a British transport ship, the Monarch, killing several hundred Spanish prisoners and the ship’s crew, on its way to Jamaica. On October 3rd, the storm crashed into the Jamaican port Savanna-la-Mar, utterly destroying the city. Numerous witnesses gathered near the coast to watch the destruction, and they had a close-up view of the twenty-foot storm surge that swept in unexpectedly, engulfing the onlookers, docked ships, and many of the town’s buildings. In the nearby village Lucea, 400 people perished, with 360 more in the town of Montego Bay. The hurricane went on to ravage Cuba and the Bahamas, before heading out to sea. Estimates place the storm’s death toll around 1,100.

October 10, 1780: The San Calixto Hurricane

The storms of 1780 seemed to enjoy teaching humanity a lesson in humility, but none more so than the San Calixto Hurricane. Scholars suspect that its winds exceeded 200 mph as it passed over Barbados, Martinique, and St. Lucia, where it flattened nearly every building, and killed at least 19,500 people. The storm lashed at Puerto Rico’s coastlines, crossed over the eastern regions of the Dominican Republic, before it finally turned to the northeast, and into the middle of the Atlantic. Throughout the Lesser Antilles Islands, the total death toll is estimated at 27,500; the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record.

October 18-21: Solano’s Hurricane

Apparently, 1780 hurricanes hated European Naval fleets. Rough waves and storm surge decimated the British fleet at St. Lucia. Forty French ships capsized at Martinique during the San Calixto Hurricane. This hurricane, however, was equal opportunity and sought out a Spanish war fleet enroute to attack Pensacola. Commanded by José Solano, the fleet of sixty-four vessels was caught by a fast-moving storm from behind. The hurricane crossed over western Cuba, captured Solano’s fleet, and proceeded northward toward the Florida panhandle. Solano’s ships had 4,000 men aboard, but only 2,000 survived.

Advertisement