Speaking of hurricanes, this is the anniversary of one of the worst in our history, though we don’t have much to go on in terms of hard facts.
It happened in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1667 – and no doubt in other places that weren’t actually places yet. The storm swept up from the Lesser Antilles, but instead of tracking up the coast – the normal route – it made a sharp turn midway and moved west.
Jamestown, a really poor choice for a settlement, was sited on Jamestown Island, a swampy sand bar just 40 miles from the Atlantic Ocean; its geography had been one of the factors that had made it so hard for the English to get a foothold in the new world.
Men of sense were already moving inland and in another thirty years Jamestown would lose its position as capital to Williamsburg.
Here, published in a London paper, is an eyewitness account:
“. . .this poore country is now reduced to a very miserable condition by a continental course of misfortune. On the 27th of August followed the most dreadful Hurry Cane that ever the Colony (Jamestown) groaned under. It lasted 24 hours, began at North East and went around northerly till it came to west and so it came to Southeast where it ceased. It was accompanied with a most violent rain but no thunder. The night of it was the most dismal time I ever knew or heard of, for the wind and rain raised so confused a noise, mixed with the continued cracks of failing houses…..The waves were impetuously beaten against the shores and by that violence forced and as it were crowded into all creeks, rivers and bays to that prodigious height that it hazarded the drowning of many people who lived not in sight of the rivers, yet were then forced to climb to the top of their houses to keep themselves above water.
“The waves carried all the foundations of the Fort at Point Comfort into the river and most of furnished and garrison with it…..but then morning came and the sun risen it would have comforted us after such a night, had it not lighted to us the ruins of our plantations, of which I think not one escaped. The nearest computation is at least 10,000 houses blown down, all the Indian grain laid flat on the ground, all the tobacco in the fields torn to pieces and most of that which was in the houses perished with them. The fences about the corn fields were either blown down or beaten to the ground by trees which fell upon them…”
It’s hard to believe that that many houses were destroyed since the estimated population of all the American colonies was just a little over 120,000, but no doubt it seemed like destruction on a major scale. While the sun may have shone briefly the morning after, other accounts describe another week and a half of heavy rain. Altogether a great shock to those reared in the gentler climate of England.
And for those struggling to survive – who really had very little – there was now even less.