27 August 2011

27 August - "The Most Dreadful Hurry Cane' of 1667

In 1667 (Old Style) (September 6th, New Style), "one of the most severe hurricanes ever to strike Virginia" struck with a vengeance.  "On the 27th of August there arose a hurricane which, for twenty-four hours, blew with unexampled fury. It began at the northeast and gradually moved around the north, until it roared directly from the west. It then veered to the southeast and there spent its force. This terrific wind was accompanied by a heavy rain, but there were no thunder and lightning. 

The great floods in the upper sections of the rivers were distinctly perceptible in the lower in spite of their width, and, to make the rise more destructive, the hurricane, in the beginning and at the end of its career, rolled the waters in the Bay and the mouths of the rivers back into the creeks, causing them to swell to such an unprecedented height that the families of many planters who did not reside in sight of a stream were compelled to seek refuge upon the tops of their houses in order to escape destruction.

Large vessels were swept over bars of sand where, at ordinary tide, a small boat would run aground, and at places where vessels could float at ease at the usual flood, the water was too shallow to keep them off the bottom. A vast quantity of Indian corn, not drowned in the rain which had been falling for forty-five days, was laid flat, the tobacco in the exposed places was torn to shreds, while that which had been cut and stored away was destroyed with the barns in which it had been deposited. 

The fences were either blown down or crushed out of shape by the falling trees, leaving the cattle at liberty to enter and devour the crops as they lay scattered over the fields. It was estimated that ten thousand houses were ruined by the hurricane, this number including, doubtless, barns and stables as well as the cabins of slaves and servants and the residences of planters. It was impossible for all of the crops to have been swept away, since much corn and tobacco were planted in spots more or less sheltered from winds by a heavy growth of forest. According to one calculation made at the time, the amount saved was about one-third only of the expected product according to another, only one-fifth.
Philip Alexander Bruce, Economic History of Virginia in the 17th Century, Volume 1, pp. 395-396 (1896)

Thomas Ludwell, secretary to Governor Sir William Berkeley, wrote to his boss's older brother, Lord Berkeley:
"This poor 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 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 falling 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."

Another report of the hurricane and its effects was published anonymously a decade later in a 1677 London pamphlet called "Strange News from Virginia":
"Sir having this opportunity, I cannot but acquaint you with the relation of a very strange tempest which hath been in these parts (with us called a hurricane) which had began August 27th  and continued with such violence, that it overturned many houses, burying in the ruines much goods and many people, beating to the ground such as were any wayes employed in the fields, blowing many cattle that were near the sea or rivers, into them., whereby unknown numbers have perished, to the great affliction of all people, few having escaped who have not suffered in their persons or estates, much corn was blown away, and great quantities of tobacco have been lost, to the great damage of many, and utter undoing of others. Neither did it end here, but the trees were torn up by the roots, and in many places whole woods blown down so that they cannot go from plantation to plantation. The sea (by the violence of the wind) swelled twelve feet above its usual height drowning the whole country before it, with many of the inhabitants, their cattle and goods, the rest being forced to save themselves in the mountains nearest adjoining, while they were forced to remain many days together in great want."