George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 24 July 1788]

Thursday 24th. Thermometer at 70 in the Morning—71 at Noon and 74 at Night—A very high No. Et. Wind all Night, which, this morning, being accompanied with Rain, became a hurricane—driving the Miniature Ship Federalist from her Moorings, and sinking her—blowing down some trees in the groves & about the houses—loosning the roots, & forcing many others to yield and dismantling most, in a greater or lesser degree of their Bows, & doing other and great mischief to the grain, grass &ca. & not a little to my Mill race. In aword it was violent and severe—more so than has happened for many years. About Noon the Wind suddenly shifted from No. Et. to So. Wt. and blew the remaining part of the day as violently from that quarter. The tide about this time rose near or quite 4 feet higher than it was ever known to do driving Boats &ca. into fields were no tide had ever been heard of before—And must it is to be apprehended have done infinite damage on their Wharves at Alexandria—Norfolk—Baltimore &ca.

At home all day.

The sudden shift in wind direction indicated the passing of the eye of the storm. GW’s apprehension about the damage done elsewhere was well founded. This hurricane ravaged Bermuda on 19 July, and after sinking many vessels on the North Carolina coast, it struck Norfolk about 5:00 P.M. on 23 July. There, according to a newspaper account, the storm “continued for 9 hours—wind at start from NE—at 0030 [hours] it suddenly shifted to S and blew a perfect hurricane—tearing up large trees by the roots, removing houses, throwing down chimneys, fences, etc., and laying the greatest part of the corn level. . . . Only two ships in Hampton Roads survived the gale” (Phila. Independent Gaz., 8 Aug. 1788, quoted in LUDLUM [2] description begins David M. Ludlum. Early American Hurricanes, 1492–1870. Boston, 1963. description ends , 30–31). At Alexandria the storm was reported to have “brought in the highest tide that was ever known in this river, and the damage done to Tobacco, Sugar, Salt, &c. in the Warehouses in this town, is computed at five thousand pounds. Several inhabitants on the wharves were obliged to retire to their chambers, and some were taken out of their houses in boats. . . . The damage in the country to the wheat, growing tobacco, Indian-corn, &c. is beyond description; and many planters and farmers, who flattered themselves with much greater crops than have been known for many years past, had their hopes blasted by the violence of the storm” (Md. Journal, 5 Aug. 1788). The center of the hurricane skirted Annapolis, causing little or no damage despite an unprecedented high tide (Md. Gaz., 31 July 1788). However, at Baltimore this evening “The Wind . . . blew with unabated Fury, (accompanied with heavy Rain) for upwards of Twelve Hours, which occasioned a most dreadful Inundation of the Sea, that deluged all the Wharves, Stores, and low Grounds near the Bason and at Fell’s Point, producing a Scene of Devastation and Horror not to be described. . . . Immense Quantities of Sugar, Rice, Salt, Dry Goods, and other valuable Merchandise, were entirely ruined” (Md. Journal, 25 July 1788). North of Baltimore the storm apparently diminished rapidly, possibly exhausting itself in the Appalachian Mountains to the northwest (LUDLUM [2] description begins David M. Ludlum. Early American Hurricanes, 1492–1870. Boston, 1963. description ends , 30–31).

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