Great Chesapeake Bay Hurricane of 1769

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Great Chesapeake Bay Hurricane of 1769
Pressure[Data unknown/missing.] mbar (hPa)
Damage[Data unknown/missing.]
Areas affectedNorth Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware
Part of the 1769 Atlantic hurricane season

The Great Chesapeake Bay Hurricane of 1769 was a major hurricane to hit the mid-Atlantic coast from North Carolina north to New England on September 7–8, 1769. It is believed to have been one of the worst storms of the century.[1]

History of storm[edit]

Excerpt of report on the hurricane in The Virginia Gazette (September 14, 1769)

The storm likely made landfall near Brunswick Town in the southern part of North Carolina, where it destroyed the courthouse.[2] The storm caused significant damage in New Bern, North Carolina as tides rose 12 feet above normal.[3][4] Governor William Tryon of North Carolina speculated that a "a blazing Planet or star" that passed through the sky in August may have been the cause of the storm.[3] Though not the cause, of course, this may have been the Great Comet of 1769.

The damage in New Bern was significant and generated a number of reports detailing the value of lost goods. A report in the Pennsylvania Gazette estimated New Bern's losses at 40-50,000 pounds. Buildings that were destroyed included the destruction of the printing office of the North-Carolina Gazette, where the paper's type was buried in sand and had to be dug up.[4] The September 14 issue of The Virginia Gazette ran an early account of the storm which was republished in other colonies.[5][6][7][8]

The eye of the hurricane passed close to Williamsburg, Virginia. Many old houses in eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia were destroyed, particularly around Williamsburg, York, Hampton, and Norfolk due to 13 hours of high winds from the northeast to northwest. It caused widespread damage to the Stratford Hall plantation which belonged to the family of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee.[9][10]

The storm continued northeast along the Atlantic coast, gaining speed as it reached New England and Canada.[1] At Harvard, John Winthrop measured the barometer at 29.57" at 10:15pm on September 8, which suggests that the storm traveled from just east of Williamsburg to Boston in 12 hours, at an average speed of about 40 mph.[9]

In Maryland, writer David Healey has suggested that this hurricane was largely responsible for silting in the port at Charlestown, Maryland, which helped its competitor Baltimore become the premier regional port in the area.[11][12]

Storm title[edit]

The title "Great Chesapeake Bay Hurricane of 1769" is only one name for the storm, and perhaps one of recent origin.[13][10][14][15] Historian and meteorologist David M. Ludlum discusses the storm twice in his 1963 work Early American Huricanes 1492-1970. In the section addressing 18th century storms from Hatteras to the north, he refers to "The September Hurricane of 1769"; in the section discussing more southernly storms he titles the entry "The Eastern Carolina Hurricane of September 1769," but it is plain he is addressing the same storm in his treatment and only detailing the effects in different regions.[9]


  1. ^ a b Roth, David and Hugh Cobb. Eighteenth Century Virginia Hurricanes, Virginia Hurricane history, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Retrieved 8 February 2019
  2. ^ Hawwood, Marshall DeLancey. Governor William Tryon, and His Administration in the Province of North Carolina 1765-1771, p. 60 (1903)
  3. ^ a b Hand, Bill (31 July 2016). Awash in a hurricane’s wrath in 1769, New Bern Sun Journal
  4. ^ a b Powell, William S., ed. The correspondence of William Tryon and other selected papers, Volume II, 1768-1818, pp. 362-63 (1981)
  5. ^ (28 September 1769). Williamsburg, September 14, Pennsylvania Gazette
  6. ^ (14 September 1769). Williamsburg, September 14, The Virginia Gazette
  7. ^ (19 October 1769). Extract of a Letter from Newbern, in North-Carolina, September 24, Pennsylvania Gazette
  8. ^ Parramore, Tom. The Day Colonial New Bern Washed Away, The State, January 1979, Vol. 46, No. 8, p. 14-15, 23 (digital pages 16-17, 25)
  9. ^ a b c Ludlum, David M. Early American hurricanes 1492-1870, pp. 24-25, 48-49 (1963).
  10. ^ a b A Late Summer "Gust", Statford Hall website, Retrieved 8 February 2019
  11. ^ Healey, David. Great Storms of the Chesapeake, pp. 25-26 (2012)
  12. ^ Price, Imania (4 August 2015). Hurricane Preparedness for Maryland’s Historic Properties, Our History, Our Heritage: The Maryland Historical Trust Blog, Retrieved 12 February 2019"
  13. ^ Schwartz, Rick. Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States, pp. 41-43 (2007)
  14. ^ Beaman, Thomas E., Jr. and Jim McKee. To Describe the Horrors of this Hurricane Is Beyond the Art of My Pen: Archaeological Evidence of the September 1769 Hurricane That Blew North Carolinians Off Their Tar Heels, North Carolina Archaeology (October 2011), Vol. 60, pp. 90-115
  15. ^ Hudgins James E. Tropical Cyclones Affecting North Carolina Since 1586 - An Historical Perspective, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (October 2007), p. 5.