Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635

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Great Colonial Hurricane
Category 4 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
FormedAugust 1635 (1635-08)
DissipatedAugust 25, 1635 (1635-08-26)
Highest winds1-minute sustained: 130 mph (215 km/h)
Lowest pressure≤ 930 mbar (hPa); 27.46 inHg
(Estimated [1])
Fatalities46+ direct
Areas affectedVirginia, Long Island, New England, other areas? (Information scarce)
Part of the 1635 Atlantic hurricane season

The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 was a severe hurricane which brushed Virginia and then passed over southeastern New England in August of that year. Accounts of the storm are very limited, but it was likely the most intense hurricane to hit New England since European colonization.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

The first recorded mention of the Great Colonial Hurricane was on August 24, 1635 at the Virginia Colony at Jamestown.[2] It affected Jamestown as a major hurricane, although no references can be found to damage, probably because the hurricane evidently moved past rapidly, well east of the settlement.

Governors John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony and William Bradford of Plymouth Colony recorded accounts of the Great Colonial Hurricane. Both describe high winds, 14 to 20 feet (4.3 to 6.1 m) storm surges along the south-facing coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and great destruction.[1]


Much of the area between Providence, Rhode Island and the Piscataqua River was damaged by the storm, and some damage was still noticeable 50 years later. Governor Bradford wrote that the storm drowned seventeen Indians and toppled or destroyed thousands of trees; many houses were also flattened.

The small barque Watch and Wait owned by a Mr. Isaac Allerton foundered in the storm off Cape Ann with 23 people aboard. The only survivors were Antony Thacher and his wife, who reached Thacher Island. Thacher later wrote an account of the shipwreck. John Greenleaf Whittier based his poem, The Swan Song of Parson Avery, on Thacher's account of the death of Father Joseph Avery in this wreck.

Postcard showing Antony Thacher's Monument.

In Narragansett Bay, the tide was 14 feet (4.3 m) above the ordinary tide and drowned eight Indians fleeing from their wigwams. The highest such recorded value for a New England Hurricane was a 22-foot (6.7 m) storm tide recorded in some areas. The town of Plymouth suffered severe damage with houses blown down. The wind cut great mile-long sections of complete blowdown in the woods near Plymouth and elsewhere in eastern Massachusetts.

It also destroyed Plymouth Colony's Aptucxet Trading Post (on the site of present-day Bourne, Massachusetts).

The Boston area did not suffer from the tide as did areas just to its south. The nearest surge swept over the low-lying tracts of Dorchester, ruining the farms and landscape (from the accounts of Bradford and Winthrop).

The ships James and Angel Gabriel, full of colonial settlers from England, had just anchored off the New England coast and were caught in the storm. The James survived but the Angel Gabriel was wrecked at Pemaquid, Maine. From the book, The Cogswells in America: "'The storm was frightful at Pemaquid, the wind blowing from the northeast, the tide rising to a very unusual height, in some places more than twenty feet right up and down; this was succeeded by another and unaccountable tidal wave still higher.' The Angel Gabriel became a total wreck, passengers, cattle, and goods were all cast upon the angry waves. Three or four passengers and one seaman perished, and there was the loss of cattle and much property."

Modern analysis[edit]

The Hurricane Research Division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory of NOAA has conducted a re-analysis project to re-examine the National Hurricane Center's data about historic hurricanes. In association with the project, Brian Jarvinen, formerly of NHC, used modern hurricane and storm surge computer models to recreate a storm consistent with contemporaneous accounts of the colonial hurricane.[1]

Jarvinen estimated that the storm was probably a Cape Verde-type hurricane considering its intensity, which took a track similar to the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 and Hurricane Edna of 1954. The storm's eye would have struck Long Island before moving between Boston and Plymouth. It would likely have been a Category 4 or 5 hurricane farther south in the Atlantic, and it was at least a strong Category 3 hurricane at landfall with 125 mph (201 km/h) sustained winds and a central pressure of 938 mbar (27.7 inHg) at the Long Island landfall and 939 mbar (27.7 inHg) at the mainland landfall. This would be the most intense known hurricane landfall north of Cape Fear, North Carolina if indeed accurate. Jarvinen noted that the colonial hurricane may have caused the highest storm surge along the east coast of the U.S. in recorded history: 20 feet (6.1 m) near the head of Narragansett Bay. He concluded that "this was probably the most intense hurricane in New England history."[1]

An erosional scarp in the western Gulf of Maine may be a trace of the Great Colonial Hurricane.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Jarvinen, Brian R. (2006). "Storm Tides in Twelve Tropical Cyclones (including Four Intense New England Hurricanes)" (PDF). Report for FEMA/National Hurricane Center.
  2. ^ Seventeenth Century Virginia Hurricanes
  3. ^ Buynevich, Ilya V.; FitzGerald, Duncan M. & Goble, Ronald J. (2007). "A 1500 yr record of North Atlantic storm activity based on optically dated relict beach scarps". Geology. 35 (6): 543–546. Bibcode:2007Geo....35..543B. doi:10.1130/G23636A.1.

Further reading[edit]

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