June 1st marks the beginning of this year’s hurricane season, so I thought I’d look through the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina to see if I could find any descriptions of hurricanes in the 18th century. I found what can only have been a hurricane described in a letter from Alexander Stewart, Church of England missionary to North Carolina, to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London. Writing on 6 December 1769, Stewart describes a “most violent Gale of wind” that hit New Bern on 7 September 1769:
“The tide rose in a few hours at my house 12 feet higher than I ever before knew it, and the wind blew so violent nothing could stand before it: Every Vessel, Boat or Craft were drove up in the woods and all the large Oaks, Pines &ca, broke either off or torn up by the roots, Our Indian Corn (which was not quite ripe, and which is the common Bread of the country) was mostly destroyed and in many places together with the Cattle, Sheep, Hogs &ca washed quite away. But no place has suffered so much as this Town of Newbern, one entire Street, Houses, Store Houses, wharves &c., to the amount of near 20,000 pounds were destroyed and swept off together with several of the Inhabitants in a few hours time…”
Stewart goes on to describe the hurricane in more detail, including the injuries he suffered during the storm.