Until the gale of 1821, the gale of 1815 was the most powerful remembered in early-nineteenth-century New England. With good reason, given the details reprinted from various newspapers a week later in the Connecticut Mirror. The storm appears to have come ashore around New York and made its way across New England, damaging buildings and ships and drowning dozens. Destruction of orchards and fields by wind-blown salt water was pervasive.

Today’s hurricanes are granted the dignity of front-page coverage. Not so in 1815, when the front page was studded with advertisements and unmemorable poetry; and when the descriptions of calamity were treated as local news and sprinkled with paragraphs on other subjects: a huge shark, a husband’s attempt on his wife’s life, a local robbery. It was, all in all, a very busy weekend.

Students of the history of American English should note that in 1815 the plural of “chimney” was “chimnies”; by 1821, “chimneys” seems to have been becoming a preferred spelling.


http://www.merrycoz.org/voices/GALE15.xhtml
The gale of September 22-23, 1815 (from the Connecticut Mirror, October 2, 1815; pp. 2-3)

-----
col 3

Boston, September 25.

EQUINOCTIAL GALE.

A storm of rain from the North-East commenced on Friday. Through the day it was moderate, but at night the rain increased and the wind became somewhat violent. During the night however, it considerably abated.

On Saturday morning the storm renewed its violence, the wind blowing with accumulating severity from the East until near eleven o’clock. At this time the wind shifted to the South-East, but still increased in violence until about twelve-o’clock, when it began to abate, and between one and two o’clock it again shifted to the South-West. At two o’clock, all danger from the wind was over, and at the close of the afternoon it had entirely subdued. About twelve o’clock, more than two h[o]urs before the calendar time for high water, when the gale from the North-East was at its height the tide was very high, but after the changing of the wind it did fortunately did not continue to rise, but the force of the wind compelled it to subside earlier than the natural period. In consequence, the damage to the shipping at the wharves was much less than at one time was apprehended.

Heavy damage has been sustained in this vicinity from the violence of the wind, the most considerable of which, on a pecuniary estimate, has fallen upon the shipping. The whole loss, however, is much less, than from the severity of the gale might have reasonably apprehended. We know of no instance in which it is so severe as to occasion any great distress.

The only building entirely demolished, is the Glass-House. It was a huge, rickety, wooden building, and was considered so unsafe, that it was early deserted by the work-men. It blew down about eleven o’clock, immediately took fire, and was entirely consumed. Notwithstanding the violence of the wind at that time, which excited just apprehensions for the safety of the town, such were the exertions used to repress the flames, aided by the spray of the sea which kept every thing wet to a great distance from the shore, that the neighbouring buildings were preserved.

——
Further of the Tempest.

Before we proceed in our narrative we must remark that the hour of alarm is not the most favourable for accuracy of description:—And assures the friends of the town at a distance that our damage, notwithstanding the severity of the gale, has not been as great as they appear in the microscopic descriptions circulated:—And that, although the windward parts of the town, and those in exposed situations such as Mount Vernon, the Neck, &c. suffered material damage, two thirds, if not three quarters of the buildings did not sustain a dollar’s loss each. The damages experienced by the shipping, are particularized; but most of the sunken vessels were soon after raised; and in many instances the exertions of our active mast-makers, riggers, sail-makers and carpenters will speedily repair all the damages.

The Public Buildings, though much exposed and for which great anxiety was expressed, did not sustain material injuries. One of the high arches of the tower of the Meeting-House in Hollis-street, sprung and hazarded the fall of the steeple; but it stood, and may probably be repaired without being taken down. The Third Baptist, Park-street, and Old South Meeting-House; the Church in Summer-street, the Chapel, and some at the North-end, lost many panes of glass, had the leads removed from their ridges and edges, and some of their Venetian blinds destroyed. The roofs of a few buildings were removed or blown off; others were unslated—fragments from which occasioned most of the destruction of the window glass. About sixty chimney tops were blown down; as were a number of turrets, (principally so old as to have become nuisances) battlements, &c.

Three or four of the small chimnies of the State-House were thrown down; and much of the slating torn up.

On land, the most impressive scene was exhibited in the Common and vicinity. About twenty of the stately trees which form the Mall, and skirted the Common, were torn up by their roots and prostrated, carrying the fences with them; and five of the Elms which form what is called Paddock’s Walk, in front of the Granary burial-ground, shared the same fate. The overthrow of these trees is perhaps one of the strongest proofs of the fury of the tempest.—We measured two of the Mall trees, an elm, and a sycamore, and found one of them measured seven feet eleven inches in girth, six feet from the root; the smallest seven feet five inches; and those in Paddock’s walk average seven feet ten inches each. On Monday we noticed that the Police had employed persons to raise and replant these trees; and there is a prospect they will yet be preserved to our favorite promenade.

[Here follows a long and particular account of the damage done to the shipping, which we have not room to insert.] [Transcriber’s note: brackets original]

——

In Charlestown the Congregational and Universalist places of worship suffered serious injuries; as did some of the buildings. A few chimney tops were blown of[f]; and the bridge was damaged by the vessels which drifted against it.

-----
col 4

The Marine Hospital lost some chimnies, and all the fences of this interesting asylum were levelled. The buildings in the Navy yard did not escape.

We have numerous reports from towns in Norfolk, Middlesex, Essex, Worcester, Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, and Hampshire counties which would fill columns in the recital of small details. In most instances the destruction was very equally felt; in the partial injury of meeting-houses (but that in Abington was wholly destroyed; and those in S. Reading and Wareham lost their steeples); dwellings; the demolition of chimnies, barns, and out-buildings; and the prostration of many fruit, forest and ornamental trees.—All the fruit was shaken off, but being mostly unripe, may be made into cider.—Very few of the apples for winter can be preserved. In all places in the leeward of salt water, the pastures have been ruined by the salt spray; and the whole of the standing trees and vegetables so blighted and changed as to exhibit the prospect of destruction by fire and smoke.

In some places, however, the distress was peculiar:—In Cambridgeport several inhabited dwelling-houses (three of them owned by John Mycall, Esq.) were demolished. Most of the other buildings were injured; and the danger was so imminent that many people fled to the fields for safety.

In Dorchester, the devastation was unparalleled, since its settlement. Seventeen houses were unroofed; sixty chimnies blown over; about forty barns unroofed and demolished; upwards of 5000 fruit and forest trees were prostrated; the South Meeting-House partly unroofed, and the North Meeting-House much injured.

——
ON THE SEABOARD.

From the Cape Towns we have no accounts of any severe damage, excepting at Sandwich.

In New-Bedford all the vessels in port, save two were driven ashore, and some were beaten to pieces.—One ship was left on a wharf, and another on one of the islands. All the warehouses on the lower wharves were swept off; many houses injured; and we lament to learn, that four men and one woman perished. The tide rose many feet higher than usual.

In Chelsea, the great elm tree, seventeen feet in girth, near the ferry, which had a portico built upon its limbs capable of holding 30 persons, was blown down.

In Marblehead, about 14 vessels were on shore, and some bilged. A schooner with fish was said to have foundered at her anchor. A James Merritt was killed in the alms-house, by the fall of a chimney.

In Gloucester, Gunboat No. 77, was bilged; and schooners New-Packet, Washington, and Patty cast on shore, and bilged; and several buildings blown down.

In Danvers the storm was violent, but not greatly destructive. Majestic oaks, which had braved the tempest an hundred years, were thrown down; and the venerable Pear Tree, imported and transplanted by Gov. Endicott, A. D. 1630, though not prostrated, was shorn of about half its branches.

The spray of the salt water reached Andover; giving every thing it descended upon, a saltish taste; and blighting every fibre of vegetation.

In Salem but little damage was experienced. All the vessels are safe. Some ornamental trees and sheds were overturned; and about a dozen chimnies blown down;—one of which was attended with hazard, as it fell directly over a room from which a school had just been let out, and went quite through into the cellar.

In Newburyport many chimnies, trees, &c. were blown down; but little damage sustained by the shipping.

In Portland, Kennebunk, Saco, &c. very little damage was close.

In Portsmouth, the gale is mentioned as being uncommonly severe, and some barns, &c. were blown down; but the Gazette of Monday does not mention any damage to the shipping.

—+—

Providence, September 26.

AWFUL STORM.

A storm of rain from the N. E. commenced on Friday last, and continued with little intermission till Saturday morning, when the wind was from the East. Between 8 and 9, however, it shifted to the S. E. and continued to blow with increasing violence till half past eleven, when suddenly changing to the West, the progress of the calamity we now deplore was happily staid. The tide rose to an unprecedented and terrifying height, (12 feet higher than spring tides) and inundated the streets in various parts of the town. It extended in Westminster-street a considerable distance beyond the Theatre. The lives of many families, particularly on the west wide, were in imminent danger. Consternation and dismay were depicted in every countenance—all were eager to fly, but knew not where to find an ark of safety. Vessels were forced into the streets, and threatened destruction to the surrounding buildings. Women and children were rescued from chamber windows, and men were seen buffeting the torrent in the streets, to save a friend or secure an asylum.

Weybosset Bridge was entirely carried away about 10 o’clock.

Every vessel in port, with two exceptions, were driven from their moorings. Thirty-five sail, including 4 ships (one of them over five hundred tons)[,] nine brigs, seven schooners, and fifteen sloops, now form a melancholy dismantled line at the head of the Cove. One of them drifted within the limits of North-Providence, and, strange as it may appear, Pleasant-street is the anchorage ground for a burthensome sloop.

Our wharves, on which were stored the riches of every clime, exhibit the most sad and repulsive aspect. Scarcely a vestige remains of the stores (many of them very spacious) which crowded the wharves bordering on Weybosset-street. Most of those south of the Market-House to India-Point, shared a similar fate.

Many of our streets, but a few days since the theatre of virtuous and prospering enterprize, are almost barricaded by an accumulation of lumber, scows, boats, &c. and peopled by busy sufferers who are anxious, to identify, reclaim and preserve their property.

The sufferings and losses of the inhabitants at Eddy’s Point were very severe. Several dwelling-houses were carried away, while others were divested by the pitiless storms, of every article of provision, clothing and furniture.

-----
col 5

The damage sustained at India-Point, was very evident. The valuable distillery there is rendered inoperative for many months.

Mill Bridge, at the North end, is rendered impassable for any but foot passengers; and the upper works of the Bridge at India-Point are entirely gone.

The third story of the Washington Insurance Office, occupied by Mount-Vernon Lodge, was much injured, being perforated by the bowsprit of the ship Ganges when she rushed with impetuosity up the river. This handsome building was otherwise, but not materially injured.

The Rev. Mr. Williams’ Meeting-House, situated in a very exposed place, received considerable injury, and, had the tide continued to rise for a few minutes longer, must inevitably have swelled the catalogue of devastation.

The second Baptist Meeting-House, injudiciously located near the water, was totally destroyed by the wind and waves, and the relics are now to be seen n our streets.

The elegant fence that encloses the first Baptist Meeting-House was injured in several places, by the fall of surrounding poplars, but to the astonishment of every one, the magnificent spire of that superb edifice still towers sublime.

We do not learn that any other public buildings have sustained material damages.

Chimnies, trees, fences, &c. were prostrated in every direction.

We are happy to state that amid this war of elements, and wreck of matter, only two persons were lost—Mr. David Butler, and Mr. Reuben Winslow, who were unhappily drowned at India-Point.

It is computed that five hundred buildings of various descriptions have been destroyed.

The loss consequent upon this sad calamity is estimated at a million and a half of dollars!

We forbear, on the present occasion, to name a single sufferer, as every one must directly or indirectly participate in a calamity so extensive. Many poor men have lost their all—the thrifty tradesman, who but a few days since, had opulence and eminence in perspective, beholds himself all but a bankrupt—and the wealthy merchant feels that his losses must teach him prudence, even in the dispensation of his charities.

——

Much damage has been done in the neighbouring towns to barns, fruit trees, corn and even to the forests.

——

We understand that the distillery in Barrington, owned by a company of gentlemen in this town, was totally destroyed in the late storm.

——

Pawtuxet suffered severely during the late storm. Several houses were carried away, in one of which was a man by the name of Smith, who perished.

——

The loss of property at East-Greenwich, Wickford, Warren, Bristol and Newport, was very severe. In the latter place a family consisting of five persons, unfortunately perished, and all the stores on long-wharf were carried away.

——

A brig loaded with Molasses was lost on Narraganset shore on Saturday last

—+—

New-London, Sept. 27.

DESTRUCTIVE GALE.

The equinoctial storm commenced here on Friday last; and during that day and night there was a heavy fall of rain; wind N. E. On Saturday morning the wind increased at 7 o’clock was very violent, and soon after became almost a hurricane. The tide which commenced flood at about 6, had covered the wharves before 9, and at 10 had risen from 3 to 4 feet higher than it had ever been known before, by the oldest inhabitants. The rise of the water had been so rapid, that the buildings in Beech-Street, were deluged before the inhabitants felt themselves in danger, and in 30 minutes after danger was apprehended, the waves were running from 4 to 6 feet high through the streets. The lower parts of the town had now become the scenes of devastation and distress. The stores were falling, the wharves had disappeared, the vessels rushing on shore or crashing each other in the docks; buildings unroofing; the trees faling and the air filled with flying fragments; while men, women and children were seen were supplicating help from the windows of their dwellings. Providentially this truly ap[p]alling and destructive scene was short.—Soon after 11 the wind shifted to the westward, and abated; when the sea returned with the same velocity it came in, although in course it should have ran flood till 12; and the storm ceased. In the midst of judgment, the hand of mercy was most conspicuously bared for our protection: had the violence of the gale, or hurricane, continued half an hour longer, every building in Beech-street, and on the east side of Bank-street must have fallen, and very few vessels could have escaped destruction.

DAMAGE OF THE GALE.

Nine stores large and small, and five slaughter-houses utterly destroyed; four small dwelling-houses nearly destroyed, and eleven houses considerably injured; two rope walks blown down, one partly down; several barns blown down; fourteen stores and shops damaged; six wharves built on piles entirely gone, seven built with solid piers essentially damaged, a few others but little damaged.

Seven small craft sunk—four got on the wharves and one on shore; two brigs wth horses and cattle on deck got on shore; stock all saved, the vessels very little injured; a new ship, light, took the ground in Winthrop’s Cove and fell on her beam ends but is off without damage. Gun Boat No. 6, sailing master Jones, commander, went on the rocks near the turnpike bridge; her masts were cut away to save the hull; she bilged, but will be got off without much expense.—The fine Packet Aurora, Justin, master, of Providence, lies partly on Lee’s wharf; she is considerably injured; cargo unloaded in good order.

The damage sustained by this city, is variously estimated; we should suppose from the general enquiries we have made, it does not exceed sixty thousand dollars.

It is a subject of special gratitude to the Almighty, but notwithstanding the very imminent danger to which so many were necessarily exposed, not a life was lost. Among the principal sufferers, are, Benj. Brown, John H. Frink, Aspinwall & Brinkerhof (N. Y.) Ephraim M. Frick, Elias Perkins,

-----
p. 3, col 1

George Hallam, Nathaniel Ledyard, Samuel Herbett, S. H. & J. Byrne.

At the Harbor’s-mouth, one smack rode out the gale, and two were drove on shore, one of which went to pieces.

——

The destruction among the trees is immense in all the towns in this neighbourhood.—Some intelligent farmers are of opinion that one half of the best of the forest trees and fruit trees have fallen.

——

It is proof of the amazing power of the wind, that the showers which fell over this city and neighborhood were of salt water. The leaves of the tender fruit trees and shrubs, and of many forest trees, without frost, shrunk in a few hours after the gale as though they had been scorched. During the strength of the wind, in the ed[d]ies, the air was extremely hot and suffocating.

——
AT STONINGTON.

The storm raged with great violence. Every vessel in the harbor went on shore. Amongst them a large new ship belonging to Mr. G. R. Hallam; a schooner from Richmond, loaded with flour; a schooner from the W. Indies, belonging to Baltimore, laden with W. I. goods, and a schooner from Green-Island, laden with fish. The Baltimore schr. sent to pieces; the crew drifted on the beach, & were saved by the people on shore.—About 30 buildings large and small were destroyed or considerably injured. But the most heart rending scene, was a dwelling-house floating off with its inhabitants. It was occupied by Mr. Benjamin Morell, ship builder; whose heart rended by the first cries of distress, led him from home to the relief of his neighbors, thoughtless of the impending destruction of his family. Soon the seas surrounded his dwelling, and before relief could be given, it was swept from its foundations, and its wretched inhabitants, Mrs. Morell, and child, and a Miss Mott of Block-Island, were buried in a watery grave.

——

At a special circuit court, holden in this city, on the 25th inst. Marsh Ely was tried for the crime of Treason against the United States and acquitted; the fact not being proved.

—+—

Norwich, Sept. 27.

SEVERE GALE OF WIND!

The most destructive gale of wind within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, was experienced in this town on Saturday morning.

The wind, during most of the week, had blown moderately from the eastward, with pleasant weather until Thursday, when it became cloudy and uncommonly raw and cold for the season. On Friday morning it began to rain, which continued the whole day. At night it blew fresh at N. E. gradually increasing until about 3 o’clock on Saturday morning, when it veered to E. S. E. and blew with the most tremendous fury from that point to W. S. W. until near 12, when it abated—the waters receded, and left the wharves and street adjacent covered with every species of wreck and lumber.

The damage done in this town and neighbourhood by the violence of the wind and the extraordinary rise of the tide, is great beyond precedent. Scarcely a store on the wharves has escaped injury—some of them have been entirely swept away—and goods to a considerable amount, damaged or destroyed. The water on the wharves and in Lower-street was four feet higher than can be remembered on any former occasion. To those acquainted with the place it may be sufficient to state, that the cellars in Davison’s Buildings were completely filled. The water beat over the wharf-bridge with incredible force. Its depth there was at least six feet; and such was its fury, from the action of the wind, that the market and the store adjoining were carried away. Immense numbers of trees, of every description, were levelled to the earth—as also fences in all directions.

The destruction occasioned by this gale, far exceeds any thing hitherto experienced. It was a most providential circumstance that the strength of the gale was confined to the duration of three or four hours only; otherwise, the desolation would have proved distressing indeed. We are happy to state that no lives were lost, or any person injured.

——
From the Country.

The adjacent towns, we learn, have suffered their full proportion. The destruction of fruit and forest trees is immense and from all quarters we hear of houses and barns blown down, unroofed, or otherwise injured. Great quantities of hay, which had been stacked in the field, are blown away and lost.

The great number of apple trees destroyed will be felt for years to come. They were generally in full bearing; so that the supply of winter apples and late cider will be sensibly diminished. Many farmers have also suffered heavily in the destruction of large quantities of young timber. Indeed we have heard the loss, which must be sustained by some good farms, estimated at from 1000 to 1500 dollars.

At Lisbon, Mr. Russel Rose’s barn was blown down—and Wm. Adams, Esq.’s house partly unroofed.

At Canterbury, Mr. Joseph Adams’ dwelling-house was blown down.

The meeting-house at Plainfield, is levelled with the earth—and Eaton a tavern partly unroofed.

The Meeting-House at Franklin is also unroofed in part.

——

That part of the Thames opposite Gale’s Ferry, where Com. Decatur’s squadron lay during the war, as well as its bank on the Montville tide, has lately been surveyed by order of government, with a view, as we understand, to the establishment of a naval depot. The result is not positively known—but is understood to be favourable.

——

On Thursday evening last, as several fishermen were drawing a seine in the Thames, about 2½ miles below this city, they were astonished by drawing a very large fish to the shore, which at first they supposed to be a sturgeon, but proved to be a large Shark, weighing about 250 lbs. It was brought here and exhibited as a curiosity, it being the only one taken in the Thames for many years.

—+—

Bridgeport, September 27.

Horrible act.—We are informed that Mr. Joseph Pardy, of New-Stratford, in the town of Huntington, having quarelled [sic] with his wife for some time, she gave him a part of

-----
col 2

her property, to have him relinquish all his claims, that she might live in peace; he then started from house, under pretence of a tin-peddling tour to the southward, and went as far as Danbury, but returned on Saturday night the 16th instant, with a loaded pistol, with determination to murder his wife, it is supposed, burn her house and barn, and destroy himself. He entered the house—went to the bed, found her not there, dragged it on the floor—got a quantity of tow and crowded it onto the bed, struck fire, and set it all on fire; then went and set fire to the barn, and retired to a rise of ground and sat on a rock to view the scene. The barn was soon in a light blaze, which was first discovered by a lad in bed fronting it, who gave the alarm; the house and a part of the furniture was saved.—As soon as their neighbors were collected, this monster in human shape appeared, and acknowledged that he did it. The people then attempted to secure him, but he told them they need not do that, for he should be a dead man by the next morning, but refused to give any information, lest his life should be preserved. Medical aid was called, but to no effect. He continued in a stupid and senseless state till the next morning and then awoke and spoke a few words, and expired. It is supposed he took a large dose of laudanum and wild fennel.

——

The storm.—On Thursday night last, commenced a severe storm which lasted about 46 hours; during which time the wind continued with little variation from the N. E. with incessant rain till Saturday morning, when the wind shifted to N. and N. W. but notwithstanding the change of wind, which continued violent the tide rose to an uncommon height, such as is believed was never before witnessed in this place. The whole of Water-street was inundated; and what added novelty to the sight, was, to see boats with 10 or 12 persons in them, sailing from one end of the street to the other; and, indeed, so high was the water in some of the stores that small boats sailed in them with ease. A considerable quantity of salt was lost—the principal sufferer was Mr. R. C. Canfield, who lost about 100 bushels. The bridge in this place was considerably injured by the wind, and the bridge at the Yellow-Mill, about half a mile east, was so far destroyed by the tide, as to make it impossible for carriages to pass.

——

Middletown, Sept. 28.

The Gale, on Friday night and Saturday morning last was very severe; much damage was done on the sound shore, the tide having risen to an extent beyond the recollection of the oldest persons, inasmuch as to destroy the crops of corn and potatoes to a considerable extent; many vessels were sunk at Saybrook; the sloop James was dismasted in the river! At Pettinague two vessels were sunk and materially injured; a part of the roof of the Episcopal Church was blown off and lodged on the roof of an adjoining store, and crushed the whole down; a large tree fell across the Ropewalk, and stove in about three rods of it; besides immense damage done to fruit and forest trees.

=====================
CONNECTICUT MIRROR.
——————
HARTFORD, October 2.
——————

The Storm.—Our paper of this week, contains accounts from various places of the destruction occasioned by the almost unparalleled tempest of Saturday the 23d ult. The damage done in this town and neighbourhood, to bridges, mills, roads, orchards, &c. was very great, but no lives were lost. We have heard of but little damage being done to the southward of Long-Island Sound.

The following extract of a letter from a gentleman in Newport, (R. I.) to his friend in this City, dated the 25th ult. gives some details of the damage done in that place.

“One large store on Rhodes and Calhoun’s lower wharf destroyed; a large range of stores with several dwelling-houses on the long wharf with their contents entirely swept away, and the long wharf nearly ruined; not one store left on any of the wharves on the point. Mr. Andrew Allen, occupied one of these dwelling-houses on the long wharf, his wife with three children with a Miss Spooner were drowned. On the beach deacon John Irish and two men were drowned. The steeples of the houses of public worship are all much injured, and two of them partly unroofed. The stone bridge over Howland’s ferry is a heap of ruins: where the toll-house stood the water is thirty feet deep. At Little-River and Point Judith, we have heard of twelve persons being drowned, and it is reported the Light-house is blown down.”

——

Fire.—On Saturday evening, the 23d ult. between 7 and 8 o’clock, a fire broke out in the barn belonging to Mr. Samuel Olcott, and improved by Mr. Bulkley, inn-keeper, which in a short time was entirely consumed. Several pocket-books were stolen, and there is no doubt the fire was communicated by some incendiary.

——

Shipwreck.—The brig Constitution, Capt. Thomas Warren, of this City, belonging to Messrs. Wolcott & Kilbourn, from Martinique, laden with rum and sugar, was lost in the late gale, near Washington, (N. C.) and all hands perished, excepting Reuben Stoddard and Henry Norcott.

Copyright 1999-2017, Pat Pflieger
To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.