Early Nineteenth Century

August 29, 1803: The schooner Jupiter sprung a leak off the Virginia Capes in heavy seas during a storm off the Virginia Capes, before heading into the Chesapeake. As the ship was sinking, the captain jumped overboard, but was pulled into the whirlpool created by his sinking ship and drowned (Chapman).

September 8, 1804 (Antigua-Charleston Storm): This system was first spotted near the Northern Leeward Islands on the 3rd and moved west-northwest, to very near the Florida coast. It then moved inland near Charleston with disastrous consequences, before moving northeast along the coast of the Atlantic Seaboard.

October 9, 1804 (New England's Snow Hurricane of 1804): At Norfolk, winds shifted from Force 3 southwest (on the Beaufort scale) to Force 6 northwest by 2 p.m.. A schooner Rising Stakes, off Cape Henry, went through the "dreadful squall" at 11 a.m.. The system passed through Chesapeake Bay, then inland between Philadelphia and Atlantic City before moving onward to New York City and Boston. Eight perished offshore.

As it passed through the Northeast, it became a nontropical low as cold air rapidly enveloped the circulation of the cyclone. Snow fell from the hills of Connecticut northward into Canada. As much as 24 to 30 inches of snow fell in the Berkshires of Massachusetts...which in a wet snow could be approximated to six inches or more of liquid precipitation. This was the first reference to snow involved with a landfalling tropical cyclone, but not the last, as the reader will see later on in this history.

August 21-23, 1806 (Great Coastal Hurricane of 1806): The appearance of the weather from the 20th indicated a nearby storm. Heavy squalls broke upon the bar off Norfolk. A hurricane which went inland in South Carolina took 36 hours to go through North Carolina. The system accelerated into the offshore waters of Virginia.

A gale developed out of the north-northeast on the 22nd before noon. At Norfolk, the wind blew with "great violence" out of the north between midnight and 3 a.m.. A considerable amount of rain fell. A "long and uncommon" drought in Petersburg was ended by the cyclone (National Intelligencer).  This saved the corn crop.  Several new buildings and chimneys were blown down. Two vessels were grounded.

The hurricane caught British and French ships off guard, while engaged in the Napoleanic Wars in the U.S. shipping lanes. The British man-of-war L'Impeteax drifted under jury masts for 23 days before finally beaching near Cape Henry. The ship Atlantic and brig Martha Bland were driven ashore. The vessels Haleyon, Hope, and the Revenue cutter schooner Eagle went ashore at James Island.

Ships of the two warring nations put in for repair and refitting at the port of Norfolk after the storm. This hurricane, due to its slow movement and consequent erosion of the coastline completed the creation of Willoughby Spit. A seawall built to prevent further erosion at Smith Point lighthouse was damaged.

September 28-29, 1806: The first signs of the system were seen in Georgia, when several days of heavy rain fell at Augusta, Georgia on the 25th (National Intelligencer).  Gales began from the northeast during the night of the 28th at Norfolk. Winds became southeast in the morning before shifting to the west, as the center moved inland of the coastline. Tides rose "uncommonly high". The schooner Charming Mary fell victim four leagues north of Chincoteague, with many of her masts seen above the waterline after her sinking (Chapman).

September 12, 1808: A hurricane again damaged the seawall surrounding Smith Point lighthouse. The ship Mary was destroyed during the gale, while anchored at Baltimore.

August 27-28, 1813: A hurricane struck Charleston and spread gale force winds as far north as Maryland. An all-day easterly gale was seen in the Upper Chesapeake Bay on the 28th. A north-northeast wind began on the 27th. By 10 p.m., it shifted to southeast, accompanied by squalls. As winds became southwest, strong winds buffeted the region until 1 a.m. the 28th. By 11 a.m., winds were dying and the sun was shining once more. The U.S. schooner Carolina went ashore near James Island.

The War of 1812 was in progress. A large prison ship, with 50 passengers aboard composed of the British schooner Dominico, parted cables and was driven into the marsh of James Island by the gale (Chapman).

August 24-25, 1814 (Burning of Washington):  A very hot day accompanied the retreating of Federal troops from the Capitol.  As Dolly Madison and an armed escort stopped in Tennallytown (Tenlytown) during their retreat, a strong wind accompanied by dark clouds rolled over Washington county.  Winds near hurricane force and a prolonged downpour added to the drama of the day.  The rains were helpful, as they helped firefighters quench the fires set by the British (Helm).  The weather signs mentioned point to this either being a severe thunderstorm, or a tropical cyclone.

October 24-26, 1815: On the 18th, a powerful hurricane struck St. Bartholomew in the Caribbean Sea. By the 24th, it progressed west and northwest to a position east of Chesapeake Bay. The schooner Friendship was knocked on her beam ends by unfriendly winds and seas. For 48 hours, the storm passed offshore, delaying ship arrivals into Norfolk with its strong northwest wind (Chapman).

September 18, 1816: A tropical storm affected Virginia before moving northeast into New York. Heavy rains caused the James river in Richmond to rise only an inch or two lower than the High Fresh of 1814. Flood waters invaded the first floors of area homes. One bridge was submerged, cutting off travel (Chapman).

August 8-9, 1817: A tropical storm with heavy rain moved through the state. At Norfolk, floods to the north delayed the passage of mail. The gale moved slowly northeast, reaching New York on the 12th. (Chapman)

September 2-3, 1821 (Long Island Hurricane): A fast moving hurricane traveled from Puerto Rico to Norfolk in only two days. The storm passed by Turks Island in the Bahamas on the 1st. This hurricane moved inland near Wilmington, North Carolina the following day. The center then tracked west of Ocracoke but east of Edenton. In Currituck, N.C. all but a half dozen houses were destroyed and several people killed.


It was a "tremendous storm", causing great wind damage and damaging ships in the harbor. At Norfolk, rains began at 6 a.m.. By 8 o'clock, a northeast gale ensued and increased in intensity to hurricane force by 11:30. By 12:30 p.m., rains ended; conditions were beautiful by mid afternoon.

An account from the Norfolk Herald described the storm as such.....
From half past 11:00 until half past 12:00, so great the fury of the elements, that they seemed to threaten a general demolition of everything within their reach. During that period the scene was awful. There was the deafening roar of the storm, with the mingled crashing of windows and falling of chimneys, while the rapid rise of the tide threatened to inundate the town. The continuous cataracts of rain swept impetuously along darkening the expanse of vision and apparently confounding the heaven, earth and seas in a general chaos; together with now and then a glimpse caught through the gloom, of shipping forced from their moorings and driven with rapidity, as the mind might well conjecture in such a circumstance to inevitable destruction. (Ludlum)

Trees were uprooted. Part of the front of the Episcopal church was blown in; its organ left in ruin. The courthouse was partially unroofed. Several new homes suffered complete destruction while many others experienced damage. The new stone bridge on Granby Street was damaged by the incessant banging of heavy timbers against it. The tides inundated the ground floors of all the warehouses on the wharf lining the Elizabeth River. The waters surged as far inland as Wide Water Street some several hundred yards from the river. The surging waters of the Elizabeth River swept away the bridge on Catherine Street. The drawbridge across the Elizabeth river was swept away. The U.S. Frigates Congress and Gurriere were grounded while numerous other brigs, schooners, and smaller ships suffered an untimely demise.

Crops were destroyed in the vicinity of Chesapeake Bay. At Chincoteague, waters surrounding the island were evacuated such that miles of sandbars lay exposed to the air, as winds were initially offshore. The following is an account of what happened next from Howard Pyles, written in 1876:
"...then a dull roar came nearer and nearer, and suddenly a solid mass of wind and rain and salt spray leaped upon the devoted island with a scream. Great pines bent for a moment, then, groaning and shrieking, were torn from their centuried growth like wisps of straw and hurled one against another; houses were cut from their foundations and thrown headlong; and then a deeper roar swelled the noise of the tempest, and a monstrous wall of inky waters rushed with the speed of lightning toward the island. It struck Assateague, and in a moment half the land was a waste of seething foam and tossing pine trunks; and the next instant it struck Chincoteague, and in an unbroken mass swept away men and ponies like insects; rushing up the island, tearing its way through the stricken pine woods." (Barnes & Truitt)

At Pungoteage, a ten foot storm surge led to "unexampled destruction". Damage spread north with the storm into New York and New England over succeeding days. It was considered one of the most violent hurricanes on record... with damage totaling $200,000 in Virginia. Five drowned at Chincoteague.

September 27-28, 1822: This hurricane struck Charleston, then moved through central North Carolina and western Virginia, accompanied by a "tropical deluge". Richmond had endured a long drought until this storm visited the region.  "Very copious rains" and "equinoctial winds" quickly ended the drought.  Flash flooding occurred on the James River, rising feet in depth in a matter of one hour (Washington Gazette).  Mail south of Richmond was unable to be delivered for three days, as the storm rendered roads impassable. At Monticello, near Charlottesville, Thomas Jefferson's granddaughter noted that a violent storm broke branches and felled one of their willows. At Lynchburg, winds uprooted trees and toppled chimneys. Along the Staunton River, rains began on the 27th and continued until 9 a.m. the next day. The river rose to "the greatest height ever known" (Chapman).

June 3-4, 1825: Forming before what is nowadays considered as the beginning of the hurricane season, a severe tropical storm tormented the Atlantic seaboard from Florida to New York City. It was first sighted near Santo Domingo on May 28th and moved across Cuba on June 1st. Gales began at St. Augustine as the cyclone approached U.S. soil on the 2nd, and at Charleston on the 3rd.

It raked Norfolk with "undiminished violence" for 27 hours from the morning of the 3rd, as the storm passed by to the east. The wind came in "flaws". Trees were uprooted. At noon on the 4th, stores on the wharves were flooded up to five feet in depth. High winds howled through Washington D.C.. Along with a cold rain, winds leveled crops. The storm then moved northeast past Nantucket on the 5th.

An account of the storm was given by Ann Waller Tazewell, wife of the then governor of Virginia in a letter to her son. She describes the storm as such
"....The rain commenced on Friday morning (3rd), and continued pretty steadily all day, at night the wind blew so hard that this house rocked considerably. I was so much alarmed as to be unable to sleep but very little - I thought of my flowers, but could not expect anyone so much as to look after my cows or anything, as the rain fell in torrents, and the wind came in flaws, which made it like thunder yesterday (4th) the storm continued until five in the evening, there was a strong northwest wind all day, and the highest tide I ever saw in my life. The wind and tide together tore down all our enclosures at the other lot, upset our cow-house and then dashed it to pieces, tore up some of the wharf logs, upset the Temple there, and drifted it into the flower garden........We sat at the front windows witnessing the destruction all the time it was going on. Our front lot was two thirds covered by the tide. Some vessels that we saw pass rapidly by, were driven ashore at the Hospital Point (Portsmouth)........" 

Ann Tazewell later compares the storm to the great gale of September 1821 in this following passage: "....Such a storm was never experienced here before, by anyone that I have heard speak of it. It is thought to have been far worse than the September gale of 1821." Mrs. Tazewell's letter also mentions that they could not prepare dinner since the tide level was even with the kitchen floor.

An account of the storm as given by the Norfolk and Portsmouth Herald described the storm as such. It is interesting to note the contrasting opinions between the Norfolk and Portsmouth Ledger and the letter from Mrs. Tazewell regarding the comparisons between this storm and the September gale of 1821
.....It is uncommon to hear of violent storms and hurricanes on any part of our extensive coast in the month of June; but we have to notice a visitation of stormy weather, which commenced about 9 o'clock on Friday night (3rd), rarely if ever equaled within the life span of the oldest inhabitant. The storm of the 3rd of September 1821 was perhaps more violent but it only lasted three or four hours, while this storm continued with undiminished violence, from the hour we have stated until 12 o'clock on Saturday night (4th), or about 27 hours. The wind at the commencement of the storm was northeast and so continued until about 12 o'clock on Saturday, when it began to haul gradually to the northwest and westward, and held up at southwest.... 

According to this account, the tides in this storm were higher than those in the September gale of 1821.
....considerable damage was done by the high tide which rose at least eighteen inches higher than it was known to be within the last forty years. The highest pitch of the tide was at 12 o'clock on Saturday, at which time the stores on the wharves generally were inundated from the depth of three to five feet, and the water extended up to the doors on the north side of Wide Water Street. The whole Town Point to within a few feet of Main Street was over-flown, as also was that part of town extending eastward from Market Place to the Drawbridge, the water rising considerably above the line of Union Street. In most of the stores on the wharves, all articles liable to be damaged by the tide were found (too late for remedy) that the precaution was unavailing in consequences of the unusual rise of the tide, and the articles were of course damaged....


August 24-27, 1827 (St. Kitts Hurricane): A hurricane originating near the Windward Islands struck Cape Hatteras, before moving northeast offshore Virginia, Maryland, and New England. The track of this storm was to the east of Norfolk. Initial reports from Wilmington, N.C. indicated that this was a storm of great intensity as it passed by to their east. One report gave an account of waves over the top of garden fences some 6900 feet from the beach. Other reports indicated storm tides greater than 10 feet above normal levels. The town of Washington,. North Carolina, on the western end of Pamlico Sound, reported water levels 12 to 15 feet above ordinary levels.

The following first hand account of this storm in Virginia was from the Tazewell Papers in the Virginia State Library. Henry Tazewell wrote to his brother John in New York and described the storm as such.

"....A severe gale which continued for three days changed the climate here entirely and persons are clad generally in full suits of winter clothing; the same gale has done great injury to shipping and to present crops. The fodder is worthless and the corn
in many places is much broken by the wind."

The Norfolk newspapers, The American Beacon and The Norfolk Herald reported little in the way of tidal damage in this storm due to an ebb tide. There was much less damage to property in the area than in the memorable 1821 gale, but this storm was almost as violent as that gale.

Both papers reported a gale of wind which was accompanied by a copious fall of rain. The gale

"...commenced in the forenoon of August 25th and continued to increase until the evening, when it blew tremendously. About midnight, the rain ceased and the gales somewhat abated, though it continued to blow fresh all day on the 26th."

At the height of the storm, winds unroofed a two story building on Talbot street in Norfolk and commenced to blow away the second floor of the building. Livestock was swept away in large numbers. Corn was leveled at Belleview...a mill dam was torn to shreds and the bridge over it was swept away. The sloop Flag capsized on the Middle Ground of the Chesapeake; the vessel had no survivors. The brig Liberty of Boston broke away and drove itself ashore, on the south side of Portsmouth. The schooner Mulberry saw its bow stove in, shrouds and jib-stay carried away, and jib torn off while off Common's Marshes.  A "considerable quantity" of cargo was thrown overboard to prevent it from sinking.  "Considerable mischief" was caused by the tempest as far north as Baltimore.

August 26-29, 1829: A tropical storm of considerable strength moved northward through eastern North Carolina and Virginia, accompanied by a tornado near Sunbury, North Carolina in Gates County. Torrential rains were reported in Norfolk. At Georgetown, the rice crop experienced great injury.  Santee also saw damage.  A vessel fifty miles east of Chincoteague was dismasted. The American Beacon reported the following account from this storm.

"....The earth is completely saturated and the grounds covered in water, while the roads, in many places, are rendered impassable by the rise of the water courses." (Chapman)

August 16-18, 1830 (Atlantic Coast Hurricane): This hurricane passed northeast of the Caribbean Sea and tracked west north-west to a point very near Daytona Beach, Florida before recurving to the north and northeast. The center made landfall on the morning of the 16th near Cape Fear and moved back out into the Atlantic by nightfall. The area's three-month drought came to a sudden end. Complete damage was done to corn crops as a considerable amount of rain fell.

A number of ships that arrived at Alexandria on the 22nd spoke of a severe gale on the 18th...one lost its topsail.  The schooner Dove, while thirty miles east of the Virginia Capes, experienced a severe hurricane and lost most of her upper works.  On the morning of the 19th, an empty ship in full sail was seen just off the Virginia coast.

August 24, 1833: As a rare act of foreshadowing, a northeast gale detained around 100 vessels at Norfolk. This system passed well off of the Virginia coast. Unlike the storm exactly a century later, no damage was reported (Chapman).

September 5, 1834: A hurricane that struck the North Carolina coast also created problems for Virginia. A "severe" northwest wind capsized the schooner E. Pluribus Unum, laden with stones. The crew escaped with their lives. The schooners Susan and George Wheaton bumped into each other at Newport News. The Susan's upper work was carried away (Chapman).

August 18-20, 1837 (Calypso Hurricane): A hurricane which skirted the North Carolina Outer Banks also affected Virginia. Damage was considered lighter than at Wilmington, where bridges washed out during the storm. This was referred to as the worst storm in Norfolk since 1822. The storm was observed east of the West Indies on the 13th, moved into the central Bahamas on August 16th and began to affect the North Carolina coast on the 18th, where the Norfolk newspapers reported it had continued with unusual severity for forty-eight hours.

The Norfolk-Herald offers this account of the storm.
"....One of those cracking northeasterly blows commonly called "September gales" which, however, more frequently visit our coast in August commenced here on Saturday the 19th, but as our harbor is completely sheltered "land-locked", we believe the sailors call it, none but the weather-wise had any idea that it was blowing a gale outside, until 11 o'clock at night, when the symptoms of a regular-built gale were easily recognized in the roar and rustle which it kept up, and the splashing of the torrents of rain which it drove before its streamed flows. This strife of elements continued until 12 o'clock Sunday the 20th, when the wind hauled around to the northwest but without clearing off and continued to blow a heavy gale from that point, accompanied with rain the remainder of the day." 

The American Beacon offers this account of the storm.
"....The weather on Saturday morning (19th) indicated a gale. It commenced raining that morning and continued but with little intermission, until about 3 p.m. the next day. The wind blew fresh from the northeast all day Saturday, and at night increased to a gale, blowing down fences, trees, chimneys and prostrating the corn....In walking the streets after the storm, it was melancholy to see some of the stoutest trees prostrated. The tide is very high."

October 8-9, 1837 (Racer's Storm): This hurricane was named after the British sloop-of-war, the H.M.S. Racer, which encountered it on September 28th in the central Caribbean Sea. It was the tenth known storm of that destructive season. After moving northwest into the far western Gulf of Mexico, the storm slowly recurved along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana before it struck Venice, Louisiana on the 7th.

The system then passed back out into the Gulf before making a second landfall near Pensacola late on the 7th. The storm moved northeast and went off the East Coast near Wilmington late on the 9th. Norfolk experienced a northeast gale on the 8th and 9th. This prevented steamboats from leaving their docks.

August 29-30, 1839: A tropical cyclone which struck Charleston on the 28th passed through eastern North Carolina on the 29th and then Norfolk just past midnight that night. The hurricane raged until 3 p.m..

October 3-4, 1841:  An intense hurricane raced through the shipping lanes offshore the Mid-Atlantic.  On the western fringe of the cyclone, several ships were beached at Cape Henry.  The system went on to devastate eastern New England, when cold air encircling the increasingly nontropical storm led to "a violent storm of snow and sleet" at New Haven, Connecticut.

September 8, 1846: This hurricane created Hatteras and Oregon Inlets.

October 12, 1846 (Great Havana Hurricane): The Great Havana Hurricane struck the Florida Keys with great violence before moving northward, inland of the Eastern seaboard. It destroyed the Old Key West lighthouse; fourteen inside the structure perished (DeWire).  The Potomac at Alexandria and Washington D.C. reached its highest heights in 20 years. Tides at Washington, D.C. rose to 6.9 feet above low water datum. Extensive damage was seen as far north as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.

July 18, 1850: The first of three hurricanes to affect the upper Eastern Seaboard moved into North Carolina on the 18th. As it moved north, Chesapeake and Delaware Bays took a beating as high waves and tides flooded the coast. It moved almost due north into central New York state.

August 24, 1850: A powerful Gulf hurricane struck Apalachicola on the 24th; a great storm surge inundated the northeast Gulf coast. As the system moved north, enormous amounts of rain fell from Georgia northward to Virginia. Major flooding occurred along numerous rivers. The Dan rose to a level twenty feet above normal. The cyclone continued northeast, causing damage in its wake through New England (Barnes II).

Virginia Hurricane History